European river managers delve into new knowledge management system

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European river managers delve into new knowledge management system

Brian McKenna, News and Site Editor
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The UK Environment Agency is looking to a semantic-wiki-based knowledge management (KM) system to improve the flow of information about river restoration across Europe.

The open source system, supplied by Woking-based IT services company SFW, is in the midst of an agile development process in consultation with water managers, engineers and ecologists. The system is due to be completed in June and will belong to Restore, a partnership for river restoration in Europe comprising six fluvial organisations: the UK Environment Agency, River Restoration; Wetlands International and Dienst Landelijk Gebied in the Netherlands; the Finnish SYKE and Italian CIRF.

Antonia Scarr, the Restore project manager at the Environment Agency said the main problem the system will address is less the lack of river management knowledge as the lack of searchability.

Restore aims to help “manage rivers so that we cope better with climate change,” she said. “Rivers have been declining, getting worse, and people don’t realise that.

“Historically, [river managers] took the view that [they] wanted to move the water as fast as possible, so [authorities] put in place a lot of concrete, which made things worse. We are now trying to work more with nature. For example, in London flood protection in a park can be [inappropriately] set at the same level as a hospital. We are also looking at the whole river catchment, taking an overview and managing [rivers] more strategically.”

The 2000 EU Water Framework Directive and its mandating of river basin management plans is part of the wider context for Restore and the KM system, she said.

The knowledge management system will compile and share information on around 500 river restoration projects throughout Europe, as well as connecting project supporters and workers, including European government agencies, engineers, ecologists and planners.

It is based on open source MediaWiki, running on a MySQL database, an SFW representative said, and will apply extensions which include Semantic MediaWiki, used to associate semantic data within the pages.

“This information can then be queried allowing the wiki knowledge base to be properly exploited,” the representative said.

The system also applies, said the representative, a “Format Semantic MediaWiki extension”, for data entry and collaboration, and a “Maps MediaWiki extension” which permits geographic visualisation. The SFW project team comprises 6.5 full-time employees.

The problem at present, said the Environment Agency’s Scarr, is that the knowledge accumulated in past river restoration schemes is not easily available. “In the UK we have done a lot of river restoration projects and some economic analysis. But, as the Environment Agency, we want to get the information out there.

“It would be very useful to search for, let us say, any project that restored rivers for under £10,000. We can’t do that just now.”

The pan-European nature of the Restore project, and the knowledge management system that is under development, is crucial, she said. “Sometimes we don’t look around Europe enough.”

The Environment Agency opted for the Web-based, semantic wiki system that SFW is supplying because of its imposition of “structure through prescribed columns,” its agile, user-consultative development model, and its transferability, she said. “We did not want to be too prescriptive. And we wanted it to be open source because we don’t want to hold the tool as the Environment Agency. We want to give it to the centre for river restoration to hold it centrally.” The Restore website is hosted by Wetlands International, not the Environment Agency.

The project has taken search requirements feedback from a river restoration event held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, with 125 delegates from 25 countries. “We’ve also recently spoken to policy makers in Paris to see what they might search for on the database.”

There will be user testing in April, and the system is due to go live in June. It is due to be delivered in June at www.restorerivers.eu.


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