The role of digital data entry in participatory environmental monitoring

Published on
April 6, 2016

The article of Jeremy Brammer, Nicolas Brunet, Cole Burton, Alain Cuerrier, Finn Danielsen, Kanwal Dewan, Thora Martina Herrmann, Micha Jackson, Rod Kennett, Guillaume Larocque, Monica Mulrennan, Arun Kumar Pratihast, Marie Saint-Arnaud, Colin Scott and Murray Humphries:The role of digital data entry in participatory environmental monitoring has been accepted for published in Conservation Biology.

DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12727

Many have argued that monitoring conducted exclusively by scientists is insufficient to address ongoing environmental challenges. One solution entails the use of mobile devices in broadly-applied participatory monitoring (PM) programs. But how digital data entry affects programs with varying levels of stakeholder participation, from volunteer data collectors to those entirely administered by non-scientists, remains unclear. We reviewed the successes, in terms of management interventions and sustainability, of 107 published programs and compared this analysis with case studies from our PM experiences in Australia, Canada, Ethiopia, Ghana, Greenland, and Vietnam. Our meta-analysis found participatory programs were less likely to use digital devices, while two of our three most participatory cases were also slow to adopt digital data entry. Published programs that were participatory and used digital devices were more likely to report management actions, an association shared with our Ethiopian, Greenlandic, and Australian cases. We found published programs involving volunteers were more frequently sustained than those depending on paid data-collectors; but those involving digital data entry were less sustainable when engaging volunteer data-collectors. In our Vietnamese and Canadian cases, sustainability was undermined by a mismatch in stakeholder objectives; in our Ghanaian case, complex field protocols diminished monitoring sustainability. We propose the use of digital data entry in PM can be understood using a participatory adaptive monitoring framework. In this, technology is less important than collaboratively defined objectives, conceptual models, and protocols determined through effective partnerships. Implemented effectively, digital data entry can enable the collection of more data of higher quality. Implemented ineffectively, or where it is unnecessary, digital data entry can be an additional expense that distracts from core monitoring objectives and undermines project sustainability. The appropriate role of digital data entry in PM likely depends more on the context in which it is used and less on the technology itself.

Keywords: community-based monitoring; citizen science; digital data entry; participatory monitoring and management; public participation in scientific research; traditional ecological knowledge