discussion / Emerging Tech  / 20 March 2024

Blind Spots in Conservation Tech Management in Remote Landscapes: Seeking Your Input

Hello Everyone,

I wanted to discuss something that's been on my mind since I started working in frontline conservation. Coming from the art+tech scene and being a maker myself, I've always believed that technology should serve a purpose and provide real improvements over other options. However, my experience in independent conservation efforts has shown me some flaws in current model of donor-dependent projects when deploying tech to the front-line.

Here's a summary of what I've observed in the past years working in snow leopard conservation in the Tien-Shan mountains:

1. Technology is often given to rangers or community-based reserves without proper oversight on what's best suited for the task or habitat.

2. Each organization buys its own tech, leading to an unsustainable system where resources cannot be shared or repurposed.

3. Lack of maintenance plans leads to short-lived tech.

4. Local teams lack knowledge and repairability skills.

5. Technical assistance and training are lacking, often just marketing strategies from NGOs.

6. Over-scaled deployments could result in inefficient use of resources.

7. Dead tech accumulates in storage and is not discarded properly (batteries, chargers, etc).

8. Sometimes, rangers get the same equipment from different projects, wasting resources.

For these reasons, I believe it's important to address these issues and reduce the risks associated with tech projects in remote regions.

How beneficial would it be to establish an organization that can oversee technology management, offer training, and ensure accountability and efficiency among local teams? A subscription model could offer tech and repair services. Being able to repurpose tech over different projects is already a big improvement over the current donor-dependent model that lacks efficiency and can lead to misuse of resources. And also providing alternatives to mitigate corruption within the sector, particularly concerning the substantial budgets allocated for camera trap deployment and batteries in remote areas. These resources often become difficult to monitor, leading to potential misuse of the resources. 

I'd like to hear your thoughts, especially from those who work with tech. While you're skilled at building your own solutions, we need better ways to manage mainstream tech efficiently for conservation.

Please share your insights.

Thank you.

Luciano Foglia

Hi @lucianofoglia 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the community. What you've touched on resonates with a number of users and developers (looking at you @Rob_Appleby) who share similar concerns and are keen to address these issues.

As a beliver in open sourcing conservation technologies, to mitigate issues you've noted (maintenance of technologies / solutions, repairability, technical assistance to name but a few), really the only way to achieve this in my eyes is through the promotion of openness to enable a wide range of both technical and non-technical users to form the pool of skills needed to react to what you have stated. If they can repair a device, or modify it easily, we can solve the waste issue and promote reusability, but first they need access to achieve this and commerical companies typically shy away from releasing designs to protect against their IP that they keep in house to sell devices / solutions. 

I would think for an organisation to achieve the same the community would need to help manufacturers and developers open and share hardware designs, software, repairability guides etc, but the reality today is as you have described.

One interesting conversation is around a kitemark, i.e a stamp of approval similar to the Open Source Hardware Association's OSHWA Certification), but as it's not always hardware related, the kitemark could cover repairability (making enclosure designs open access, or levels of openness to start to address the issue). Have a look at https://certification.oshwa.org/ for more info. I spent some time discussing an Open IoT Kitemark with http://www.designswarm.com/  back in 2020 with similar values as you have described - https://iot.london/openiot/

You may want to talk more about this at the upcoming Conservation Optimism Summit too. 

Happy to join you on your journey :)

Alasdair (Arribada)