The Australian BioCommons Community Engagement Strategy: Engaging Researchers at a National Scale to Understand Challenges and Deliver Solutions

Dr Tiff Nelson1,2,3, Dr Andrew Lonie1,4, Dr Johan Gustafsson1,4, Dr Jeff Christiansen1,3,5

1Australian BioCommons
Australia, 2Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia
3Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation, Brisbane, Australia
4University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
5University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia


The Australian BioCommons develops digital capacity, training and bioinformatics infrastructure to support Australia’s life scientists. So how can we identify the greatest needs of many thousands of geographically dispersed researchers, and also deliver useful infrastructure? Strong user engagement is paramount to understand community needs and direct the deployment and resourcing of appropriate infrastructure to ensure maximum impact.


We have developed a five step process of engagement that maximises community interaction, from initiation to deployment.


1/ Identify meaningful communities of manageable scope around focus areas with infrastructure challenges;

2/ Research the community topic area to understand broad needs and challenges to engage members;

3/ Communicate with the broad community, inclusive of everyone from any expertise level or any institution, to identify issues, roadblocks and solutions/suggestions through electronic surveys, shared discussion boards and virtual meetings;

4/ Document the challenges and, in discussion with infrastructure specialists, detail conceptual solutions with endorsement from a subset of practitioners from the community;

5/ Deploy and implement solutions with testing and feedback from the community.


Through this engagement process, the Australian BioCommons has identified and then coordinated work to deploy essential infrastructure that was previously lacking to support critical communities (e.g. those undertaking genome annotation).  Successful outcomes of deployment at this early stage are measured by positive responses from the community (e.g. turning up in large numbers, actively joining the discussion), and active use by early adopters.

The method is now being applied to engage a diverse range of communities.


Tiff completed a PhD in microbial ecology at the University of New South Wales in 2012. Her thesis on the gut microbiome of seals and subsequent experience in deciphering the ecology and biology of microbial organisms in diverse habitats to understand their impact on health and conservation got Tiff interested in the data analysis side of this work. She joined the Queensland Facility for Advanced Bioinformatics in early 2019 as Research Community Engagement for the Australian BioCommons. In this role, Tiff has been consulting with researchers to identify services and infrastructure the BioCommons could facilitate creating in the future.

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