Economic growth in Africa is not always viewed as a threat to conservation. It is also viewed as an opportunity to build conservation action through increased funding and exposure. The privilege of working with many partners in Africa has been an invaluable learning experience in understanding how to involve ordinary people (urban & rural) in conservation action. It is from this perspective that meaningful engagement happens on even the smallest of projects.
Throughout my travels and engagement I have found a re-invigorated sense of Afro-optimism. A sense of change towards building a solid and resilient future. This Afro-optimism is not bound by country borders. It is about building partnerships to address common challenges as the strength is in the collective. The growth of the internet and continued connection of people though social media and other tools are greatly assisting this message of hope and growth. It is therefore important to understand the contribution of your work to this message.
A positive change I have observed in many countries is the desire to promote open data access. Many organisations and government agencies are seeing the value of sharing data openly and freely. Open access to data, while still accommodating data sensitivity and intellectual property rights, will continue to gain momentum. It is being recognised that the value of the data is not in the data itself, but in the manner in which it used to build a resilient future.
The reality for many conservation agencies is that limited financial resources is always a major factor when implementing new initiatives and technology applications. Whilst this may constrain new initiatives, it can have the positive outcome of ensuring that resources are spent judiciously. Having a firm understating of the purpose, outcome and sustainability of the project is key to its success.
Participants at the 2015 Africa Rising Conference
One of the biggest challenges is the cost of collecting new data or updating existing data sets. The challenge is to find financial backing to undertake these kinds of hidden tasks that are essential, but not very alluring to donors. In March 2015 the Africa Rising Conference, held in Cape Town, South Africa, was attended by more than 100 delegates from all over the continent. Delegates at this conference acknowledged the challenges of access to finance to support information management and seek to overcome this by explicitly mapping the data value-chain and linking data directly to policy decisions. The aim always is to illustrate how data is needed to guide scientifically-sound policy decisions. Refleqt IMS provided facilitation services for the week-long conference.
Technology innovation hubs are increasingly being implemented in countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa. Many new technology companies are looking at developing applications to support emerging entrepreneurs, farmers and communities. However, in true African spirit, innovation is also about taking existing technologies and adapting them to local needs. Being innovative in exploiting current applications, software and processes to support conservation action is as important as developing new ones.
One such approach it the use of Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART). Many countries are looking to update their monitoring and reporting software, and SMART appears to be a very suitable application. As the software is available for free, much of the innovation is going into customisation for local use.
South Africa and many other African countries are facing increased pressure on natural resources. We are feeling the pressure to protect valuable ecosystems and species, not only for their inherent value, but also to support our own existence. The use of information technology for conservation is not a luxury, but a necessity to ensure quick and accurate responses to addressing and arresting these pressures. Information technology and information management can play a significant role in supporting scientific defensible decision making and policy formulation.