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The role of digital data entry in participatory environmental monitoring

Brammer, Jeremy R., Brunet, Nicolas D., Burton, A. Cole, Cuerrier, Alain, Danielsen, Finn, Dewan, Kanwaljeet, Herrmann, Thora Martina, Jackson, Micha V., Kennett, Rod, Larocque, Guillaume, Mulrennan, Monica, Pratihast, Arun Kumar, Saint‐Arnaud, Marie, Scott, Colin, Humphries, Murray M.
Conservation biology 2016 v.30 no.6 pp. 1277-1287
case studies, digital database, environmental monitoring, models, scientists, stakeholders, volunteers, Australia, Canada, Ethiopia, Ghana, Greenland, Vietnam
Many argue that monitoring conducted exclusively by scientists is insufficient to address ongoing environmental challenges. One solution entails the use of mobile digital devices in participatory monitoring (PM) programs. But how digital data entry affects programs with varying levels of stakeholder participation, from nonscientists collecting field data to nonscientists administering every step of a monitoring program, remains unclear. We reviewed the successes, in terms of management interventions and sustainability, of 107 monitoring programs described in the literature (hereafter programs) and compared these with case studies from our PM experiences in Australia, Canada, Ethiopia, Ghana, Greenland, and Vietnam (hereafter cases). Our literature review showed that participatory programs were less likely to use digital devices, and 2 of our 3 more participatory cases were also slow to adopt digital data entry. Programs that were participatory and used digital devices were more likely to report management actions, which was consistent with cases in Ethiopia, Greenland, and Australia. Programs engaging volunteers were more frequently reported as ongoing, but those involving digital data entry were less often sustained when data collectors were volunteers. For the Vietnamese and Canadian cases, sustainability was undermined by a mismatch in stakeholder objectives. In the Ghanaian case, complex field protocols diminished monitoring sustainability. Innovative technologies attract interest, but the foundation of effective participatory adaptive monitoring depends more on collaboratively defined questions, objectives, conceptual models, and monitoring approaches. When this foundation is built through effective partnerships, digital data entry can enable the collection of more data of higher quality. Without this foundation, or when implemented ineffectively or unnecessarily, 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.