Q & A with Nobo: Improving Data Management for Conservation in Indonesia

March 27, 2018. Our new scientist, Dr Michael Padmanaba, also known as Nobo, was born in Yogayakarta and has a background in Forestry, with Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, as his major. He became a researcher so that he could contribute in providing reliable and up-to-date findings and disseminate them to the wider community. He has been focusing on how current biodiversity issues and forest conservation can be understood by the masses, as well as how to disseminate them to relevant stakeholders including policy makers. His principle is that, in the research sector, knowledge needs to be dug and dispersed.

In order to conduct and implement efficient research, the process of researching needs accurate data and information. Despite the importance and significance of data management, many governmental offices and institutions in Indonesia, including non-government organizations, have not yet implemented proper database and archiving practices. Old archives are usually uncatalogued, stored in warehouses, thus making them vulnerable to damage and hard to locate when needed.

Nobo took time off his busy work to talk to us about data management.

Can you tell us more about your background and how you came into the research sector?

I did my undergraduate degree in Forest Resource Conservation and my first research was on the management of national parks in intensive use zones, using Gunung Rinjani National Park as my case study. And for my Master’s thesis, I studied the pattern of fruit consumption by Sumatran elephants and its implication for conservation in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Lampung. One of the most interesting findings in my career was about the spread of an invasive alien plant called spike pepper (Piper aduncum) alongside a logging concession in East Kalimantan. The concession was constructed near to the next district, Malinau, where a large intact forest in the Kayan Mentarang National Park exists. So, there is the possibility that the plant could potentially invade the national park and cause environmental changes.

What is your favorite aspect of research?

I enjoy doing fieldwork in new places, because I like visiting new places. Most importantly, when we get our research accepted and published, of course.

Can you share a turning point or defining moment in your work?

I would say that the research on the Sumatran elephant felt very personal to me. Because I love large mammals and I love Sumatra, where the last remaining tigers, rhinos, and elephants are.

What is your assessment of the current state of data management in Indonesia?

 There is definitely lack of awareness of databases and proper archiving systems in Indonesia. Especially for us working in non-profit organizations where we work based on projects, we have to constantly maintain and update data archives. There is this notion that after a project is finished, the old data is thus abandoned and forgotten. In my experience, local institutions such as national parks usually do not have good archiving systems. This negatively impacts the process of researching time-series data. For other institutions, especially government institutions, they should also have a proper database archive. So, for us researchers, we can avoid doing overlapping research due to missing data over the years. Also, I think it is very important to invest in digital servers; so all data can be stored there.

I had a very bad experience back in 2009 about losing data because we did not have a backup. After the big mishap, we created a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) whereby after we finished the work, we had to immediately photocopy all data sheets. At that time, we were still using data sheets. Fortunately, nowadays we deal with electronic data. However, there is still the risk of losing data when there is a lack of an Internet connection in the field. So we should always backup data when there is the chance, especially for field staff.

What do you want to achieve with your research?

The goal is to bring an impact for conservation, nature, and development. We should all work together for a better future where there is development, but without harming the surrounding environment.