Victoria Jeffers joined as Blue Ventures as our Mobile Data Collection Project Coordinator in September 2014. She supports our community-based efforts to monitor shark fisheries in Madagascar using smart phones and works to pilot these systems across Blue Ventures’ other projects.
I’ve been living and working in Madagascar for six months now, and in early March I visited Blue Ventures’ project site in Belo sur Mer, western Madagascar. It was here that I had probably my most exciting work-related moment yet. I’m usually based in Andavadoaka, southwest Madagascar (about 160 km south of Belo sur Mer), where part of my job is overseeing the day-to-day running of the shark monitoring project.
In eight sites around Andavadoaka, we have community-based monitors who are collecting data on the shark fisheries using smart phones. The collectors we have in the southwest have been doing this for nearly two years now, using both smart phones and traditional cahiers (copybooks) and cameras. The aim is to wean them off the paper records and eventually have all data entered directly into the phones.
My first task in Belo sur Mer was to identify a new data collector with Dan, the conservation project coordinator for this site. We met Farakely, a local fisherman from a small coastal community near Morondava early on Saturday morning. Recommended by the Belo sur Mer boat captain Eloi, he seemed keen to get involved in the programme but had limited previous experience using a mobile phone, and had never used a smart phone before! We spent a couple of hours teaching him the very basics of a smartphone; how to use a touch screen, how to unlock the phone, how to delete mistakes, how to make phone calls, etc. All of those things that you and I probably take for granted!
We eventually moved onto the data collection process itself. ODK (Open Data Kit) Collect is the app that we are using to collect our data, and we have created customised forms to collect exactly the data we need, including photos of the sharks caught. These data can then be sent directly from the phone to our server, removing the need for the triple paper-to-Excel data entry/checking system that currently exists. Our aim has always been to have instantly accessible data, which we can share with communities and other interested parties.
Farakely was a fast learner and seemed to get the hang of things fairly quickly. After a few hours we left him and agreed to meet again in a couple of days. We set him some homework, including an ambitious target to complete 10 practice forms. When we next met him he hadn’t managed to fill any forms but still seemed confident and happy, although he was struggling to take pictures. We gave him another mini tutorial and arranged to meet again at the weekend.
I spent the next few days in Belo sur Mer, teaching the staff how to use ODK and meeting up with existing data collectors to train them on an updated data entry form that I had designed, encouraging them to use the phones primarily rather than the copybooks. At the weekend we met Farakely again, and he had four practice forms filled with real data! He thought that he had filled more; the look of frustration and disappointment on his face when we explained his mistake was heart-breaking.
At this point I had everyone take a step back and reflect on what he had achieved. One week after never having used a smart phone before, Farakely had managed to complete forms on his own and had data that was ready to send! He had already reached a level that had taken multiple trainings and many months to achieve with other data collectors. A little smile of satisfaction and shy pride formed on his face when we pointed this out to him, and congratulated him on what is not only a massive success for the shark monitoring project but also a fantastic personal achievement. He was happy, and I was so proud of him!
Blue Ventures would like to thank the Save our Seas Foundation for supporting this work.
Header photo by Victoria Jeffers