Terms of Reference

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Introduction

The Herbarium Information Systems Committee (HISCOM) provides technical advice on information management for Australasian herbaria. HISCOM is responsible for guiding the development of the Australasian Virtual Herbarium (AVH) in collaboration with the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), and promotes the application and development of new information processing technologies in herbarium management, botanical research, data curation and information delivery. HISCOM reports to the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (CHAH). The following Terms of Reference describe the purpose, structure and governance of HISCOM and provide guidelines for the management of HISCOM business. These Terms of Reference will be reviewed annually by HISCOM and CHAH.

Vision

A robust, integrated and interactive information system that provides access to comprehensive and well-curated information about the flora of Australasia.

Purpose

The purpose of HISCOM is to:

  • promote the free exchange of herbarium data
  • develop and promote data interchange standards
  • provide technical advice on botanical information systems to CHAH and other bodies
  • provide technical advice about project management and resource requirements to CHAH and other bodies as agreed
  • exchange ideas and expertise relating to an integrated Australasian flora information system
  • build, manage and maintain open and integrated botanical information systems
  • develop and implement new biodiversity information management technologies
  • support under-resourced Australasian herbaria to meet their information management objectives.

Membership

Membership of HISCOM is open to anyone within the Australasian herbarium and botanical research communities who has time and expertise to contribute to HISCOM activities. At its core, the major Australian Commonwealth, state and territory, and New Zealand herbaria are represented on HISCOM by at least one staff member actively involved in information management from each herbarium. Australian and New Zealand university herbaria are represented by as many university herbarium staff as are able to attend and contribute. Other institutions involved in botanical information management are also represented, including the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) and the ALA.

Management

The management of HISCOM comprises a Chair and Assistant Chair, elected for three-year terms from within the core HISCOM membership, and a Deputy Chair, who is a member of CHAH. The Chair and Assistant Chair will be nominated by HISCOM two to three months prior to the annual meeting, and endorsed by CHAH. The HISCOM Chair is responsible for:

  • convening meetings
  • collating meeting agendas
  • liaising between HISCOM and CHAH.

The Assistant Chair will assist with these tasks as required. The Deputy Chair acts as the main conduit between HISCOM and CHAH. Other HISCOM roles include Technical Coordinator and AVH User Liaisons (detailed below), which relate to the management and use of the AVH. Project managers will be appointed to manage ad hoc projects (see Projects below). CHAH participants will support HISCOM members in these roles and will ensure they have adequate time and resources to fulfil the requirements of the roles.

Technical Coordinator

A member of HISCOM will be appointed to liaise with the ALA on the ongoing technical development of the AVH. The Coordinator is responsible for:

  • determining appropriate technical solutions to AVH development needs, in collaboration with the ALA developers
  • helping respond to technical enquiries from AVH users
  • overseeing the maintenance the AVH Wordpress site
  • communicating progress of AVH development to other HISCOM members.

If the Coordinator is not available for an extended period, another HISCOM member will be nominated to cover this role.

AVH User Liaisons

The AVH User Liaisons are the primary contact points for AVH users in Australia and New Zealand. One HISCOM member from each country will be appointed to these roles. The AVH User Liasons are responsible for: monitoring and responding to enquiries submitted via avh.chah.org.au ensuring that issues requiring further action are logged in the AVH issue management system providing feedback on AVH user issues to other HISCOM members.

Projects

HISCOM may undertake projects that are of benefit to the Australasian herbarium community. HISCOM projects may cover any aspect of herbarium information systems, and will involve collaboration between two or more herbaria.

Project proposal and modification

Any member of HISCOM may propose a new HISCOM project or subproject. Proposals for project improvement or enhancement that fall outside the current iteration or specifications of an existing project may come from any member of HISCOM or HISCOM project. Proposals involving new work or changes in direction should be presented to HISCOM for consideration, and ratified by CHAH. Proposals should be submitted and circulated to the HISCOM e-mail list well in advance of meetings or teleconferences to allow adequate time for consideration and discussion.

Project roles

Once a HISCOM project has been established, a Project manager will be appointed to oversee the implementation of the project tasks. Where resources permit, project managers will come from within HISCOM, but it might at times be necessary or desirable to engage outside expertise. CHAH will act as the sponsor for projects, and HISCOM will act as an advisory group. CHAH is responsible for:

  • approving and endorsing projects
  • resourcing projects
  • engaging contractors as required
  • defining the high-level specification and priorities of the project in consultation with HISCOM.

HISCOM is responsible for:

  • identifying projects
  • providing and reviewing project specifications
  • undertaking project work as required
  • providing input on decision-making.

The project manager is responsible for:

  • consultating with HISCOM, CHAH and other stakeholders
  • prioritising and scheduling projects
  • ensuring that the project remains on schedule
  • managing project tasks and actions
  • providing advice to the project team
  • reporting to HISCOM, CHAH and other stakeholders
  • engaging subcontractors as required.

Meetings and communication

HISCOM business will be conducted via the HISCOM wiki and e-mail list, via regular meetings and teleconferences, or in project workshops. At minimum, HISCOM will communicate via:

  • an annual two-day meeting of HISCOM members and invited guests
  • two teleconferences each year.

Where deemed beneficial, HISCOM will schedule meetings before or after CHAH or MAHC meetings to allow joint discussion on matters of shared business.

HISCOM e-mail list

Members of HISCOM subscribe to the HISCOM e-mail list. Membership of the HISCOM e-mail list is granted by request, approved by the HISCOM Chair. The HISCOM e-mail list will be reviewed at the annual HISCOM meeting. To promote better communication and collaboration between HISCOM and the Managers of Australasian Herbarium Collections (MAHC), MAHC members are encouraged to subscribe to the HISCOM list.

Meetings and teleconferences

Invitees

Where possible, HISCOM and the Faunal Collections Information Group (FCIG), and HISCOM and the Managers of Australasian Herbarium Collections (MAHC), will have reciprocal representation at each other's annual meetings. Generally, the local member/s will represent HISCOM at these meetings. Other representatives may attend if there are particular items to be considered. On occasion, the HISCOM Chair may invite other interested parties to participate in teleconferences or meetings, after consultation with HISCOM.

Agenda

The HISCOM Chair reviews the minutes of the previous meeting and determines which items need to be reviewed. Any HISCOM member may propose new items for discussion. The agenda should be finalised at least two weeks prior to meetings to allow participants adequate time to prepare. The Chair will prioritise agenda items to optimise the use of available time. The Chair may postpone discussion of an item to ensure that all prioritised business is addressed.

Minutes and reporting

A minute taker will be arranged by the Chair prior to the meeting. Minutes will be compiled on the HISCOM wiki during the meeting, and updated by HISCOM representatives during and after the meeting as necessary. The emphasis of the minutes will be on actions for HISCOM and recommendations to CHAH, along with relevant discussion points that may be useful for future reference. Once minutes are ratified, they will be converted to a non-editable form and published on the HISCOM wiki. The status of an action should be indicated on the HISCOM wiki, and updated at least two weeks prior to any meeting. The HISCOM Chair or a nominated representative will report to CHAH on outcomes of HISCOM meetings and any other HISCOM business. The HISCOM Chair will report back to HISCOM on CHAH's response to recommendations arising from the annual HISCOM meeting and other CHAH input to HISCOM activity.

Decision making

HISCOM decision making is by negotiation, mutual agreement, compromise or bitter resignation. HISCOM is not able to compel participants to manage data in in particular way. HISCOM acknowledges that each institution will have local organisational, operational and technological constraints. Majority practice is a guiding principle for development and acceptance of standards. Where agreement cannot be reached, the matter is referred to CHAH. When agreement is reached, HISCOM participants will use best endeavours to implement the decisions.

Conflict resolution

Where matters of unresolvable technical or operational conflict arise within HISCOM, the matter will be referred to CHAH for resolution.