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Volunteer Impact - engaging visual reporting

Volunteer Impact is looking at the question "how might we best leverage technology to make environmental restoration easier, and volunteering more engaging?".

Our idea is to help environmental conservation & restoration projects capture the impact of their work through compelling visual reports. This will start out as a web app which automatically creates beautiful infographic-style reports, but we see the opportunity to expand to mobile apps and more.

Conservation in Aotearoa New Zealand needs volunteers more than ever, so helping volunteers understand their positive impact, giving them infographics they can share with friends and whānau, and supporting overworked & underpaid conservation projects to be more awesome is our mission!

What New Zealand conservation problem are you trying to solve?

Many conservation projects in NZ are under funded and have little time to communicate with funders and stakeholders. Increasing their capacity to quickly and easily capture their data (in the field) and turn it into engaging visual reports will help leverage more funding and engage more volunteers.

What makes your idea new and unique?

Volunteer Impact seeks to reduce the admin time for environmental project managers to capture, store, analyse and create visual reports by 90%.

The project also seeks to drastically increase the effectiveness of outreach and ongoing engagement with existing and new volunteers - meaning lower time and energy costs - making running a community-led restoration project more sustainable in voluntary roles.

We can also include features such as photopoint monitoring, communication & other sensor data.

Who will use your idea, and how will it make conservation action more efficient or effective?

This tool is for community conservation groups, their volunteers, and the committees and funders who support them to continue. The increased quality of reporting can lift the understanding of impact amongst all of these stakeholders, as well as helping them to identify how to improve over time.

The conservation projects must also consider succession (research indicates that average age of volunteers is getting older), and this use of technology will attract younger volunteers and keep them.

What tasks or activities do you need investment for ? How would you spend a $25,000 grant?

The grant would be used for the first build of the app which would be accessible to conservation projects around the country.

We already have good relationships with the Enspiral Network which has a strong track record in technology projects for social enterprises.

Are you a New Zealand citizen or resident?

Yes

Which category best describes your idea?

Product

I have read the Terms of Use, the Supplemental Terms of Use, and Community Guidelines - see links at the bottom of this page

Yes

List five other ideas posted in the challenge that excite you. Why?

I'm excited by:

- Lure, Trap & Retreat for it's "tools for everyday volunteers" research aspect: https://wwf-nz.crowdicity.com/post/157523

- Beech Flower Alert for it's citizen science approach: https://wwf-nz.crowdicity.com/post/156772

- Future of Photopoint Monitoring for it's use of technology in the field to solve a pervasive problem (even though I'm biased!) https://wwf-nz.crowdicity.com/post/157408

- KT:P for it's focus on a real problem in NZ - possums https://wwf-nz.crowdicity.com/post/157691

- Crawly's Bugs for it's youth focus: https://wwf-nz.crowdicity.com/post/156879

How could you improve your idea?

I've had some really useful feedback, and the main two areas I'm excited to focus on are:

- Good Practice Reporting: the quality of the data flowing into the reports is vital, so there needs to be time and energy invested in education of community conservation volunteers (example; investing in free resources or open source toolkits), as well as in ensuring Volunteer Impact picks up best practice frameworks in the way the app is structured - perhaps even including tips and tricks as people enter data.

- Citizen Science: enabling volunteers to contribute to something bigger than themselves has always come through strongly in my research, and I believe that any platform which volunteers are entering data into deserves to open the data for re-use to advance the conservation sector. 

edited on Sep 16, 2015 by Amy Breedon-Jones

Sam Rye Sep 10, 2015

I'm not sure whether I had space to put this anywhere else, but if you'd like to sign up for more information as Volunteer Impact evolves - http://volunteerimpact.co is our holding page!

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Megarillo Sep 10, 2015

This will help provide more than just useful data - it will connect people meaningfully. I've seen under the bonnet of Volunteer Impact, and I'm hugely excited about its potential to create real and lasting impact in the conservation space. 

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Sam Rye Sep 10, 2015

Thanks Megan! 

Yes this is definitely a 'more than data' project - we also want to weave in some of the interesting Wellbeing science which is helping us see how we can improve humans' lives. I wrote a little bit about it here actually - https://medium.com/@samrye_enspiral/is-it-pos...ds-884d546b4852

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Lee Barry Sep 10, 2015

Hey Sam - having high quality visually appealing reports available for funders, etc would definitely be very compelling. It almost seems too good to be true! :)

Can you expand a bit on your claim that "Volunteer Impact seeks to reduce the admin time for environmental project managers to capture, store, analyse and create visual reports by 90%."

How would your product make such a massive reduction in admin time? Is there any upfront investment in technology or training time particularly for groups who have high numbers of older volunteers and older technology?

Also - you know the old saying "rubbish in, rubbish out" ! Good reports come from collecting the right information, on the right things, at the right time. Monitoring protocols are a bit of a minefield and everyone has their own systems. Would you integrate existing best practice data collection for different project types - eg integrate the WETMAK wetlands monitoring system? 

 

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Sam Rye Sep 10, 2015

Great questions Lee!

Reducing the admin time: yes, sorry I ran out of space! How I see the workflow for the kind of thing we're looking to do for community conservation groups, from my experience at the moment is something like:

Run volunteer day and identify activities to log > Write down activity data on paper > Put into a spreadsheet > create graphs in Excel or use vanilla Infographic software > Generate JPG and distribute.

Having done this myself, I'd say that it took me roughly... 5-8 hours by the time I'd done all the different steps and found special icons to explain our actions etc. It took a lot of fiddling around and honestly didn't look that great.

What we're proposing is an interface as simple to use as Typeform (http://www.typeform.com/) which would be cloud based, and take roughly 10 minutes to fill in details. From there, a customised infographic would be generated, and made available to share (another 5 minutes). I created a paper prototype walk through recently here (note this is in mobile app form, but it could end up being a web app depending on user feedback): https://vimeo.com/137343394

So even by conservative estimate of 3 hours - we'd still be around about a 90% reduction by automating all of the visualisation & storage process.

Upfront investment: also a good question. The days of technology training or a 'dedicated tech person' should really be over by now - we have the flexibility and processes to generate truly user-friendly software which is highly intuitive. We're investing heavily into the design phase to ensure people young and old can use this software, and making the interface incredibly simple. All the magic of Volunteer Impact is in what happens to the data - not how it is entered. That said, there will of course always be some kind of learning curve - but our research has suggested that a lot of the conservation project managers have enough skills to handle email, spreadsheets and newsletter software such as Mailchimp - so if they can use these more complex interfaces, they shall be able to use Volunteer Impact with no hassles. This grant would enable us to properly invest in this initial design phase to do proper UX (User Experience) workshops, prototyping and user testing.

Rubbish In, Rubbish Out: I completely agree! Even amongst the team leaders at Conservation Volunteers NZ we would have a variety of how people counted and recorded elements of the activities. The app is just a tool, so real energy needs to be invested in training people who are capturing data. That said, we're starting off with simple 'splash' data such as trees planted, area of weeding, volunteer hours, bird counts completed etc.

As a social enterprise we'd love to reinvest profits in conservation projects, and an open-source monitoring and evaluation kit is something we'd love to get behind and share. Do you know of any projects doing this well?

I think we'd gear up toward a variety of different project types for data collection - so yes, we'd love to get a comprehensive list of these sorts of monitoring systems, and see how we can build in that vital work that has already been done in this space. Do you have a list of these kinds of systems available?

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Deesha Chandra Sep 11, 2015

Hi Sam, this sounds great! 

Canva.com could be an interesting team to speak with. They rolled out a free graphic design tool which really simplifies creating design material and it seems their income comes from their teaching/ consultancy work.

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Sam Rye Sep 11, 2015

Hey!

Yes there's a great array of cheap graphic design tools hitting the Market. Piktochart is another.

The main challenge I see is that they still require a lot of customisation and manual work to get a useful visual report. I'd definitely point Conservation groups to these tools for simple social media graphics - such as a quote over a photo, or a quick flyer to announce an upcoming event.

That said, I think the space for custom visual reporting isn't answered by these yet.

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Lee Barry Sep 11, 2015

Hey Sam - thanks for your detailed answer. That's really helpful to understand your process a bit more.

The monitoring resources list on Nature Space is the most comprehensive I know of for community conservation groups:

http://www.naturespace.org.nz/resource-centre

Can anyone else point Sam to any others?

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View all replies (4)

DavidAHood Sep 11, 2015

Very smart idea . Love it. Incredibly simple idea that could create a tremndous amount of value for those who need to leverage limited resources and are in need of greater support. Hope to see this happen. :)

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Sam Rye Sep 11, 2015

Thank you David,

I started in a quite a different place - I was excited by engaging volunteers with mobile apps and mapping their activities around the world and country.

Over time I've refined and refined, listening for real problems. This is where I got to - restoration projects being under resourced which affects their ability to do the vital restoration work, to get more volunteers and keep them coming back, and to effectively tell their story to the wider world. A simple starting point out of a much broader complex opportunity.

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Sam Rye Sep 11, 2015

Some of the questions I have for myself:

- What do restoration projects need to report and who to?

- Are there any natural partners for this project to give it an additional academic / citizen science angle?

- Should it for all restoration activities on a site, rather than just volunteering ones?

- Can we make this work offline so that people can use it in the field, then synch when they get back to home base?

I'd love to hear other people's thoughts, concerns, queries, and general critical thinking to help me improve this. Thank you in advance!

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Sam Rye Sep 11, 2015

Oh and some.of my more detailed questions relate to community conservation project managers, such as:

- do you feel like you would like to add data in the moment, or when you're back at base?

- what have been the most compelling stories for volunteers? Are they about the group's impact? The story of how the project has changed over time? Or about the future vision? Or something else?

- what kind of technology do you own currently? Mobile phone? Laptop? Desktop? Do you use a library computer or one at the project site provided for you?

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Jojo Mavrakis Sep 12, 2015

good luck sam :) stay awesome :) 

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Sam Rye Sep 13, 2015

You're too kind, thanks Jojo! Hoping you're well? Still volunteering?

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Sam Rye Sep 13, 2015

I've added a couple of thoughts to the new questions posed @Lee, but they don't seem to display?

 

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Lee Barry Sep 14, 2015

Thanks Sam ... by chance did you maybe did not hit "save" after you entered those extra answers? I can still see blank boxes for those two extra questions when I look at your post through moderator settings. Could you please try again?

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Sam Rye Sep 14, 2015

Ah darn, maybe it didn't go through! Did you get my email about the limited characters on the first new field? I could only really write about 1 (not 5) which I liked.

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Lee Barry Sep 14, 2015

Thanks for the feedback Sam. We have increased the character limit to allow a bit more detail! Looking out for your successful posting of that extra milestone info. Good luck!

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View all replies (2)

Sam Rye Sep 15, 2015

I've just updated the idea with some questions that WWF asked.

My two main threads of how to improve things at the moment include:

- Citizen Science : I get increasingly excited about how people engaged with community conservation might unleash a tidal wave of new data, new insights and contribute to big research projects, and of course - how Volunteer Impact may best support that. I'm going to do a little side project with Kimberley Collins (of Forest & Bird and more) to explore this a little and help build a citizen science directory. If anyone sees any opportunities for how citizen science might best be leveraged in Community Conservation - I'm all ears!

- Good Practice Reporting - the other aspect was the provocation from Lee about the quality of data. Whilst this is a really tough nut to crack, it feels like a mixture of education, quality free resources, and functional digital tools can help leaps and bounds. I'll be adding this to my list of areas to explore as a priority - both in what's already out there, and how we can build certain elements into Volunteer Impact as a tool. I'm keen to hear if any one has thoughts and reflections on this.

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Lee Barry Sep 19, 2015

Status changed to Finalist
This idea has passed all the milestones and is eligible for final judging by WWF's expert panel

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Sam Rye Sep 20, 2015

Wow, thanks so much Lee!

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Edward Abraham Sep 21, 2015

Hi Sam, full support for this idea. Managing and communicating with volunteer groups is time consuming and difficult. It is something I personally find hard to keep motivated, easily getting overwhelmed. Tools that helped with this would have an enormous positive impact on New Zealand conservation.

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Sam Rye Sep 21, 2015

Thanks Ed! Yes I figure the way the conservation sector is moving, there is an increasing reliance on volunteers and community-led conservation groups. If we empower them well, everything from weed control to predator control, bird counts to citizen science projects gets easier.

I originally targeted this area as I saw it as having the potential for a trophic cascade - where volunteers could leverage quality tech to enagage and retain more people and money in conservation. 

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EcoGecko Consultants Sep 23, 2015

Hi Sam, this could be interesting and relevant: http://www.naturehack.nz/

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Sam Rye Sep 23, 2015

Thanks folks! Yes we saw this - some of the students currently interning with us might head along!

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Jonathan Boow Sep 27, 2015

Hey Sam,

Great idea. My comment is similar to one i've made to the CatchIT proposal - namely how do you see your idea integrating (if at all) with other tools/apps/websites already in existence (or being developed). Here at council, we're often asked by community groups and individuals which tool to use. We've been advocating the use of www.naturespace.org.nz a website set up in response to community group needs in the lower North Island (and now used by groups throughout NZ). One of the main ideas was to make it easier for people to find out what groups were operating in their area and attract more volunteers. I've been keen for newer tools such as Trap-NZ, CatchIT, or what you're proposing, to link in with Nature Space. You're right about the amount of time/enthusiasm required by groups to enter their data/analyse results. This seems like it could harder not easier if there's a whole range of tools each providing part of the solution for them(?). (Happy to be proven wrong on this). Should also say, great effort by WWF to use this crowd sourcing tool to encourage this kind of discussion/debate. Best of luck!

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Sam Rye Sep 28, 2015

Jonothan, yes indeed there is the potential to make things noisey if attention isn't given to how things operate, yet in the same moment diversity is strength and forges innovation.

Does Naturespace play nicely with other systems? Could we access an API which we could automatically push data into, for example? Much like Xero (accounting software) will integrate with time tracking software...

The API revolution is where technology is headed - where a diverse range of Apps and physical products and sensors will talk to one another with no user input. Much like when monolithic IT systems of the 80s and 90s were broken down into a diverse range of mobile and web apps in 00s + 10s. This has driven greater efficiency and effectiveness as they are able to be built around specific needs, rather than a one size fits all portal (which rarely works for many).

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Peter Handford Sep 28, 2015

Hi Sam

I have similar thoughts to Jonathan on this one.  Its a great idea - and always has been.  There is a lot of historic context and current initiatives that need to be discussed.  Over the last 15 years working in this general space around community conservation monitoring we've gained a lot of experience of what does and doesn't work, some of the opportunities and pitfalls.  Newer technologies around apps etc are certainly helpful, this technology is really coming of age.  At Groundtruth we always try to hold ourselves back to talking about technology as an enabler, not a driver in its own right.  We need to work together to set the framework we want technology to deliver on - what are the monitoring questions we want to answer? what are the best / most reliable indicators and measurement methods we can use for this?  Also what are some basic data formats - so systems can talk to each other.   Would be good  to set up a small group to foster collaboration around this I think.  

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Sam Rye Sep 28, 2015

Good thinking here Peter, exploring common formats and seeing how algorithms and machine learning can reduce user input is vital in my opinion.

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Billy from NZ Sep 30, 2015

Great project Sam - all the best!

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Sam Rye Sep 30, 2015

Kia ora Billy, thanks so much for the vote of confidence! Here's to the next social enterprise journey...

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Indigital Oct 1, 2015

Hi Sam. Congratulations on a great project. I've been triggering AR in remote areas of Australia for digital cultural storytelling for the past 18 months. Please email me mik@indigital.net.au if you'd like to connect. We've had a lot of learnings about the use of this tech without Internet connectivity and site recognition challenges too. Cheers Mik

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Sam Rye Oct 10, 2015

Thanks Mik, I'll get in touch as I'd love to learn more! Do you have a link to your project so I can take a peek?

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Sam Rye Oct 10, 2015

**UPDATE**

I've been having some interesting conversations lately which are spurring me forward. 

I'm currently investigating using a Masters of Design with Massey University as a backbone to support me with the Digital Interface & User Experience aspects of the project.

I've begun a conversation with Enspiral Dev Academy about either working with their students, or their Services team to help bolster the team to build the next version of Volunteer Impact. Initial explorations suggest that 4-8 weeks would be needed to bring the next feature set to life.

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Indigital Oct 10, 2015

Hi Sam! Sure. Please check out www.digitalrangers.strikingly.com or connect on Facebook www.facebook.com/DigitalRangers :-) I look forward to hearing from you. Cheers Mik 

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