Playing technology catchup: What conservation might learn from human development

Radio collars are a valuable tool when it comes to following an animal's movements (Credit: Gina Maffey)

In 2007 a student ecologist walked out across the African savannah, armed with a clipboard and a ballpoint pen. They were off to record evidence of the presence of different grazers in the landscape. In 2012 that same ecologist set off again to monitor the impact of grazers in different habitats. This time though it was not a clipboard that swung in their hand, but a mobile phone.

By Gina Maffey

How we collect and collate information on the natural environment is rapidly changing. Ecologists, conservationists and NGOs around the world are embracing advances in digital technology, and recognising the opportunities that such technologies can bring. Yet, when compared with other disciplines, conservation has been rather slow to incorporate digital technology in its methodological toolkit.

Radio collars are a valuable tool to help conservationists follow an animal’s movements over wide areas (Photo credit: Gina Maffey)

One discipline that has exploited digital technology is human development. In particular it has capitalised on more than 7 billion mobile phone subscriptions across the globe, to develop software that improves livelihoods, health and wellbeing. However, not all projects have been successful, and where some have brought new opportunities and progression, others have failed.

Bringing together experience, literature and discussion a team of researchers and practitioners identified the following five key lessons that conservation can take from the use of technology in human development.

Lesson 1
Digital technology develops rapidly and in some instances disappears, or is replaced, just as quickly. Projects that consider existing and persisting (non-) digital platforms, not just the latest development, have better chances of improving their resilience.

Lesson 2
Approach the design of projects with the conservation goals in mind – not the technology. It may be that there are a range of (existing) tools that may serve a conservation goal – do not let the development of —> Read More