Codesigning Conservation Technologies for Sharing Ecological Knowledge Between Communities and Conservancies

Increasingly, wildlife conservancies and environmental institutions are experimenting with interactive digital technologies to raise awareness of their causes, build relationships with potential partners, encourage people to take political and personal actions, as well as raise funds. Many such efforts harness recent technology improvements to create immersive opportunities to interact with conservation projects: for example, a burgeoning number of public-facing, educational wildlife-tracking websites and apps have recently appeared as more conservationists can afford to deploy tracking devices on wildlife. However, whereas conservation projects are often located in remote areas, these projects tend to either target operational elements of the conservancies or affluent foreign audiences, leaving local communities out of the benefits. We propose to research and develop technologies that support and engage the communities around conservation projects in partnership with Earthranger, a secure Domain Awareness System (DAS) used by dozens of wildlife conservancies to manage their data and operations; and the Ol Pejeta Conservancy (OPC) in Laikipia, Kenya, an EarthRanger user which is best known as the refuge for the last two Northern White Rhinoceroses but is also a regional leader in their work supporting and engaging the 18 rural communities on their border. This work has become especially salient in the past decade, as environmental institutions increasingly recognize their dependence on good relationships with local communities to sustainably operate. It is similarly important that communities see concrete benefits from conservancies, including job opportunities, a share of tourism revenue, and coordination over shared struggles such as water access, animal diseases, and pollinators. Moreover, supporting a diversity of knowledge bases, including both traditional “conservation science” and local indigenous knowledge, is critical for the long-term preservation of endangered animals. My core research question is: “How can we leverage the EarthRanger DAS to better support conservation efforts between conservation agencies and nearby communities?” To address this question, I will conduct the following research agendas:1. Extending of DASs to allow for bidirectional communication between conservation organizations and nearby communities; and2. Codeveloping participatory sensing and AI solutions for community use; and3. Developing tools and interfaces to connect low-income members of these communities to the data and insights present in DASs; while4. Scaling these insights and solutions to other conservancies in the EarthRanger network.

Grant Info


Kurtis Heimerl

Start Date

Jan 1, 2021