ALERC Accreditation is a system for assuring the quality of the work provided by Local Environmental Records Centres (LERCs) in the United Kingdom.
Meeting a set of 20 standard criteria allows LERCs to demonstrate they adhere to best practice across 3 areas. Within these areas specific aspects of LERC work are assessed, such as whether the organisation is steered by stakeholders, whether it has a verification system to check data accuracy and what data services it can offer. The network of LERCs provides UK citizens with a dedicated environmental data service that is physically close to them and that understands their local environment. High resolution and high quality data is collected and made available for many purposes. The difficulty is there are therefore a lot of organisations (circa 50) across the UK that are doing this work. A system is needed that brings some level of standardisation across LERCs and could provide assurance to those using LERCs in different parts of the UK, that LERCs are adhering to accepted best practice.
The ALERC Accreditation system was created to address this. The scheme consists of two levels of accreditation, standard and advanced, but the advanced level criteria are still in development. To achieve standard level accreditation, LERCs need to demonstrate how they confirm to twenty criteria. These criteria are divided into three sections 1) the way the LERC is constituted & how it ensures that it is steered by its stakeholders; 2) data custodianship and 3) Services. At all moments, data suppliers (i.e. the recorder) & the users (i.e. environmental decision makers) are considered.
To produce the criteria, and pilot them by assessing two LERCs, a project was created to a value of approx. 30,000GBP The system is run by ALERC, with additional voluntary contributions from LERCs, with the approx. value of 10,000GBP per annum. Replication costs would depend on number of LERCs.
Evidence of success
The overall measure of success is to have all ALERC member LERCs accredited by 2020. It is harder to measure what the effect will be of achieving this, but it is hoped that there will be greater use of environmental data, which will be shown by an increase in the number of data requests from the commercial sector and members of the public, as well as an increase in agreements with the public sector.
The main challenge is simply finding the time to go through the criteria and compile the evidence to show that the LERC is compliant. LERCs can’t be forced to do this and they are already very busy.
Potential for learning or transfer
It is not known how many regions outside of the UK have LERCs, or anything similar to LERCs. However, many of the principles of good environmental data management are universal and it is very beneficial for any organisation involved with environmental data to be able to show that it conforms to good practice. Therefore an accreditation system of some type should be applicable everywhere. Some aspects are simple and easily transferable, such as the need to conform to a specific taxonomic dictionary, since this will use Latin (universal). Other aspects will be specific to individual regions, such ensuring that data is handled in accordance with local legislation (although much of this legislation originates from the European Union and so should be very similar everywhere in Europe). Once set up, the ALERC accreditation has been altered slightly to reflect technical developments as well as changes in legislation and policy. This is easy to do and simply requires an annual review.