United we stand

Reflections on my first month as ALERC Chair

It’s been a month since I took on the role of Chair of the Association of Local Environmental Record Centres (ALERC) at the AGM in Birmingham. And it feels like it’s been quite a long month!

With two experienced Directors stepping down from the Board at the AGM – Martin Horlock & Mandy Rudd – my first priority as Chair has been to look at how we resource the work of ALERC. There’s quite a lot of work involved in running the business of ALERC as a Community Interest Company and pulling in suitable external contracts to cover the shortfall in funding for the ALERC National Coordinator (ANC) post, which must be done. But – even more important – is delivering ALERC’s services to members.

ALERC’s member services cover a wide range of activities, from promoting and representing LERCs at a national level through to managing the accreditation process – and lots of other stuff in between. The Directors team needs to provide a strategic lead on all of this work and also set a strategic framework within which the ANC can work effectively on behalf of members.

I’ve been talking to all the Directors about how we can best share out responsibilities (or ‘portfolios’) and where the gaps are. We will be looking at this in more detail at our next meeting on 25 January and should have a clearer idea then of where we may need to recruit more people to join the ALERC working groups or Directors’ team – to make sure ALERC’s priority work areas are adequately resourced.

But I haven’t had too much time to sit in my ivory tower crafting beautiful plans, because there’s been lots going on!

Watching the evidence given to the Lords Select Committee on the NERC Act on 31 October was a nail-biting time for me, as it represented the culmination of a significant amount of work in my previous role as an ALERC Director (leading on consultations): I’d worked with the ANC, Tom Hunt, on drafting ALERC’s submission. To hear the points that we’d made on behalf of ALERC members coming through clearly in questions from peers and responses from Steve Trotter (The Wildlife Trusts), Jo Judge (NBN Trust) and Stephanie Wray (CIEEM) was a really positive outcome.

With taking on the ALERC Chair role, I have also taken on responsibility for line managing the ANC role and Tom has been keeping me up to date with progress on the SBIF Review. The SBIF workshops are now underway, with a lot of different perspectives feeding in; Tom is working with the Scottish LERCs to ensure their perspective is strongly represented. It’s been good to see that LERC services have been talked about positively in the SBIF interviews with data users, with comments like: “LERCs play an important role - offering interpretation services, finding local data which may not have been shared centrally yet, supporting recorders and engaging with the local community...”. But the review is also seeking to address long-standing challenges around data flow and funding, as well as the appetite for Open Data. The Scottish situation is not the same as other parts of the UK as there are large parts of the country which are currently not served by any record centre. Nevertheless, the SBIF Review will provide a blueprint which other parts of the UK may seek to follow – so it’s really important to get it right.

I was invited to participate in a catch-up call about the Consultants Portal – the online data capture and verification system for commercially-gathered data which was designed to facilitate data flow. Things have moved on since the portal was launched in 2015, with the launch of the NBN Atlas, and there are some useability isses with the portal which need to be addressed; Sally Hayns from CIEEM was therefore keen to update their members on development plans. The Consultants Portal was developed by the NBN Trust and their CEO, Jo Judge, explained that development is expected to recommence next financial year, now that the NBN Atlas is up and running and they’ve got a developer in post (Reuben Roberts). ALERC Director Adam Rowe has since volunteered to keep a watching brief on the Consultants Portal so we’ll be able to keep ALERC members informed of any developments.

I also had some correspondence with Jo Judge on the NBN Trust’s plans to support data providers in pursuing data users for breach of the non-commercial licence. I have asked the ALERC Business Development group, now chaired by Ian Egerton, to look at what evidence ALERC could provide to NBN Trust to assist them in developing their ideas.

And then of course there was JNCC’s announcement that they are ending current support arrangements for Recorder 6 in March 2018, which you can read on the NBN Forum. As manager of a LERC which is very reliant on Recorder 6, we had already started thinking about ways to secure its future and I was pleased to be able to launch a Recorder 6 Consultation (which has been developed by Andy Foy with funding from SxBRC and GiGL) shortly after JNCC’s announcement. ALERC members can follow this topic on Knowledge Hub, here. Information is also publicly accessible on the NBN Forum, here. The recently-formed ALERC Databases Group, chaired by Ian Carle, played an important role advising Andy on the content of the Recorder 6 consultation. And I look forward to hearing Steve Whitbread’s talk on this subject at the NBN conference.

This blog is already much longer than I had intended it to be, but it’s been a pretty eventful first month. I look forward to catching up with ALERC folk and other members of the NBN network at the NBN conference in Cardiff. See you there?

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