Sunday, 18 June 2017

What is involved in running a recording scheme?

Yesterday, a post on the UK Hoverflies Facebook page drew my attention to the possible need to set out what is involved in running a recording scheme. As a result, I wrote a quick list and then organised it according to a set of sub-headings. The list was quite a surprise to me because it really highlighted the depth and breadth of what was involved. My list covered all the jobs on the FB page and the others that go on in the background and comprised the following:

Identification service
  • Provide IDs for UK Hoverflies  and UK Hoverfies Larval groups .
  • Respond to ID queries by e-mail and by flickr pages.
  • Provide specimen identification service for non-academic recorders.
  • Provide specimen identification service for Universities.
Data management
  • Extract data from FB page- maintain yearly spreadsheets.
  • Chase posts that lack data.
  • Scan FB page each day to ensure all posts have been noted and responded to.
  • Trawl Flickr sites for records.
  • Trawl iSpot for data.
  • Check grid references and dates to make sure these are correct (get quite a lot in the sea!)
  • Digitise card data and e-mail lists to spreadsheet for upload to database.
  • Validate iRecord data.
  • Check over (validate) incoming spreadsheets and format them for upload (all sorts of permutations, including converting word files to spreadsheet).
  • Import data into HRS database.
  • Supply data to research groups and NBN.
General management
  • Provide sense of direction for the HRS.
  • Manage applications to join FB group.
  • Respond to e-mail enquiries from students and research groups – technical advice.
  • Develop & manage HRS website.
  • Manage applications to join HRS website and eliminate spammers.
  • Publicity for the Scheme .
  • Prepare intermittent feedback for Facebook group, including annual report.
  • Provide detailed responses to significant questions on FB concerning datasets/ecology etc.
  • Write HRS outputs (e.g. atlas) and evaluate maps to identify questionable records .
  • Write newsletter items (2x per year).
  • Conference presentations and talks to local societies.
  • Collect and prepare specimens for running training courses.
  • Act as interface with centres that want to run training courses.
  • Organise travel and accommodation for training courses.
  • Run training courses.
At the moment we have a team of eight: Ian Andrews, Stuart Ball, Joan Childs, David Iliff, Judy McKay, Ellie Rotheray, Geoff Wilkinson and, of course, me. Looking at what we do at the moment, it strikes me that the HRS has grown in a way that it is now analogous to a small society such as BWARS. The main difference is that, because we are not a subscription society, we don't have formal 'positions' that have to be filled. That is both an advantage and, possibly, also a drawback. On the plus side, we don't need formal officers such as 'secretary' or 'treasurer'; nor do we need committee meetings that are often highly time-consuming. On the downside, how do we ensure that there are democratic provisions so that the scheme does not become a personal fiefdom?

I am acutely conscious that I currently do a lot of the 'leadership' but that is by default and because I am naturally 'bossy'. It seems to work at the moment, but it also leaves a big question mark over the long-term organisation of the scheme. Stuart and I have now been at the helm for 26 years and we must start to think about a succession plan.

When we took on the scheme, it was moribund: the previous scheme organiser had retired and nobody had stepped forward to take over. Graham Rotheray took on the newsletter editorship (now David Iliff) but the scheme effectively died. At the time, recording schemes were a bit of a peripheral adjunct to wildlife conservation, but they now play a central role in the development of reliable wildlife data. The bigger schemes are mainly linked to formal societies (e.g. dragonflies and aculeate Hymenoptera). The HRS has links to Dipterists Forum, but the Forum has no say over the future of the scheme. This lack of oversight can be a problem because there is no way of replacing a scheme organiser who has ceased to drive the scheme. In the case of the HRS, we cannot afford to let things drift: hoverfly recording is so central to various initiatives, not least current interest in pollinators.

That makes me start to ask whether we should formalise the Scheme into a Society? My question at the moment is rhetorical, but it has a rationale. What happens when somebody wants to step down from a role? In a society, there is a mechanism for advertising for a replacement and a democratic process for making new appointments. In an informal recording scheme there is no such process. Who actually has a say in the replacements? Also, if there are formal roles, these can be quoted in people's CVs. This may be important for potential recruits amongst the younger generation who obviously need to show that they are doing something if they take on a role that may help to propel their career.

I leave this analysis as food for thought, but may return to it in due course.

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