According to Claire Zanuso, Research and Evaluation Officer at AFD, and Julien Ancelin, Geographical Information System Administrator at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), the mobile digital mapping tool GeoPoppy can help to improve the monitoring and evaluation potential of a project. Joint interview
In practical terms, what does monitoring a biodiversity project mean?
Claire Zanuso: The question of monitoring tools can only be addressed after substantial iterative work with all project stakeholders to clarify the logical framework and define the monitoring indicators for outputs, outcomes and, ideally, impacts. Let's take the example of the REDD+ project in the Mé region of Côte d’Ivoire (see box below): based on preliminary work and all the indicators specified in the monitoring protocol, we knew that we had to define the observation plots and be familiar with their size, the plot type (agriculture or forestry), the crop type (cocoa, coffee, rubber tree, etc.) and the support activities they had benefited from.
Julien Ancelin: After this initial stage, it is essential to design a logical data model or, in other words, to convert the information we want to collect into computer language, which means modelling the architecture of the data and the way they interrelate. These crucial steps require specific skills. Digital tools are not a magic wand!
The objective of the Mé REDD+ project is to develop zero-deforestation agriculture to help growers to earn a living without clearing forest areas and receive an equivalent income for farming and forestry. By the end of 2019, the Nitidæ NGO teams expect to be supporting 2,250 growers across 5,000 hectares. The project uses GeoPoppy to precisely monitor developments in the cultivated and wooded areas.
Using this solution, the Nitidæ operators are able to collect more data. To date, more than 330 beneficiaries and 635 hectares have been thoroughly georeferenced. The acquisition rate averages five plots a day thanks to a simple tablet and a mini server (Raspberry Pi) with no Internet connection required.
What is the added value of digital tools compared to pencil and paper?
JA: To come back to the Côte d’Ivoire example, digital tools now enable field workers to delineate the plot on the map by identifying a number of points on the site, possibly using satellite images. The essential information such as the crop type is added directly during the field observation. The size is then automatically calculated. Other information needed to inform the project monitoring–evaluation indicators is also added.
CZ: The operators' work is greatly facilitated by these digital tools as they used to collect data in the field using one or more paper data sheets, a camera and a GPS. Once back at the office, they then had to enter and aggregate the collected data in a computer database. Today, field officers no longer have to duplicate this task, which reduces numerous errors or approximations that could occur when transcribing the data collected on paper.
Further reading: Côte d'Ivoire: Geopoppy challenges deforestation
What is the added value of free software versus proprietary software?
JA: Open-source tools comprising free software give the option of adapting to the users’ situations and needs, unlike a proprietary solution which imposes formatting. This is where the use of electronic field notebooks that can embed databases and customisable interfaces really makes sense.
The production of these tools is a collaborative effort with the code and documentation offering complete transparency. This ensures that the tools are reproducible and allows any improvements made by the community to be shared.
CZ: An open-source solution designed to collect spatial data, GeoPoppy is an affordable new-generation digital tool based on free software and can be used for project monitoring and evaluation. We are also in contact with the owners of a forest project in Benin who are interested in adapting this tool to their needs.
GeoPoppy is an innovative data collection solution developed with free software. Initially developed by Julien Ancelin from INRA to monitor poppy fields in France, GeoPoppy is a mobile digital mapping tool that helps to improve the monitoring and evaluation potential of a project. It is a user-friendly and affordable geographic information system on a digital tablet. Once the hardware has been purchased, GeoPoppy can be used with no charge or restrictions on registration or user numbers.
Tested with the help of CartONG on a REDD+ sustainable forest management project in Côte d’Ivoire with the NGO Nitidæ, it can precisely monitor the development of cultivated and wooded areas. GeoPoppy was adapted to this pilot project with support from the AFD evaluation teams.
The first results were shared during the GeONG conference – one step further in a support strategy for the open data community. Based on free, no-charge software (PostgreSQL, QGIS and LiZMap), GeoPoppy can also be used by other actors (NGOs, local communities, businesses, etc.).
Is it more difficult to implement?
JA: No, quite the opposite. Without a centralised system, the user has to collect all the data files, make them compatible and compile them whenever they are modified. This tiresome work also requires a rigorous version management. On the other hand, an adapted digital tool allows collectors to centralise standardised data in a central database, whatever their location.
CZ: The monitoring protocols require time series datasets covering several years and these digital tools make collection more easily reproducible and long-term data more easily comparable. Furthermore, in addition to improved archiving, all of the data production procedures are documented, which ensures better traceability.
How accessible is the collected data?
CZ: Centralising data is also an opportunity to extend access to mapping portals to analysts and the general public. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, an open website tracks the progress of the REDD+ project step by step. This is very useful for transparency and accountability strategies, especially for the French and Côte d’Ivoire governments, the Ivoirian Ministry for the Environment and AFD, which funds this project.
JA: In addition to simply displaying the results, digital tools that are compatible with international standards make collected data remotely accessible and usable by analysts via any type of application. Producing data that can be reused by the scientific community, or even the general public, is the main challenge for open science. We now hear the term FAIR data, which meet standards of findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reusability. Having good quality data is thus a key prerequisite, and implementing it needs to be envisaged as soon as the data are collected.