With escalating climatic disruptions, flooding is exposing many vulnerable communities to life-changing and life-limiting impacts. Environmental monitoring tools are increasingly being deployed to inform adaptation to and mitigation of extreme flood events. Yet, environmental monitoring tools tend to be dominated by technical specialists with little local ownership. If these tools are to be used to make a difference for people’s daily lives, they need to be co-designed with communities directly affected by flooding impacts.

The aim of the Landscape Sensor-based Monitoring Assessment using Remote Technologies (SMART) project is to champion a different approach by transforming accessibility, control and use of environmental monitoring tools for wetland monitoring so that these can be designed, developed and sustained by communities themselves.

We are co-designing a set of online and mobile applications together with communities in the Rupununi (Guyana), Colombo (Sri Lanka) and the Firth of Forth (Scotland) to understand and address their specific local needs and challenges. Our project’s environmental monitoring applications aim to enable communities to tell their stories about their wetland’s challenges and solutions, while allowing them to map and monitor their wetland’s assets (including biodiversity), vulnerabilities, flood impacts and support the implementation of remedial actions.

Central to our approach is the concept of ‘Data Sovereignty’ i.e. that community members transform their skills from passive subjects of environmental impacts and management interventions to becoming experts in the decision-making cycle: deciding what challenge to explore; collecting data; storage; analysis; communication; intervention; and impact monitoring.

In SMART, we have engaged community members in exploring how our environmental monitoring approach could benefit wetland management. Our community engagement process starts through training and practical support on the data sovereignty cycle. The projects explores together with community members how the data sovereignty cycle can be integrated into their existing environmental monitoring goals and programmes, with the exact content of the training and activities tailored to community needs and interests. This has included:

  • Collecting spatial point data in the field using a mobile phone on Apps such as Mapeo and EpiCollect
  • Learning techniques for storing and sharing spatial data with other community members
  • Analysis data using Excel, QGIS and online visual dashboards
  • Accessing near-real time flood maps and conducting basic mapping analysis
  • Using phones and tablets to create visual stories about community challenges, data analysis results and proposed solutions.