Project Details

Leanring how to use Sapelli in Komo, Republic of Congo


Crowd monitoring extreme environments

By The Extreme Citizen Science Research Group, UCL

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Project Twitter: @UCL_ExCiteS

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  • Social Exclusion
  • Data
  • Mobile

Sapelli is a tool that lets indigenous groups who lack literacy and digital skills monitor environmental change in their communities. 

It was designed by Extreme Citizen Science, a research group in University College London, to empower the world’s most marginalised communities to take action to protect their local environments and ways of life. ‘From tropical forests to Arctic sea-ice,’ the team says, ‘indigenous peoples are the gatekeepers to key environments on which the future of our planet depends. The knowledge within these communities is vital to sustainably manage these areas.’ Sapelli was initially developed to map the resources and monitor logging company respect for the rights of indigenous Pygmy populations in the Congo Basin, but is now being adapted for use anywhere where local populations face environmental management or environmental justice issues, from the rainforests of Brazil to the ice-floes of Alaska. 

The app runs on rugged Android smartphones, and using an entirely picture based launcher and user-interface lets someone with little or no literacy or numeracy collect, share, analyse, visualise and edit the data. The information the groups collect constitutes a ‘community memory’ that can be transmitted to partner organisations to address issues that it raises. The group aims to enable communities to analyse the data themselves in a mapping system that is being developed by ExCiteS researchers. 

A trial in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) early in 2014 provided detailed data about life on the ground in the forests: providing GPS points identifying important local resources, and showing the impact where logging had destroyed them, and even chronicling a logging firm’s failure to deliver on promises such as to build a local school. 

The team co-designs the software (the visual icons that denote specific resources) with the groups in situ, to make sure it is relevant, and usable. The app uses SMS, backs up to the Cloud when possible, with an option to upload media, and there’s a default setting that extends battery life. 

The team continue to improve it: designing a feedback confirmation screen so citizen scientists in these remote settings can see a true-colour, high resolution image of where they are, and the data they’ve just uploaded before confirming it and sending it to the central database. 

Last updated: 23rd of July, 2014

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