The Forest Scribe

Urundata: Collecting Environment Data the Fun Way


Urundata homepage

Environmental data collection and validation is usually a tedious, labor-intensive effort but a new Indonesian digital data platform Urundata is turning that into a fun exercise and also opening it up to anyone eager to contribute his or hers two pennies to efforts to safeguard the planet.

“Basically, it is a platform which is aiming at making quality but also massive data collection possible, and more efficient, through crowdsourcing,” said Ping Yowargana from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), one of the organizations involved in the creation of the digital platform Urundata.

Urundata, which literally means contributing data, is a cellular application that relies on the enthusiasm of people in contributing to the environment, Yowargana said.

“One specific thing about Urundata is that the results of the data collection is returned to the public, uploaded online for all to access,” said Bunga Karnisa, a Research Analysts at World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia, who has also been involved in the project.

Ping, who spoke through skype from Laxenburg, Austria, said that Urundata seeks to bridge the need for data collection for specific studies with people at large. With Urundata, anyone could contribute, from wherever they were and whenever they could, as long as they could use their smartphones.

The project was initiated under the RESTORE + program to see which environment areas had the potential to be restored. RESTORE+ is a five-year research project to assess the sustainable addressing of degraded land in the tropics and aims to contribute to land use sustainability related policy formulation in Indonesia.

“But it does not mean that it will stop at that, in the future it could be used for other focuses. The methodology is already there, so the focus could shift to peat soil, for example, or to food topics and so forth,” Yowargana said.

Karnisa explained that Urundata was first tested in April 2019 to August 2019, in a project focused on the state of the landscape in two provinces – South Sumatra and East Kalimantan. At the national level, for data gathering for all regions across Indonesia, a similar project started in December 2019 and is expected to close in April 2020.

“The focus is in the potential for restoration,” Karnisa said, explaining further that each satellite image would come with questions that could simply be answered with Yes, No and Not Certain. The answer could be provided by swiping the screen to the left, to the right or downward, depending on the answer. After an answer is entered the picture on the screen with change with that of another area in the same province.

“Participants can be wherever they are and this can be done whenever they can,” said Yowargana said, adding that they could also choose from a number of data collection projects they wanted to be involved in.

Also read: Absence of Common Database, Increases Complexity in Indonesian Forestry Sector

The initial program consists of satellite images of a certain area and the questions would seek to validate earlier interpretations by experts. Participants, for example would be asked whether they saw that more than half of the picture is filled with agricultural land, or settlements or arid land ect.  Or do you see a natural forest? If they think yes, they will swipe to the right, if they think no, they will swipe to the left while if they are uncertain, they will swipe downward.

Answer were scored and the higher the score the higher in the hierarchy of contributor one would rise. The lowest category is a “Data Volunteer” while the highest is a “data Hero,” passing through “Data Fighter” and “Data Champion.”

For both the first try and the current program, the main sources of participants have been and would continue to be university students although the activity was also not closed to other participants from the public. Most of the contributors also turned out to be university students.

Yowargana said that students were believed to not only be more savvy in technology but also more enthusiastic in contributing something to the environment.

“The promotion is mostly aimed at the student and also lecturer level but when we launched the national data collection it was also covered by the media,” said Sakinah Ummu Haniy, Communication Assistant at WRI Indonesia

Karnisa said that there were already more than 1,000 participants in the current national level program and as each participant could contribute more than once, some even making over 100 inputs, the total number of inputs received so far were in the millions. Yowargana said that 74 percent of the data needed were already obtained, and added that “Hopefully by end of the month the some 20 something percent left can be obtained.”

And Urundata continues to be developed further. Yowargana said that in the pipeline was a data collection project that uses a game-like model and where participants have to be at the location where the data is being collected.

“We are continuing to work on the platform and our hope is that in the future, we can adapt Urundata for various specific data collection needs. It could be anything,” he said.

To take part in this effort, the app could be downloaded from Google Playstore and more information obtained from Urundata website.

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