HISCOM 2002 AGM Armidale

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The 2002 HISCOM Annual General Meeting was held in Armidale, NSW from 30 September – 1 October 2002. The venue was the University of New England Department of Botany. This document represents the minutes of the meeting.



  • Barry Conn, Coordinator (National Herbarium of NSW)
  • Bill Barker (State Herbarium of South Australia)
  • Ian Cowie (Northern Territory Herbarium)
  • Jim Croft (Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, ACT)
  • Ken Hill (National Herbarium of NSW)
  • Peter Neish (National Herbarium of Victoria)
  • Ben Richardson (Western Australian Herbarium)
  • Greg Whitbread (Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, ACT)

Invited Guests

  • Alan Brooks (KE Software Pty Ltd)
  • Steve Campbell (ITD, University of New England)
  • Jerry Cooper (Landcare Research, Christchurch, NZ)
  • Matthew Gray (Department of Botany, University of New England)
  • Helen Thompson (Australian Biological Resources Study, ACT)



Peter Edwards (Acting Director of ITD, UNE) welcomed the participants and invited guests to the HISCOM 2002 workshop.Barry Conn (Coordinator) introduced the group to the general schedule of the meeting.

Minutes of last meeting

HISCOM 2001 Action Item Outcome Summary
7 – On-line Flora Amended to allow Helen Thompson to be added as coordinator.

The minutes were accepted otherwise.

Structure of HISCOM

Aims and Role of HISCOM

Relationship between HISCOM and AVH

HISCOM’s aim and role has in the past been linked to its most visible project, such as HISPID and more recently the AVH.The members were resolved to separate the aim and role of the committee from current projects.

Recommendation to CHAH 1

That CHAH notes a new vision for HISCOM: Readily accessible electronic biodiversity information. The previous vision “Readily accessible Australian flora information on line” is in the process of implementation through HISPID and the AVH.


In cases where politically sensitive matters may be discussed by HISCOM, the members discussed whether HISCOM’s membership should be limited in some way to ensure sensitive matters could be discussed easily.

Should matters need to be resolved by ballot, one member form each herbarium should carry the vote for their institution.

It was noted that CHAH has no view on the membership of HISCOM, except that a member from each CHAH herbarium should be a member of HISCOM.

Recommendation to CHAH 2

That HISCOM has an analogous form of membership structure to CHAH where one official nominee represents each CHAH herbarium.Other participants in HISCOM from herbaria and other organisations participate as observers.

Selection of Coordinator

In the current system, the HISCOM Coordinator is elected as the last item of the year’s meeting.A number of changes to the way the HISCOM Coordinator is elected were discussed so that a team member could more easily choose to take the role (rather than be coerced).

Recommendation to CHAH 3

  • Three months before the next meeting the current coordinator seeks from the official HISCOM representative of each CHAH herbarium those who are willing to act as next coordinator.
  • The official HISCOM members in consultation with their herbarium Head appoint by a simple majority the next coordinator, sending their vote to the CHAH Chair as returning officer.
  • The new coordinator sets the agenda in consultation with the previous coordinator and chairs the HISCOM meeting.In his/her absence the meeting elects a Chair.

Structure of Meetings

As the role of Coordinator is difficult, members discussed whether separating the minute-taking role from the coordinating role would be beneficial to the meeting.


Discussed together with 3.4.2[1].


HISCOM resolved to split the roles of Coordinator and Minute-taker, with the Minute-taker ensuring the minutes consist of Issues, Agreements, Recommendations and Actions.

Agreement 1

The minutes shall consist of Issues, Agreements, Recommendations and Actions.

Membership of HISCOM‑L

As with the previous discussion about the membership of HISCOM, a discussion ensued on the membership of HISCOM-L, the mailing list for HISCOM.

Who are the CHAH representatives?

The idea of a “core” HISCOM membership was used as the basis for the membership of a private mailing list, HISCORE-L, which could be used whenever sensitive matters were to be discussed online.

Action 1

Create a list HISCORE-L for the group of 7 HISCOM official members for restricted discussion. [Ben Richardson, Greg Whitbread]

Function of HISCOM-L

The creation of the private list HISCORE-L for the core HISCOM members allowed the team to resolve to grow the membership of HISCOM-L to include Australian university and New Zealand representatives.

An issue was raised where the mailing list archives for HISCOM-L had been split by the recent changeover from CSIRO to CHAH as host of the list.It was resolved to merge the original list archives into the new CHAH-based list.

Action 2

Retrieve the CSIRO Publishing HISCOM-L archive and merge into the existing list on chah.gov.au. [Peter Neish]

Australia’s Virtual Herbarium

A number of issues to do with the progress of database insertions, implementation of the AVH web site, and AVH software licensing were discussed.

Implementation of AVH (progress and problems)

The majority of HISCOM members were agreed that there was a need for a Project Manager to oversee the AVH.This person would provide a management role as well as marketing role.

The issue of stability of the dynamic query system was raised, as some data providers appear to be down/timing out regularly, a fix for this problem was discussed.A way to automatically notify the data provider administrator when their link was failing could not be determined, so a simpler method was proposed until the software could be analysed.

Recommendation to CHAH 4

AVH needs a Project Manager who

  • Reports to CHAH
  • Has HISCOM as the Project Team
  • Assists with AVH management from HISCOM perspective
  • Manages subprojects and time-lines
  • Provides progress reports on the AVH IT infrastructure development to current and prospective AVH partners.

Recommendation to CHAH 5

CHAH invite Australian University herbaria and New Zealand and other herbaria in the region (in the first instance CHR, PDD) to participate in the AVH. However, no pro-active action from HISCOM is recommended until the core CHAH herbaria are operational.

Action 3

If required, NSW to host the CHR and PDD data as interim measure to enable participation in the AVH. [NSW]

Action 4

Send the model of the WeedAlert system to HISCOM‑L. Further help to be requested from Gary by individual herbaria. [Gary Chapple]

Action 5

Anyone who experiences a timeout in an AVH query sends an email to the HISCOM list server. [All HISCOM members]

Action 6

Add to the SourceForge site the need to configure a workable system to enable the AVH to automatically report when a site is down to the site custodian. [Ben Richardson, completed by Peter Neish during meeting]

Evaluating data transfer, discussing any problems

Issues were raised with the time it was taking for data to be transferred.This continues to be a crucial step in reducing the cost of the AVH.PERTH raised issues with HISPID compliance that slowed the output of data.

A number of actions were suggested to keep discussion of the data quality and data reliability issues open.

Recommendation to CHAH 6

Each Head of Herbarium agrees to the immediate transfer of data to participants in the AVH data capture project, whatever the quality, and will ensure that IT staff are adequately resourced. Data will be selected on the basis of that relating to replicates received from a herbarium and replicates that have been sent to that herbarium.

Action 7

Each herbarium to provide an initial immediate dump to each other herbarium in HISPID3 format based on the “donor” and “desrep” fields. AD, CANB, MEL, NSW, HO want these data. [All HISCOM members]

Action 8

Discuss the impact of data quality issues on the HISCOM list server on the sharing of data in AVH queries and ways of transforming the data generated to match the common standard while databases have a legacy of non-standard data. [All HISCOM members]

Action 9

Identify problems with HISPID exchange standard on HISCOM‑L. [All HISCOM members]

Gathering of statistics for data capture

Barry Conn presented graphs of progress of AVH databasing, and noted that some herbaria were inconsistently reporting their data capture rate.

Who owns AVH development?

A long discussion ensued regarding the issues of intellectual property and ownership of the source code that is used to run the AVH system.

Licensing issues

The contract between CSIRO and KE Software was reviewed and discussed to find a way to resolve the issue of AVH development ownership.

It was noted that it is difficult to separate the IP rights out because of the cumulative development style that was used to create the AVH.

Several members expressed concern that KE's approach to the IP granted them under the contract was contrary to the intent of the contract and the long-standing spirit of the AVH and its development and that this would hinder further mutual development and collaboration with other parties.It was also felt that would remove the ability to develop the AVH and its products in an open software environment.

Further discussion of the necessity for sensitive discussions produced discussion about the formalisation of the role of invited members.

Recommendation to CHAH 7

That CHAH seek clarification of legal aspects of the contract with KE Software and discuss with KE Software the impact of licensing the AVH software. HISCOM would be willing to be involved in the discussion if that were deemed appropriate.

Agreement 2

Industry participation in HISCOM is by invitation only. Agenda should be arranged to allow grouping of restricted items.

Action 10

HISCOM’s concerns to be conveyed back to John Doolan. [Alan Brooks, completed during meeting]

Recommendation to CHAH 8

To facilitate legal aspects of development and management of future contracts involving CHAH or HISCOM, CHAH take the necessary steps to incorporate.

Distribution of AVH software (SourceForge)

Following on from discussion of the licensing issues with the AVH software, it was noted that the Conditions of Use for the SourceForge web site prevent the hosting of commercially licensed software development.This currently precludes much of the fundamental AVH development from happening in SourceForge.

Action 11

Continue to place code relating to AVH not subject to discussion with KE Software on SourceForge. [Ben Richardson, Peter Neish, Greg Whitbread, and any others]

BIWG usage of AVH

Discussed together with 5.4.4[1].

OZCAM usage of AVH

Both the Biodiversity Information Working Group (BIWG) and (OZCAM) were noted as being interested in the collaborative development of the AVH software.Previous discussion on the licensing issues in the AVH software prevented a full discussion of these opportunities.

Issue 1

Depending on outcome of 5.4.1, determine appropriate action in relation to BIWG and OZCAM usage of AVH. [New HISCOM Coordinator]

Future development of AVH software

A discussion ensued about future requirements for the AVH.

Mapper – future enhancements

A requirement set out during initial proposals to the Federal Minister for the Environment was to allow a list of species to be returned by requesting a search of an area of land.It is thus highly desirable that some form of area-based query be available at the time of the launch for public use.

This type of querying requires spatial indexing on the database to ensure a reply is received in a timely manner, as the queries are complex.

Action 12

Canberra, Darwin (and perhaps Sydney) to develop an example of a simple area search before the launch of the AVH. [Jim Croft, Ian Cowie, Ken Hill]

Distributed Image database

The members discussed the concept of a distributed image system similar in style to the AVH for specimen data.

Agreement 3

Put the distributed image database links on hold till the fact sheets are considered.

Distributed Flora fact sheets

The members discussed the concept of a distributed flora fact sheet similar in style to the AVH for specimen data.A number of members expressed interest in prototyping this for a future on-line system.

Action 13

Develop a distributed query to fact sheets in AVH. Promote discussion on HISCOM list on various query issues. [Jim Croft, Ken Hill, June 2003]

Security and authentication

A number of issues were raised dealing with the security of AVH data.

The main issue of linking authentication modules was raised.The problem: how to securely (and automatically) update passwords when they are to be the same on multiple nodes.

Action 14

  • Change current restricted AVH site password and populate each local node with this new password.
  • Review the security policy to determine if passwords should be instituted on the basis of individual nodes or institutions. [Peter Neish, Jim Croft]

Action 15

All AVH sites to ensure they project locality to the public domain in the form of Nearest Named Place. [All HISCOM members, June 2003]

Action 16

To gain access to full specimen data, build a URL link from the Query display back to the original specimen in the case of restricted access. [Ken Hill, Peter Neish, June 2003]

Consensus Census

A number of states had not yet provided their census data to Greg Whitbread for collation.It was noted in the previous meeting that the need for this was to prevent the need for a distributed census in the AVH.This was deemed too difficult to accomplish given the likelihood that manual intervention would be required to address name conflicts between states.

Greg Whitbread still aims to produce a list of all plant names in use in Australian herbaria so that the conflicts can be resolved in preparation for feature additions to AVH.

Action 17

NSW, AD and CANB representatives to provide their State census to Greg Whitbread. [Barry Conn, Bill Barker, Jim Croft, Greg Whitbread, October 2002]

Status of HISPID5

It was noted that HISPID5 had stalled somewhat due to full work schedules and the AVH.The members resolved to increase the visibility of the draft document by adding it to SourceForge and beginning a phase of documenting the standard.

Action 18

Place HISPID5 on SourceForge. [Jim Croft, Greg Whitbread, completed by Jim Croft and Ben Richardson on 9 October 2002]

Action 19

Document the definitions of elements of HISPID5. Announce draft on HISCOM‑L, collate comments, and post final version on SourceForge. [Barry Conn, Ben Richardson, June 2003]

Changes to HISPID

A suggestion was made to change the way in which HISPID stores geocode precision so that it is more in line with current practice in 3-4 herbaria.This implied changing the standard to use an identifier between 1 and 6 to represent a general precision rating.The current standard uses a value in metres.

It was suggested in answer that it was relatively easy to translate directly between these precision rating systems, and as a result would not result in much less effort.

Action 20

Report back from TDWG on names (and descriptive) data interchange standards with a view to building a HISPID names module relating to the data elements of the Consensus Census (and the AVH distributed fact sheets database). [Greg Whitbread (from TDWG), Jim Croft]

Action 21

If sufficiently developed, implement in the Consensus Census the TDWG or other international nomenclatural standard due for development in the next year.Otherwise develop a HISPID standard in consultation with HISCOM members. [Greg Whitbread]

Data validation

Discussion continued from previous meetings on the likelihood that Paul Gioia (PERTH) would be involved in writing software to validate the geocode data in the AVH.A separate discussion ensued as to whether this software would be made available to each herbarium, or provided on-line in a web environment.

Action 22

Inform Paul Gioia of the high interest in HISCOM in using his data validation module.A module that can be implemented locally or a PERTH web-based validation tool are two options he might consider.If this proves impractical, report to HISCOM-L on other options. [Ken Hill, completed on 15 October 2002]


Several opportunities were discussed by the members as a likely location for the next HISCOM meeting.

APBC2003 Meeting, Adelaide

Action 23

Establish whether HISCOM input in a number of subject areas would be welcomed at the Asia Pacific Bioinformatics Conference 2003 at Flinders University in Adelaide on February 4–7 2003 with a view to making a number of presentations and holding a meeting of HISCOM in Adelaide. [Jerry Cooper]

Next HISCOM Meeting

Action 24

In the event that an Adelaide meeting is not practical, organise an alternative meeting of HISCOM early in the new year. [HISCOM Coordinator]

Melbourne 2003

Peter Neish agreed to find out whether an ASBS meeting in Melbourne would be a good place for HISCOM input.

Action 25

Organise HISCOM meeting and activate discussion of what sort of HISCOM input is desirable for the conference. [Peter Neish]


This item was not discussed.

ABIF-Flora website

Helen Thompson demonstrated the ABIF-Flora web site.This site is developed using Tomcat running on the Apache web server, and uses Java to parse XML to allow searching on descriptive text.Everyone appreciated Helen’s presentation.

The site is currently running on ABRS’ draft server and is unavailable via Internet.Greg will try to get it online soon.

Action 26

Post ABIF-Flora schema for descriptive data on the SourceForge site. [Greg Whitbread, Helen Thompson, November 2002]

Other business

Some discussion ensued on whether all members both in HISCOM and CHAH were making the time to promote the AVH, given that its use by stakeholders would ensure the project’s longevity.A number of actions and recommendations were proposed to push this point.

As a way to make the job of promoting the AVH easier, a further action was proposed to collect presentations already made in one place so they could be reused as required.

The election of a new coordinator was put off for further discussion, as one was not found during meeting time.

Ben Richardson offered to act as HISCOM web site maintainer if the access could be provided by NSW.

HISCOM agreed that that collaboration with the GBIF New Zealand effort would be beneficial to both countries.

Action 27

HISCOM members use every opportunity to promote HISCOM activities, in particular the AVH. [All HISCOM members]

Recommendation to CHAH 9

Seek ways of expediting the launch of the AVH web site on multiple nodes.

Recommendation to CHAH 10

CHAH continue to actively promote AVH.

Action 28

Forward past and future presentations on the AVH with a national or state focus to Jim Croft to put on the CHAH web site as a resource. [All HISCOM members]

Action 29

HISCOM coordinator is to be resolved as a matter of urgency. [Barry Conn, October 2002]

Action 30

Update the HISCOM web site on an ongoing basis (dependent on the availability of FTP access). [Ben Richardson]

Agreement 4

HISCOM would welcome a trans-Tasman collaborative project with GBIF New Zealand.


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