From biodiversity to infrastructure: lessons learned repurposing the Atlas of Living Australia technology stack for climate risk decision making

Mr Paul Box1, Jonathan Yu2, Andrew Freebairn3, Ashley Sommers4, Peter Brenton5, Mark  Stafford Smith3, Russ Wise3, Rachel Williams3

1Csiro, Sydney, Australia,

2CSIRO, Melbourne, Australia,

3CSIRO, Canberra, Australia,

4CSIRO, Brisbane, Australia,

5Atlas of Living Australia, Canberra, Australia


Governments, communities and the private sector face rising costs from natural disasters and climate change. Population growth coupled with the effects of climate change creates systemic risks affecting community health and wellbeing, the resilience of the Australian economy and government service delivery. A significant proportion of the social and financial costs of these risks flows back to the Commonwealth, in growing levels of disaster relief and as the ‘insurer of last resort”, but also by compromising areas of policy outcomes which undermines the public’s trust in Government, and ultimately through reduced tax revenues due to declines in national economic productivity and sector competitiveness. There is a wealth of data and information available on the current and future climate, natural hazards, and on ways to adapt to climate change. Decision makers, however, have said that this information is either not accessible, discoverable, or useable for decision-making or if it is they find it difficult to know which information is authoritative and trustworthy and which information to use when. Furthermore, there is currently little guidance on how to bring climate risk into existing business processes such as cost benefit analysis for infrastructure investment.


To address these challenges, CSIRO was commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Environment and Energy (DoEE) to develop a prototype Climate Risk Information and Services Platform (CRISP). CRISP is intended to provide a trusted and sustainable mechanism to enable access to authoritative information, and guidance to facilitate planning and decision-making for a more climate-resilient Australia [1]. By providing best available information about climate risks, coupled with leading practice assessment processes, CRISP aims to influence and support key areas of Commonwealth decision-making to improve the nation’s resilience to climate risk.

A user-centered design approach applying the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) Digital Service Standard was adopted. Two main suites of functions were identified through user engagement: a spatial data discovery and exploration tool to enable discovery and exploration of available spatial information and a configurable workflow specification tool enabling risk assessors and managers to work with climate adaptation scientists to develop climate risk decision making workflows that align with and can support or improve existing business processes. The primary motivating use case for CRISP identified through user design was enabling climate risk to be incorporated into physical infrastructure investment decision-making.

The project approach was informed by previous work in the climate adaptation community (including the CSIRO’s National Climate Adaptation Flagship, the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, and others) that identified the proliferation of unsupported data and process tools as creating confusion for potential user communities [2]. Therefore, despite being an alpha prototype the project team was keen to ensure that the prototype, if possible, was built in a way that meant it could be scaled up to an operational system that could be sustained and supported long term rather than being a ‘throw away’ proof of concept.


The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA or Atlas) is an e-infrastructure that is funded by the Australian Government via its National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). It comprises a centralised web-based infrastructure to capture, aggregate, manage, discover and analyse biodiversity data and associated information, through a suite of tools and spatial layers for use by research, industry, government and the community. It is an open source technology stack with micro-services component architecture.

Based on identified user requirements, the Atlas of Living Australia was identified as a platform that provided much of the functionality required for CRISP and could be re-purposed for use in the CRISP project. Of particular interest was the data collection platform, BioCollect, which provides flexible and configurable project-centric forms-based capability to support user defined field data collection surveys. This tool also has a structure which can readily support extensible workflow requirements.


An agile software development approach was used to develop the alpha prototype in the first phase of the project. An instance of BioCollect was deployed with identified subset of micro services “dockerised” for deployment.

Climate risk workflows were rapidly prototyped in power-point, tested with users  and used as specifications for workflow configuration. However, the BioCollect information model underpinning the surveys, in it’s present form, proved to be insufficient to meet the needs of complex climate risk decision making workflows. In addition, there was a high transaction cost (‘repurposing technical debt’) in customizing BioCollect user interfaces in a rapid proof of concept, alpha prototype.

Consequently it was decided that a separate User Interface (UI)I in Java and HTML and underlying workflow persistence layer using MongoDB would be developed. These would be treated as high fidelity prototypes that would be tested with users and used to inform customization and extension of the BioCollect codebase in the next phase of the project – the beta prototype.


From this process there are a number of lessons that can be learned about how to: build and maximize potential for platforms reuse and repurposing; assess platforms for reuse; estimate potential hidden transaction costs (repurposing technical debt); manage risks through rapid prototyping and identifying key decision points along the development pathway described above.

This presentation will describe this journey in more detail, articulate some key lessons learned and implications for reuse and repurposing of eResearch infrastructure to maximize return on investment.


1 Australian Government, National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy 2015. 2015, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.

2 Webb, R. & Beh, J., Leading adaptation practices and support strategies for Australia: An international and Australian review of products and tools, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast, 105 pp.


Paul works for CSIRO Land and Water and leads research into the social, institutions and economic dimension of public information infrastructure (or systems of systems). He is developing an inter-disciplinary ‘social architecture’ approach to understanding and designing conducive environments for infrastructure development.

This approaches are being applied in the environmental and other domains to enable efficient data supply and digital transformation.

Paul has a background in geospatial informatics and has been involved in the research, design and implementation of geospatial information infrastructure at global and national scales for the past 15 years.  Prior to joining CSIRO, Paul worked for nearly two decades in Asia and Africa for the UN and government, designing, implementing and managing geospatial capabilities to support sustainable development and humanitarian response.

Recent Comments