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We have been concentrating for the last year on ensuring the completion of the full work-flow of an analysis and synthesis centre of the modern day. But what is this beast? Is ACEAS just workshops or is there more?
Last newsletter we talked about the data workflow and Luke Houghton devised a delightful diagram to illustrate its main steps in a simple fashion. The data workflow, however, is embedded in a longer and more complex process, and ACEAS staff, together with those at other synthesis centres around the world, have been wrestling with how to explain this well, and how to communicate what we feel is its immense value in today’s complex and data-rich world.
This newsletter contains news of one of the practical steps towards better understanding the synthesis process (the article on the establishment of the International Synthesis Centre Consortium). Iain Gordon, one of the ACEAS Advisory Panel members, reflects on this point in his article, and ACEAS is taking practical steps to listen to the very people who know the utility (or irrelevance) of the synthesis centre best: the participants.
So, the big news in this newsletter is the announcement of the ‘Grand ACEAS Workshop 2014’, and I hope many synthesis group members from across Australia can attend the meeting, either face to face (places are limited so get in NOW–there is a great line-up of activity and speakers) or via livestreaming of the special event on the evening of May 8 (From individuals to collectives: the future of ecosystem science). At ACEAS we are past masters at internet technology, so please make this a lively event! Check out the details later in the newsletter, on the ACEAS web site, and the wiki family. This will be an occasion to celebrate achievements, reinforce partnerships, and challenge thinking. In addition we are on the way to having a special issue of a journal to show for ourselves by the end of 2014, which will be a pivotal outcome of the workshop.
The ACEAS workflow continues to produce rich and diverse output, not just discovery of new data, new colleagues and linkages–all important–but synthesised output through publications (a new one recently from one of our round 2 groups on the effectiveness of IUCN red list criteria for conservation) and new information assemblage, in this case a meta data portal of animal telemetry across a large component of Australasia. There is more and more emerging every week, and by June we are intending to have some very substantial original product as the legacy of your work and our ‘intervention’. A new staff member, Simon Allison has joined Guru, Kaitao and Luke to help groups produce their desired data output. We are keen to assist! Don't delay!
Talking of contacting, we have just commissioned a socio-economic study of ACEAS and its effectiveness, something recommended by Richard Price and Steve Cork in their mid-term Review. The folks from RMCG may be contacting you personally, and they shall certainly be there at the Grand Workshop to obtain input to this study. All very important for us to define what is ‘this beast’.
Finally I would note that throughout ACEAS’ short life we have been supported by many national and international partnerships which have provided ideas, expertise and linkages that have improved performance. I have greatly benefitted from my association with DataONE in the USA (where I have been a member of their 'Usability and Assessment’ Working Group) and CESAB in France (where I have been on their Scientific and Orientation Advisory Board), as well as all the wonderful people and many organisations that have assisted ACEAS here in Australia and in other parts of the globe.
I look forward to spending time with many of you at the Grand Workshop, and all of the ACEAS team is looking forward to helping our ACEAS groups make the difference to ecosystem science that they planned.
Alison Specht

The ACEAS Grand Workshop, May 7-9 2014
Coming up in your calendar is the ACEAS Grand Workshop 2014 'Science making sense: the role of transdisciplinary synthesis'. This workshop is designed to explore the relevance of analysis and synthesis in this data-rich world through the experience of ACEAS participants (more than 600). The ACEAS community has pioneered the Synthesis Centre experiment in Australia, and can speak with authority about the utility of an intervention such as ACEAS, and its relevance to the thorny trans-disciplinary, trans-organisational and heterogeneous challenges that face us.
The event will provide the opportunity for ACEAS participants to display the insights they have generated through the ACEAS process. The Workshop will be held in Canberra at the Shine Dome, the Australian Academy of Science’s iconic venue. The event will be a combination of public discussion and the traditional ACEAS Workshop.
9-1pm Wednesday 7 May – ACEAS Plenary
The meeting will commence with a keynote by Prof. Mike Raupach who will talk on the topic ‘Synthesis in science and society’ and touch on the balance between specialisation and synthesis: and consider the role of both. This will be followed by a plenary session chaired by Prof. Stephen Dovers in which the audience and guests will be invited to discuss the major issues and directions they see in the next 5 years, and the role of analysis and synthesis in this–and indeed who should be responsible?
There will be allocated time between this session and the next public event to reflect upon ACEAS practice, including the experiences of the various steps of the data workflow from acquisition to delivery of data to the world (chaired by Andrew Treloar of ANDS), and for groups to present their work.
5-9pm Thursday 8 May – ACEAS Colloquium
The ACEAS Colloquium will start with refreshments and poster presentations (the Final Reports) culminating in a livestreamed event in the main theatre on ‘From individuals to collectives: the future for ecosystem science’. Stay tuned to the ACEAS web site for the link to watch and tweet into this event.
If you are interested in attending all or part of this event (and have not already been contacted) please click here by April 7 2014.

Professor Iain Gordon, an ACEAS Advisory Panel member, returned to Scotland in 2010 to take up the role of Chief Executive at The James Hutton Institute after 8 years with CSIRO. Iain has been involved with ACEAS from even before it was funded through his experience with the US version, NCEAS, and he also participated in the ACEAS working group on small mammal decline.
Despite leaving Australia soon after ACEAS started, Iain has remain involved because he sees ACEAS as fundamentally what the country needs to provide evidence-based advice for environmental management and policy by synthesising and analysing disparate sets of data.
"Australia spends huge amounts of money on environmental management through NHT-type funding, and Australians would expect that the management that is being put in place is informed by scientific evidence. In order to demonstrate that the best management of the environment is happening, you need ACEAS to provide that evidence."
Although many of us are seeing a decline in science funding in Australia, Iain remains positive about future opportunities.
"Australia’s science community is in a good a place at the moment, whilst there is still a belief by politicians that science and innovation can support the future management and policy needs of the country," says Iain.
"In the longer term, however, science will need to continue to be seen as a good investment for Australia’s ecosystems."
"There is a responsibility for those who believe in the importance of an analysis and synthesis centre that provides policy and management advice to communicate that to funding bodies."
ACEAS and International Linkages
From an international perspective, Iain says that Australia is seen as having a very strong environmental science community, and therefore has the opportunity to be seen as a world leader in environmental and plant sciences.
"Bringing groups together to analyse and synthesis environmental data, which ACEAS has been successfully doing for years now, is a way for Australia to demonstrate leadership," he said.
Iain has also witnessed the value in involving international scientists in working groups. “Bringing international scientists to ACEAS working groups has the effect of seeding new ideas that aren’t held within the Australian community”, says Iain. “Those insights can help support flowering of new science, not only within the group, but through the Australian environmental science community.”
ACEAS taking an active role in working with other analysis and synthesis centres around the world has been an important information sharing and learning experience. "We’re all trying to learn how to best provide evidence for management and policy", says Iain. “This is a new way of operating for the science community, and learning what works and what doesn’t work is very important.”
Professor Iain Gordon spoke with the ACEAS Science Communicator, Jo Savill.

In October 2013 ACEAS spearheaded a meeting of Synthesis Centre/Center heads from around the world, which was co-hosted by CESAB at their wonderful headquarters near Aix en Provence in the south of France. We had a very interesting and stimulating meeting, the report of which is downloadable from the ACEAS web site.
There were several outcomes of the meeting, one of which was the establishment of a web presence for the network of global Synthesis Centres. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is ensuring our respective communities can easily see the announcement of upcoming activities of interest no matter where they are based, and possibly take advantage of them. We intend that enhancement of opportunities for collaborative ventures–as all of us found at the meeting, few of our ecosystem challenges–and hence synthesis activities–are confined to our own countries and funding agency boundaries. A global presence might make our linkage with global networks more effective.
The new web site for the International Synthesis Consortium was quietly unveiled on March 18.
See the ACEAS Facebook announcement and would be great to have comments there about what you think of this new venture.

The ability to locate and track the movements of organisms across the landscape places specific ecological resources in spatial and temporal dimensions. In a changing world, the movement of organisms may be a response to the dynamics of ecosystem processes, which can be used to influence conservation planning or management. Technological innovation, through enhanced electronic tracking devices and GPS tools, enables researchers to collect large datasets on individual animal’s precise movements over large distances via air, land or sea.
This spatial database provides important access to a range of research projects that have been undertaken in the region. Each location on the map shows the meta-data, references and research contacts of animal telemetry research conducted throughout Australasia.
Click on the image below to link to the ACEAS Portal to view the database.


A socio-economic analysis of ACEAS was an important recommendation made in the mid-term review. This preliminary economic and social analysis across ACEAS activities aims to establish a framework for estimating the value of ACEAS investment. RMCG has been commissioned to conduct the study for ACEAS.
The social analysis will consider the value of ACEAS in empowering the participants through, among other things:
(i) the development of networks and collaboration, and
(ii) disciplinary, cultural and organisational legacy.
The economic analysis will consider the cost-benefit of:
(i) co-investment by participants and their organisations, and
(ii) the down-stream effect of the investment (development, use and impact of products)
Anne-Maree Boland, Carl Larsen and Kym Whiteoak are the RMCG staff involved in the study, and may approach you for your thoughts (and evidence) about these topics. The interim results will be presented to the ACEAS community at the Grand Workshop in May: a great opportunity for additional comment and feedback.

Confirmed workshop and working group meetings and other important dates for the next few months.

Check out the ACEAS web site for meeting updates and reports as they come to hand.

Title Principal Investigator Meeting Dates Where
Structured reflection on the effectiveness of Australia’s national environmental research programs Lefroy 22-24 April Bungendore, ACT
Populations of Northern Quoll mini meeting Fisher 23-24 April Women’s College, Brisbane
Grand ACEAS Workshop 2014 Science making sense: the role of transdisciplinary synthesis Specht 7-9 May Shine Dome, Canberra
All Hands Meeting, DataONE Specht 13-15 May Utah, USA


Contact: Alison Specht | ACEAS Facility Director |

TERN is supported by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Super Science Initiative.