Criteria for choosing a smartphone for forest monitoring


cracked phone

by Christina MacFarquhar

Community forest monitoring initiatives for international agendas such as REDD+ and FLEGT are increasingly turning to smartphones and tablets to gather data - as an alternative to taking notes in the field with a pen and paper and then transcribing them later onto a computer. But with so much evolving technology out there, how can practitioners tell which device will meet their needs – and fit their budgets?

The Global Canopy Programme’s Forest Compass project team has come up with a simple set of criteria to help others engaging in community forest monitoring to navigate the world of high-tech, hand-held monitoring solutions.

“For people who have decided to use smartphone technology, we found that there are six key considerations,” says GCP’s Forest Compass project manager Lucy Goodman. “For example, adequate phone memory is a major criterion. Forest monitoring practitioners who use smartphones often use data gathering software such as Google’s Open Data Kit, or ‘ODK’. These programmes can require the user to store their monitoring forms and data on the phone itself, not on replaceable memory cards, meaning that the phone needs to have a large enough memory.”

Based on the team’s experience, it can also be important to make sure that the phone’s Global Positioning System or ‘GPS’ function is accurate and fast enough. In GCP’s monitoring projects with communities in Guyana and Brazil, community members reported sometimes waiting more than one hour for their devices to find a position under forest cover. That kind of problem can slow things down considerably, run down the battery and frustrate community members undertaking surveying.

“But technical functions like GPS need to be weighed up against the other major criteria, which include the device’s affordability, robustness, adequate battery life and screen brightness,” explains Lucy. “All of these factors can make a big difference when you are in a remote part of a forest, working in rain or strong sunlight, and you accidentally drop your phone.

“For example, cracked screens are a common problem that can render phones useless, meaning that more money needs to be spent to replace them. Choosing a robust body in the first place can help avoid big problems later on.

“We hope our criteria can help others make suitable choices early on, so they don’t need to learn the hard way – as we often did.”

To read the full criteria and other practical tips from GCP about using smartphone technology for community forest monitoring, read the digital technologies pages, starting here.

International Forest Agendas/s