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How a mobile phone can help monitor conservation efforts


Our conservation work in coastal Kenya is hugely diverse and impacts people, wildlife and habitats.

Managing and understanding data about the wide range of work we’re doing is really important. It helps us measure our impact and provides information that we can use to inform our work.

But, as important as this information is, it can be tricky to find the resources to make sure that the data collection is done well and that the data is analyzed and shared in a timely way.

The ‘Centre of Excellence’

In WWF-Kenya, to help tackle this challenge, we’ve been developing a knowledge management system called the ‘Centre of Excellence’ (CoE).

This online system, when used with other technology solutions, supports the monitoring and visualisation of the work we’re doing. By being a central store for this information, it enables data sharing and collaboration.

We’ve recently started to use the CoE in the Coastal Kenya Programme. In the Lamu-Tana landscape we’ve been piloting using mobile technology, linked to the CoE data portal, to enable more people to monitor conservation activities. This involves both partners and local community members.

Mobile data collection in trial, Mobile app testing, Coastal Kenya © John BettMobile data collection in trial, Mobile app testing, Coastal Kenya. © John Bett

On the move

Using a mobile app, we’ve been gathering and sharing information about sustainable agriculture work.

Mobile phones are now widely available around the world. Even in some of the poorest, most remote communities you can find mobile phones! This widespread use has led many, including the conservation sector, to consider how mobile phone technology might help with timely data collection.

But, whilst data collection using mobile phones has been used elsewhere in Kenya, in Lamu County we haven’t used this technology to date; network connection is poor at best and simply not available in many locations.

What’s crucially important about the app we’ve been using in our recent pilot, is that it’s possible to collect data in the field; both when you’re online and when you’re offline. The data is then automatically transmitted to the CoE once the phone is within minimum mobile network range or at a Wi-Fi hotspot. Once it’s transmitted, the data we’ve collected on agricultural methods and landscape restoration efforts is then mapped geographically to help with analysis and interpretation.

sample Farmers Survey outputsample Farmers Survey output

The benefits

Whilst this exercise was a pilot, we’re already seeing enormous benefits. For example, we’re able to achieve near-instantaneous transmission of data to a central coordinating point.

By reducing the amount of time between local data collection and delivery, we’re saving weeks in the overall data collection and analysis process. Likewise, digital data capture means that we’re greatly reducing the risk of transcription errors as well as the risk that data is lost or damaged in transit.

Capture and transmission of data digitally also ensures easier storage and access to information at a later date.

Mobile app testing, Coastal Kenya © John BettMobile app testing, Coastal Kenya © John Bett

Community collectors

Another bonus was that the costs of this method of data collection were substantially lower than traditional methods. As the data collectors, the farmers that we work with, already know how to use mobile phones for different purposes. The technical training that was required was therefore much less.

Involving the people we work with in the monitoring also means that there’s transparency in our work and ownership within the local community.

Based on this pilot, we anticipate that data collection using mobile devices will be a game changer in helping us to monitor the projects we implement. Watch this space for more updates!

My thanks goes to my colleagues Ahmed Mbarak, Abdalla Siro and Nathan Mutunga who helped with the pilot and with the writing of this blog!

WWF’s Coastal Kenya Programme is kindly supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and Size of Wales. We are very grateful for the continued support.

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