It's a hub. It's a community. It's marketplace. Oppla, an online platform dedicated to natural capital, ecosystem services and nature-based solutions, was launched in September 2016 by two EU-funded research projects. It has been growing rapidly, and if everything goes to plan, it may soon be going global.
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The research sector is great at producing really good information, but on the whole its not very good at communicating, says Paul Mahony of British environmental consultancy Countryscape. Theres a lot of great research out there, which doesnt always reach the target audiences. So what we are trying to do with Oppla is to help increase the impact of research by bringing those outputs to new users.
The new platform is meeting with considerable interest, notably from the United Nations Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), says Mahony. It was built jointly by the EU-funded projects OPERAs and OpenNESS which, he notes, showed remarkable entrepreneurial spirit by opting for an unconventional and business-led approach.
We looked at some of the existing platforms, and we also looked outside the research sector to draw inspiration from activities like e-commerce sites like eBay and Amazon. eBay for instance manages huge amounts of information and makes it easy for people to contribute content, to sell things, to buy things, and so forth. And we thought, well, why cant we apply similar principles?
Why not, indeed. Determined to take a fresh look at the dissemination of environmental information and enable more people to access and use it, Mahony and his colleagues developed an atypical platform that combines features from very different settings. Oppla includes a knowledge marketplace where members can make information or tools available to others, as well as a crowd-sourced information service. A matchmaking tool inspired by dating sites is also available, to help members find potential research or business partners.
A growing community, open to all
More than 1 000 members have so far joined the Oppla community, Mahony reports. Half of these are from the research community, a quarter is composed of environmental SMEs and other businesses, and a further quarter is made up of a variety of organisations from the public sector and civil society.
Oppla is mainly a platform for professionals, people who are interested in nature-based solutions or environmental science as part of their day jobs, Mahony explains. But everyone is welcome to join and contribute to it. Citizen science projects or schools, for example, are also encouraged to add content.
They can do so secure in the knowledge that Oppla intends to stick around. To keep the service going beyond the end of both founding projects in 2017, Oppla was set up as a non-profit organisation by Countryscape and the European Centre for Nature Conservation, a biodiversity expertise centre in the Netherlands. The plan is to fund operations through involvement in research projects and the provision of services such as software development.
Opplas unusual take on science communication appears to be gaining recognition, says Mahony, looking back on the six months that have gone by since the site went live. I think people see that it is still in its infancy, but that it has a lot of potential. I think they like the fact that we are trying to do things a bit differently. We are trying to be disruptive, but in a positive way wipe the slate clean and completely start again, in some areas.
It's an adventure, which has only just begun. Further features are about to be added, Mahony reports, and cooperation with IPBES is opening up opportunities for the platform to operate at a global scale.
And in time, we want to become a platform for the environment generally. So we are looking to expand into other areas of environmental research, growing laterally to take on more topics, Mahony adds. We are going to make mistakes along the way, we are not going to get everything right, but thats the beauty of Oppla. It will never be a finished product; it will always be evolving; it will always be changing. Watch this space!