As well as thinking about the pros and cons of using mobile technology, there are some key factors to consider before deciding if it is right for your community-based monitoring project.
Equipment: smartphones, networks (internet, mobile or local) and software applications need to be either already available or the project needs to have enough funding to cover these costs (both up-front and ongoing).
Power: whether through access to the grid, generators or other methods such as solar panels or cooking pan chargers.
Technological literacy: will the community be able to manage the system and fix any problems that arise, or is this within genuinely easy reach? If not, a monitoring system based on digital technology may not be sufficiently robust. If the community does not yet have this capacity, is there an external facilitator who will be able to provide long-term, sustainable training and support to the project?
Interest: as with the monitoring itself, technology can open doors, but if there is no interest in using mobile technology then it can become a barrier.
Other important criteria to consider
Monitoring goals: the degree to which a project will benefit from using mobile technology depends on the goals of the project. For example, the benefits of quick data sharing and integration with other datasets through using technology are most relevant if the project aims to share data with external actors, such as the local government. Similarly the benefits of reduced data transcription time and errors becomes more relevant as projects collect more data.
Literacy and icon-based systems: mobile technology can enable data collection by illiterate communities through icons, if the right software is chosen.
Future trends: falling prices and growing connectivity are fuelling a rapid expansion in mobile ownership and internet access, even in relatively remote and poor regions. More widely, the way information is stored and shared is becoming digitised. Using digital technology can thus open a door for a community’s long term engagement in national and international decision-making on forests.
Sustainability: using mobile technology can create challenges to the sustainability of a monitoring system in terms of robustness, costs and reliance on external facilitators. Short-term projects or those with limited funding may not have sufficient time or resources to build local capacity; even longer-term projects need a long term vision and partnership for maintaining capacity.