DiSSCo, the Distributed System of Scientific Collections, is a pan-European Research Infrastructure (RI) mobilising, unifying bio- and geo-diversity information connected to the specimens held in natural science collections and delivering it to scientific communities and beyond. Bringing together 120 institutions across 21 countries and combining earlier investments in data interoperability practices with technological advancements in digitisation, cloud services and semantic linking, DiSSCo makes the data from natural science collections available as one virtual data cloud, connected with data emerging from new techniques and not already linked to specimens. These new data include DNA barcodes, whole genome sequences, proteomics and metabolomics data, chemical data, trait data, and imaging data (Computer-assisted Tomography (CT), Synchrotron, etc.), to name but a few; and will lead to a wide range of end-user services that begins with finding, accessing, using and improving data. DiSSCo will deliver the diagnostic information required for novel approaches and new services that will transform the landscape of what is possible in ways that are hard to imagine today. With approximately 1.5 billion objects to be digitised, bringing natural science collections to the information age is expected to result in many tens of petabytes of new data over the next decades, used on average by 5,000 – 15,000 unique users every day. This requires new skills, clear policies and robust procedures and new technologies to create, work with and manage large digital datasets over their entire research data lifecycle, including their long-term storage and preservation and open access. Such processes and procedures must match and be derived from the latest thinking in open science and data management, realising the core principles of 'findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable' (FAIR). Synthesised from results of the ICEDIG project ("Innovation and Consolidation for Large Scale Digitisation of Natural Heritage", EU Horizon 2020 grant agreement No. 777483) the DiSSCo Conceptual Design Blueprint covers the organisational arrangements, processes and practices, the architecture, tools and technologies, culture, skills and capacity building and governance and business model proposals for constructing the digitisation infrastructure of DiSSCo. In this context, the digitisation infrastructure of DiSSCo must be interpreted as that infrastructure (machinery, processing, procedures, personnel, organisation) offering Europe-wide capabilities for mass digitisation and digitisation-ondemand, and for the subsequent management (i.e., curation, publication, processing) and use of the resulting data. The blueprint constitutes the essential background needed to continue work to raise the overall maturity of the DiSSCo Programme across multiple dimensions (organisational, technical, scientific, data, financial) to achieve readiness to begin construction. Today, collection digitisation efforts have reached most collection-holding institutions across Europe. Much of the leadership and many of the people involved in digitisation and working with digital collections wish to take steps forward and expand the efforts to benefit further from the already noticeable positive effects. The collective results of examining technical, financial, policy and governance aspects show the way forward to operating a large distributed initiative i.e., the Distributed System of Scientific Collections (DiSSCo) for natural science collections across Europe. Ample examples, opportunities and need for innovation and consolidation for large scale digitisation of natural heritage have been described. The blueprint makes one hundred and four (104) recommendations to be considered by other elements of the DiSSCo Programme of linked projects (i.e., SYNTHESYS+, COST MOBILISE, DiSSCo Prepare, and others to follow) and the DiSSCo Programme leadership as the journey towards organisational, technical, scientific, data and financial readiness continues. Nevertheless, significant obstacles must be overcome as a matter of priority if DiSSCo is to move beyond its Design and Preparatory Phases during 2024. Specifically, these include: Organisational: • Strengthen common purpose by adopting a common framework for policy harmonisation and capacity enhancement across broad areas, especially in respect of digitisation strategy and prioritisation, digitisation processes and techniques, data and digital media publication and open access, protection of and access to sensitive data, and administration of access and benefit sharing. • Pursue the joint ventures and other relationships necessary to the successful delivery of the DiSSCo mission, especially ventures with GBIF and other international and regional digitisation and data aggregation organisations, in the context of infrastructure policy frameworks, such as EOSC. Proceed with the explicit aim of avoiding divergences of approach in global natural science collections data management and research. Technical: • Adopt and enhance the DiSSCo Digital Specimen Architecture and, specifically as a matter of urgency, establish the persistent identifier scheme to be used by DiSSCo and (ideally) other comparable regional initiatives. • Establish (software) engineering development and (infrastructure) operations team and direction essential to the delivery of services and functionalities expected from DiSSCo such that earnest engineering can lead to an early start of DiSSCo operations. Scientific: • Establish a common digital research agenda leveraging Digital (extended) Specimens as anchoring points for all specimen-associated and -derived information, demonstrating to research institutions and policy/decision-makers the new possibilities, opportunities and value of participating in the DiSSCo research infrastructure. Data: • Adopt the FAIR Digital Object Framework and the International Image Interoperability Framework as the low entropy means to achieving uniform access to rich data (image and non-image) that is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR). • Develop and promote best practice approaches towards achieving the best digitisation results in terms of quality (best, according to agreed minimum information and other specifications), time (highest throughput, fast), and cost (lowest, minimal per specimen). Financial • Broaden attractiveness (i.e., improve bankability) of DiSSCo as an infrastructure to invest in. • Plan for finding ways to bridge the funding gap to avoid disruptions in the critical funding path that risks interrupting core operations; especially when the gap opens between the end of preparations and beginning of implementation due to unsolved political difficulties. Strategically, it is vital to balance the multiple factors addressed by the blueprint against one another to achieve the desired goals of the DiSSCo programme. Decisions cannot be taken on one aspect alone without considering other aspects, and here the various governance structures of DiSSCo (General Assembly, advisory boards, and stakeholder forums) play a critical role over the coming years.

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Research Ideas and Outcomes
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Hardisty, Alex, Saarenmaa, Hannu, Casino, Ana, Dillen, Mathias, Gödderz, Karsten, Groom, Quentin, … Willemse, L. (2020). Conceptual design blueprint for the DiSSCo digitization infrastructure - DELIVERABLE D8.1. Research Ideas and Outcomes, 6(e54280). doi:10.3897/rio.6.e54280