Building a soils data community

Mr Paul Box1, Mr Peter Wilson1, Ms Julia Martin2, Ms Melanie Barlow2

1Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Sydney, Canberra, Australia,

2Australian National Data Service, Canberra, Australia


In this presentation we will detail approaches to building a soil data sharing community to broaden the base of contributors to and consumers of Australian soils data.

This ‘soil data sharing community’ seeks to develop equitable, transparent, trusted data sharing mechanisms that would benefit all contributors and potential users within a structured and agreed environment. As the community spans government, research and industry players as well as individual farmers, all of which have differing goals, business drivers, incentives for sharing data, developing arrangements that satisfy all players is challenging.  Unlike a ‘data commons’, the  ‘data sharing arrangements’ for a soil data community will need to provide a more secure and trusted sharing environment more akin to a farmers data market in which contributors are able to determine conditions for the reuse of their data. The sharing capabilities  to be developed are a socio-technical system, comprising technical infrastructure, standards and data, together with the polices, IP arrangements, contracts, governance and other institutional arrangements necessary  to build and operate a trusted market place comprising data that have public, private and club good characteristics.

This presentation will explore the Human-centered design approach used to explore a range of social, institutional and economic issues and perspectives of a range of stakeholders actively engaged in or wanting to build data sharing arrangements.  The presentation will also provide insights into the design of the socio-technical approach to building a community. A data sharing market, based on requirements identified by stakeholders in this project and patterns identified in Sukiato activities in other domains. These insights can provide guidance and potential learnings for other data community building efforts, particularly those related to the rapid expansion of digital agriculture.


Over the last 25 years CSIRO has been collecting and curating data about Australian soils. Much of this data collection has been funded by various state and federal government departments over the years through a large number of research projects. Each project in turn has delivered various research outcomes including research papers, government reports and databases that CSIRO researchers have brought together under the banner of the Australian Soils Research Information System (ASRIS –

Because the data collection and research projects were funded entirely by government the researchers tended to focus on meeting the needs of the departments they were working with at the time. The look, feel and functionality of the system was driven mostly by the contractual requirements for the various funding agreements. In order to be considered a truly national system the platform needs to broaden its appeal to a wider community across Australia interested in soils data.

Funding to maintain soils information is limited, and large volumes of soil data are collected by private sector players, (agronomists, soil testing labs, and farm machinery operators) as well as by farmers themselves increasingly through sensors deployed on their land. This data is privately owned data (private goods), by individual farmers or industry, made publicly available (public goods) and increasingly through collectives for benefits of data sharing communities (club goods).

The ownership of and access rights to data are often unclear especially in cases where third parties own sensors through which data are collected. Lack of clarity and the often contested nature of rights around data, compounded by individual farmers’ concerns about the dis-benefits to them of sharing with others (e.g. poor soil quality readings for land leading to reduced land valuation) act as disincentives to sharing. Insufficient clarity around the value proposition for sharing and the lack of Australian examples of beneficial data cooperatives act as further constraints.  However, the potential value of data sharing to farmers, agriculture industry and government is considered to be high, with spatially and temporally extensive data (notwithstanding issues of quality or completeness) of high utility for improved on-farm productivity, and a range of other third party uses.

The soils data community building project, aims to explore and understand this complex set of issues to inform the design of appropriate social, institutional and technical elements of a soils data sharing mechanism. Building a vibrant community around a capability of this nature is essential to ensure the sustained flow of data that is used to deliver the necessary benefits to incentivise data provision and at the same time offer a viable business model for market operation.


Paul Box leads a CSIRO research team developing interoperable systems of systems or ‘Information Infrastructure’. Paul has worked for more than 25 years in geospatial information technology field. Prior to joining CSIRO in 2009 worked for 15 years throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa for United Nations, government, and not for profit organizations designing, implementing and managing geospatial capability across a wide diversity of application areas in sustainable development and humanitarian response.

For the past 10 years, Paul has been actively involved in research, design and implementation of large scale cross-enterprise Information Infrastructure. This work has focused primarily on the design and delivery of integrated suites of geospatial information products and improving the efficiency of information supply chains.

More recently, Paul has focused attention on addressing the social rather than technical challenges of building Information Infrastructure. Coherent integrated approaches to addressing the social, institutional and economic challenges of infrastructure development are being elaborated through ‘social architecture’. This approach supplements traditional technical architecture led approaches and are being used to support the design and implementation of information infrastructure in multiple domains.

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