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Feasibility study for German environmental information portal

What are the actual requirements of real users for a central environmental information portal for Germany? As a component of a feasibility study, con terra organized a User Centred Design/ UCD workshop.

Feasibility study for German environmental information portalAt the end of last January, a wide range of potential users of environmental information met at con terra GmbH in Münster, Germany. This was at the invitation of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). The aim of the meeting was to determine the actual requirements of real users for a central environmental information portal for Germany. The environmental and nature protection information system in Germany is called UNIS-D. This is an acronym of the German description ‘Umwelt- und NaturschutzInformationsSystem-Deutschland’. Con Terra did this within the framework of a user-centered design workshop. In addition to representatives from environmental management, science, environmental activists, business enterprises and education joined in. They came together to bring a broad spectrum of requirements and ideas into the UNIS-D project.

Working groups

Attendees split into three working groups. Con terra’s UCD experts developed so-called ‘personas’ and ‘user stories’ at the meeting. Personas are fictitious prototypical users of a target group. User stories are software requirements formulated in everyday language. The participants rated the creative work within the groups, the lively exchange during the breaks and the focus on the actual requirements as ‘extremely positive’ and ‘effective’ . In the end, it was possible to look at concrete results that reflected a broad spectrum of user requirements. This was not only in terms of the content’s expectations of the information. It also applied to the form of preparation and technical and legal quality. Therefore, both the participants and the UCD experts at con terra were very satisfied.

Challenges and further steps

However, they also saw the enormous challenges of taking the presented needs into account within the existing structures. Con terra is working out the results as we speak. Later on, these will serve as a basis for further steps towards UNIS-D. Eventually, this is going to become a ‘digital cosmos’ based on the model of Alexander von Humboldt’s physical description of the world.

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UNIS-D UCD workshop

This UCD workshop was a component of a feasibility study for a central environmental information portal. In this context, the main focus was on the form. In this, a new, multi-disciplinary and cross-level offer is feasible and sensible in the long term. This all works against the background of the environmental policy agenda formulated by the BMU in 2019. It states: “We think digitization and the environment is a unity: […] Our attitude is that environmental information must be easily accessible, freely available, validated and transparent. It belongs to everyone. Germany needs an environmental data cloud. It is the basis for open data access and a source of innovation.”