Citizen science for development : Potential role of mobile phones in information sharing on ticks and tick-borne diseases in Laikipia, Kenya

Chepkwony, Richard; Bommel, Severine van; Langevelde, Frank van


Ticks and tick-borne diseases (TTBDs) constitute a lethal and widespread problem in many tropical areas, with major ramifications for livestock production, wildlife management, and human health and livelihoods. Despite various control strategies applied, TTBDs remain a complex problem, and integrated approaches must be developed to control them effectively. To address this problem, Wageningen University and Research established an interdisciplinary project in 2015 – Environmental Virtual Observatories for Connective Actions (EVOCA) – that focuses, among other things, on mobile phone-based information sharing platforms for TTBDs in Kenya. This study in Laikipia, a semi-arid savanna area of Kenya, is designed to (i) identify issues that complicate effective TTBD control, (ii) explore whether and how local people use mobile phones to address problems, including TTBDs, and (iii) reflect on what citizen science can contribute to the development of mobile phone-based platforms for TTBDs. The study, conducted between November 2016 and August 2017, adopted a mixed-methods approach comprising 21 interviews, field observations, document reviews, and a workshop. Results suggest that the TTBD problem is compounded by a combination of local issues. Insecurity, human–wildlife conflicts, and occurrences of notifiable zoonotic diseases are among the most pressing issues that affect people and influence the kind of information that they share using mobile phones. The motivation to share information on insecurity and human–wildlife conflicts stems from the urgent need for people to collaborate and facilitate prompt action by the security agencies and expectations of compensation from the government for wildlife damages, respectively. Mobile phone adoption rate in Laikipia is ∼70%, suggesting that mobile phones (simple and smart) are widely used for various socioeconomic activities: to communicate with family members and friends and to access information on pressing issues, forming issue-based networks of communication. The widespread use of mobile phones for economic activities such as businesses and banking services have empowered people economically, improving their livelihoods, whereas those without access are probably excluded (disconnected). This study suggests that, despite the widespread adoption of mobile phones, sharing information on TTBDs does not seem to be a major priority for Laikipia residents, as other issues such as insecurity or human–wildlife conflicts take precedence. The design of mobile phone platforms and citizen science for TTBDs should consider such confounding factors to connect with the issues affecting local people.