A Brief History of the SBI Initiative

Successful biological research relies on access to a wide range of supporting infrastructure, including digital data resources, living stocks collections, museum collections, and field stations. Directors of biological infrastructure face a number of challenges to ensure these resources are sustainable for the long-term. Sustainability is more than merely preserving existing content and services – it means being able to constantly adapt and develop the resource, increasing its value to the user community over time.

We believe that strategic planning, stakeholder analysis, effective communication, and a clear understanding of financial management principles can help biological infrastructure project directors meet their sustainability goals.

This Sustaining Biological Infrastructure (SBI) training initiative, launched by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) aims to provide project directors with the core business planning, marketing, and communication skills they need to ensure their resource can continue delivering services that are recognized and valued for their contributions to scientific research.

Several NSF and other reports in recent years have highlighted concerns about the long-term sustainability of biological research infrastructure. These reports have pointed to the growing challenges of maintaining existing resources while supporting the development of new ones, and the consequent need to develop new economic models for infrastructure maintenance and innovation (DEB COV 2006, DBI COV 2007). Similarly, Guthrie et al. (2008) concluded that project directors often underestimate the need for maintaining the impact of their projects, and called for continuing innovation by experimentation.

In response, in November 2010, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) hosted an NSF-sponsored workshop on strategies for financial sustainability of biological research infrastructure. Participants in that workshop, who represented a broad cross-section of managers of databases, field stations, and collections, identified the development of business planning, marketing, and communication skills as key needs for infrastructure directors trying to maintain their projects in an increasingly challenging funding environment (Parsons and Duke 2011). These needs were echoed by participants in a subsequent workshop on strategies for developing and innovating living stocks collections in August 2012 (Parsons and Duke 2013). Furthermore, Maron and Loy (2011) found that when digital resource projects were able to adapt to changing circumstances and had a good understanding of their stakeholders and users, they were more likely to achieve success and sustainability. As biological infrastructure projects continue to navigate uncertain funding environments, it is becoming clear that project directors need a core set of skills, including strategic business planning, marketing, and communication skills, in order to ensure their projects will continue to exist for the scientific research community.

The SBI training initiative focuses on the role of strategic business planning and analysis in driving successful research infrastructure projects, with the ultimate goal of building sustainable projects and project funding. For scientists directing infrastructure projects, achieving sustainability means implementing operationally-sound practices, developing a strong, achievable business plan, and continually maintaining relevance and value to the user community.

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How to Contact Us:

Via Phone: 202-833-8773 (ask for Jill (ext. 209) or Cliff (ext. 202))

Via Email: sbi@esa.org