Having returned to Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for one night before departing for the forest tomorrow, I thought I’d take the opportunity of having a brief window of Internet access to blog a bit about what I’m doing out in the proverbial “heart of darkness” and how it’s all going. This past week I have been staying in the beautiful Botanical Gardens in Kisantu, DRC (Bas-Congo province, south of Kinshasa) running a training workshop in Extreme Citizen Science for 12 representatives of local NGOs. The idea is to give people here a taste of what the ExCiteS tools and methodologies have been used for in previous projects in the region (see, for example, our work on FLEGT in Congo Brazzaville), and what might be the possibilities for adapting them for use in DRC. There’s a wide range of NGO’s represented – from internationally funded organisations like WWF RDC to more locally oriented projects such as Lynapyco, an advocacy network run by and for DRC’s many pygmy groups. I’m here at the request of the Moabi project (http://rdc.moabi.org/), which is working with l’Observatoire Satellital des Forêts d’Afrique Centrale (OSFAC) and l’Observatoir de la Gouvernance Forestière (OGF), the local independent monitor for the forestry sector, to create a mapping platform focused on increasing transparency among different forest stakeholders – particularly with regard to the REDD+ programme that is in its early implementation stages in DRC. They are interested in using ExCiteS to give local people the opportunity to contribute data to Moabi by mapping their local resources and reporting infractions against their rights, as well helping in the collection of biodiversity measures and other data pertinent for REDD+.
With so many different points of view represented it has been an interesting week, with a lot of lively discussion about the best ways to use the ExCiteS methods and tools in the field. The first day was mostly spent brainstorming about the best ways to achieve an effective and balanced participation with the local population, on the positives and negatives of using digital technologies with remote and non-literate communities, and on what kinds of things it might be important to agree with a local population when putting a wider project in place. The second day was spent familiarising people with the Sapelli suite of tools – particularly the Collector and Launcher, followed by some detailed discussions about how to put together an effective decision tree and how to adapt the tree collaboratively with local people using ExCiteS’ process of iterative, participatory software development. Finally, on the third day, the cohort divided into project teams and began designing decision trees of their own – which I made into usable files as quickly as I could (many thanks to Julia for her excellent training!) so that each team could test their ideas. The Lynapyco team adapted the community mapping icons that ExCiteS developed for Congo-Brazzaville in order to make them more suitable for use in the DRC context and outlined a much simplified tool for communities to report conflicts with other actors (with the idea that the communities themselves can request more complicated functionality if they feel it’s necessary). Meanwhile, representatives of OSFAC and OGF worked on translating OI-FLEG and OI-REDD indicators into a decision tree that would be relevant for local people – their final app will incorporate the community cartography decision tree made by Lynapyco and will be tested next week during four days working with forest communities in Ingende. It’s going to take two days to reach the field site and we depart early tomorrow morning. So, until I return to Internet range once more, Njoli! (That’s goodbye in BaTswa – the indigenous language spoken in Ingende).