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The Urban Rat Project

Checking a trap in your suburban backyard rapidly gets boring, and people lose interest. That's why the Urban Rat Project takes a disruptive approach to engagement, using gameification techniques like rankings, guilds and goals to make controlling predators in your backyard FUN. We believe this is the only way to reach the required 1 in 5 NZ households, and keep them engaged for years or even decades.

What conservation problem are you trying to solve?

We need 1 in 5 NZ households conducting predator control in their backyard to realise PFNZ 2050. That's 343,700 households!

Problem 1 is that while the really keen 1% of households are already active, it will be much more difficult to motivate the other 19%. And it will be extremely challenging to sustain their motivation for years or decades, especially when people don't see any results (trap kills) for weeks or months at a time.

This is not a conservation problem. It is an engagement problem. We need behavioural science to solve this problem, not ecological science.

Problem 2 is that community groups - from one street to hundreds - end up needing super dedicated volunteers, or paid staff, to sustain engagement. As the number of traps in the community increases, so does the amount of volunteer time required. This limits the growth of community groups, and means they end up needing significant funding to sustain them year on year.

How are you going to solve this conservation problem?

At a basic level, The Urban Rat Project automates sending regular trap check reminder emails, and provides a very streamlined data collection process. Users can choose from weekly or fortnightly reminders at present, but an option for four annual 'pulses' is roadmapped.

Uniquely, our software automatically customises reminders for each user, with stats like the number of kills or reports filed in their own street or postcode, and their ranking within their neighbourhood. (See examples at ratproject.org/how-it-works.) The reminders include helpful links, for example to our interactive data analysis tool (see ratproject.org/data).

Also unique to us, neighbourhood groups add their own brand and content to the reminders we send to their members. This means users get their reminders from a 'familiar face' and with content that's relevant to their community, and the community groups get another channel to reach their audience. (See ratproject.org/engage.)

See the uploaded attachment.

What makes your idea new and unique?

We make predator control less BORING and more FUN using 'gameification' techniques - turning a mundane activity into one which is more like a computer game:

  • 'guilds' - competition between postcodes, projects, schools and streets;
  • 'levelling up' - e.g. file 5 reports/month to reach Bronze;
  • charts, readouts, interactive maps etc.

Our reporting form is also pre-populated. Users often simply check the form is correct and press Submit - it takes only seconds and there are no passwords to remember.

Many conservation IT tools help coordinators solve THEIR problems - how many kills and in which places. More complex tools (Trap.nz, Catch IT & Walk The Line) work for rural areas or parks, but don't work at all well for urban environments with lots of users each with one trap. No existing tool is designed primarily to engage 350,000 households.

Who will use your idea, and how will they benefit?

Our end users are suburban households with predator traps or bait stations, who want predator control to be more FUN. We have gained 160 of these users in about three months, in Devonport, Auckland and more recently in Picton. See the results at ratproject.org/data.

Our other users are community coordinators who want to automate some of their more mundane tasks, increase engagement from households, and get a robust 'turn key' data collection system. So far two groups are using The Urban Rat Project - Restoring Takarunga Hauraki in Auckland, and Picton Dawn Chorus in Marlborough.

Councils and DOC also benefit, because The Urban Rat Project provides a nationally-scalable, consistent and innovative platform they can recommend to community groups they support. Auckland Council directed people to The Urban Rat Project during a recent trap giveaway, and DOC Auckland is expected to add us to their Community Toolkit.

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

1. Progressing the feature roadmap, e.g. a portal for users and project coordinators to edit historical trap/bait station reports; allowing people to choose a local school; improving reminder emails with more stats; adding experience levels (1 star, 2 stars...) etc. => $10,000 to speed up the progress our volunteers can make.

2. We don't want to build yet another analysis tool, so we would fund Trap.nz to build the interfaces we need to enable community groups to analyse their household trap data alongside traditional traplines in Trap.nz => $10,000.

3. We want to offer prizes, such as bait, conservation related tickets, stays etc., to users or community groups that bring users onboard. We'd expect to leverage up the prize money via sponsorship. => $2,500.

4. We want to keep The Urban Rat Project free for community groups, because they usually don't have much money => $2,500 for 1 year of IT costs.

But perhaps the biggest benefit of winning would be raising our profile.

Are you a New Zealand citizen or resident?

YES

I have read and agree to the Crowdicity Terms of Use, the Conservation Innovation Awards 2017 Supplemental Terms and Conditions, and the Crowdicity Privacy Policy

YES

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

UrBins - because it solves at least four problems: how to compost more different foods without having a rat problem; how to sustain people's rat trap checking over the long term; what to do with dead rats; and what to do with old washing machines!!

Cacaphony Project - because it's awesome science, but particularly because they're thinking ahead to when food attractants become less useful.

STREAMED - because water quality is such a hot topic, and yet we typically only think of the major rivers and waterways. What really piques my interest is the idea in the comments of using the mobile phone camera to make objective clarity measurements.

Kiwi TrailBlazers - my kids - look, ANY kids - would love it. I think I'd love it too. I think it could be used in all sorts of ecosystems, and by schools as well as families.

Squawk Squad - because they've hit on a niche, probably a very large one, of people who care, but would rather pay money to have someone else do the dirty work. They have executed the idea well and are very well established and known now.

How could you improve your idea?

Hannah Smith mentioned schools using TURP, which got us thinking. Currently we only allow users to choose one community project to be part of. But users might want to be part of multiple projects. That's quite a redesign, but by no means impossible, and could lead to all sorts of useful flexibility.

There are a lot of data collection-related projects, and so I think that TURP needs to openly publish its data formats and encourage others to do the same. We need data interchange standards so that people can develop just parts of the ecosystem of applications, and leverage the best other parts of the ecosystem. We want to encourage other people to build really good _parts_ of an overall solution, and not try to build average _whole_ solutions.

The comment from Picton Dawn Chorus is encouraging, but they're already trialling The Urban Rat Project! What we need is a way to reach more community groups and get them onboard - and I'm not really convinced we have that figured out yet. I guess that would be one of the super things about winning (fingers crossed!) - the exposure, and hopefully connections with people who have been into conservation for ages.

edited on Oct 15, 2017 by Michael Fielding

Jennifer Mcguire Oct 11, 2017

I love the interactivity of this app and how users can be challenged and engaged.

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Michael Fielding Oct 11, 2017

Thanks for the feedback, Jennifer :-)

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Jennifer Mcguire Oct 11, 2017

It looks pretty intuitive and easy to use - I like its simplicity, graphic design and biohazard looking colours (yellow and black). Did you do the graphic design yourself? Very cool.

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Michael Fielding Oct 15, 2017

I did do it myself, actually, I enjoy it, and even more so when people say nice things! The website is mostly built on a template which did all the heavy lifting.

Some people have said that the brand should be more positive (helping native birds, insects and reptiles), but I've found that the key message that resonates with the average kiwi is that we have to kill introduced predators. It's a bit primitive, but it's simple, direct, measurable, and it's well understood. However, the website as a whole tries to make clear the connection between the negative action of killing, and the positive outcomes it generates.

PS I'm always up for help with content, graphics, publicity, reaching out to new community groups, development, coding... anything really! Even just feedback to add to the long list of things to work on.

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Hannah Smith Oct 11, 2017

Brilliant! I would so love to get Ur-bin users to join the Urban Rat Project. I can imagine the school or conservation groups who go home with their Ur-bins getting into competition with other groups and winning prizes. Mind you there might have to be photographic proof of rats trapped to stop some false reporting ☺

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Michael Fielding Oct 11, 2017

Oooh, I love the idea of schools competing - kids are such competitive creatures sometimes, and I know a lot of teachers are really getting behind PFNZ and incorporating it into their classroom. In principle it shouldn't be too difficult to add a reporting field for schools, but if you just let people type whatever they want, they tend to type rubbish... But I will put this in the roadmap.

I also like the photographic evidence idea. It's going to be a challenge to come up with a competition structure which makes it difficult to cheat. That's why I emphasise checking traps is the important thing, not catching things. Because if we're successful, everyone's trap will be empty!

Keep up the helpful ideas!

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Dan Ducker Oct 11, 2017

FYI...Friends of Okura Bush recently had quite a successful rat competition - you might want to engage them for ideas :) http://okurabush.org.nz/2017/06/the-great-oku...mpetition-2017/

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Michael Fielding Oct 15, 2017

Thanks, Dan. Looks like they had all sorts of prizes, like longest tail, heaviest etc.!

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Andrew Lee Oct 11, 2017

I like this idea, getting engagement on any conservation idea/programme
is an issue so anything that gets people motivated is good for NZ.

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callispa Oct 11, 2017

good idea the collaboration with Trap.nz instead of starting afresh

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Michael Fielding Oct 11, 2017

I'd actually like to get a NZ Conservation IT Trust off the ground at some point, to set some data exchange standards which would facilitate data sharing.

It should be like mobile phones - we all have our different needs and preferences so we buy different makes and models, but because they're compatible we can make calls between them and send messages.

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Keith Salmon Oct 12, 2017

Hi Michael - congratulations on your development and good luck with funding. Are you thinking of expanding its capability to other pests?
You note you are thinking of integrating with Trap.NZ. Would you be interested in also integrating with AgileCloud and Council ESRI systems?

The Conservation Engagement Group is about to meet again soon - I hope you may be available. I totally agree about interoperability and data standards.

Thank you, Keith

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Michael Fielding Oct 15, 2017

Technically speaking, The Urban Rat Project is pest-agnostic! When you file a report, you can choose from a long list of pests.

I've written up a FAQ page: http://ratproject.org/does-the-urban-rat-proj...ice-stoats-etc/

Absolutely interested to meet again with CEG and want to send data to other systems. Could you email me with the next meeting details, please?

Users tagged:

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Michael Fielding Oct 15, 2017

Technically speaking, The Urban Rat Project is pest-agnostic! When you file a report, you can choose from a long list of pests.

I've written up a FAQ page: http://ratproject.org/does-the-urban-rat-proj...ice-stoats-etc/

Absolutely interested to meet again with CEG and want to send data to other systems. Could you email me with the next meeting details, please?

Users tagged:

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Brent Beaven Oct 12, 2017

Hi. This looks like a great approach to recording data. Certainly my experience is that people want regular feedback on results. I would like to de-bunk the 1 in 5 household's urban myth. It is a nice rule of thumb, but trapping density will depend on habitat (shelter and food availability). The actual density in any urban setting will vary dramatically.....and, if we only have 20% of people taking action then I'm not taking that as a great sign of success.
Putting my conservation manager hat on, there seem to be a large number of apps being developed for data collection. I like the "gaming" approach to this and see how that gives it a point of difference. That said, I think the future is going to be a broad number of apps and data collection techniques as opposed to one app to rule them all. With that in mind, how do you see your app able to collaborate with other data gatherer's to give a national picture to achieve a predator free NZ?
Good luck,
Brent

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Michael Fielding Oct 13, 2017

Hi Brent,

It's not an approach for collecting data! It's an approach for increasing and sustaining engagement - it just happens to collect data!

In the 'how would you spend $25,000' section I explained that $10k of the prize would be used to enable getting the data into Trap.nz. They're already working on some new features that will help enable that. Unfortunately some of the other data collection tools I've spoken to seem to have no interest - at the moment - in enabling other systems to push data into them in an automated way.

See also my response to callispa's comment about national data exchange standards.

Thanks,

Michael

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Keith Salmon Oct 14, 2017

I agree with Brent's comment that there is likely to be a number of apps to collect data in the field and back in the office from hand-filled sheets. The concept of an NZ Conservation IT Trust to set some data exchange standards which would facilitate data sharing is good. These standards should include people and organisation fields and structures. Another step I'd like to see is for the proposed IT Trust to coordinate with the Conservation Engagement Group and the GIS in Conservation Trust, regional councils and government agencies to share data in repositories that give an overview of a wide range of data. At present, predators, weeds, fish, birds, etc are all dispersed across separate databases. I'd really like to see collaboration on data standards and GIS presentation formats across Trap.NZ, URP, Walk-the-Line, Agile Cloud, GiC ESRI apps and other tools.

Could URP share data with other systems in addition to Trap.NZ such as GiC apps and Agile Cloud? It would be great if URP could integrate with Agile Cloud.

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Michael Fielding Oct 15, 2017

Absolutely. It would be extremely sad if TURP has to develop an interface which can only be used with one tool. TURP already uses the OData standard to interface between different parts of it.

I would love to see someone like GiC or Catch IT make a really great conservation data analysis platform which is open to other systems. I'm just thinking, what if I (we) draft an open letter to them and Neil Dingle at DOC?

I found the DarwinCore project http://rs.tdwg.org/dwc/ which could be what we're looking for, but as usual with academic things, it seems incomprehensibly complex to an engineer who hasn't dedicated their entire career to studying biodiversity!

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Heiko Kaiser Oct 13, 2017

Hello

Great Idea as we can deliver the technology and even App. It is now to implement it into the community, combine with our high tech so you do not even have to count.

Love to touch base with you and support your mission.

Heiko Kaiser
;-)

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Michael Fielding Oct 14, 2017

Hi Heiko, I checked out Alpeco's website.

Could you put detector's in Hannah's UrBins, which is also entered into the awards? But I think the detectors don't automatically log a catch via WiFi, do they?

Michael

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James Wilson Oct 14, 2017

A great concept. Picton Dawn Chorus are very keen to start using your app.

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Michael Fielding Oct 14, 2017

Thanks, James, and in fact it was your own coordinator, Siobain, that alerted me to the awards - for which I'm extremely grateful!

One of the things she has asked for is the ability to record street numbers, not just the street names as it does now (to ensure privacy). This is literally next on the features list, and would have been done this week in fact if it wasn't for the awards becoming top priority.

Michael

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Michael Fielding Oct 14, 2017

Hello community - can anyone make any suggestions about what might be the best way to efficiently reach community groups that might be interested in using The Urban Rat Project?

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Becky Wilson Oct 14, 2017

The idea has been progressed to the next milestone

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