2.5 Community Based Monitoring Methods

Community based monitoring uses methodologies that have been developed and are being currently used in many scientific fields, such as biology, sociology, ethnography, and others. So, the good news is that methodology is available. The challenge is in its application as it requires a cross-disciplinary approach. For example, a biologist needs to understand social science methods and learn how to interpret such data; a social scientist needs to have a good understanding of the fundamental basics of biological or physical sciences in order to be able to comprehend the purpose of the research and process the data.

While quantitative data can be easily managed using available software, a significant difficulty exists in finding appropriate means to manage qualitative data resulting from community based monitoring. The few software programs that are available, such as NVivo and Atlas.ti (See Appendix 1), are of limited flexibility and are sometimes unreliable. Community based monitoring would make a gigantic step forward if new qualitative data management tools were developed.

Below is a brief description of some of the methods used in community based monitoring projects. Many projects employ a combination of methods and types. The methods used in citizen science and maintenance programs are not reviewed here. These types of projects use conventional science methods, as well as appropriate maintenance protocols and techniques.

2.5.1 Recording of Observations by Local Observers

These methods are often used in Sentinel, Maintenance monitoring and Journals to collect quantitative data, as well as spatial (mapping) data and imagery (photos).

Systematic and organized observations

These include recording of current observations in narratives, photo imagery, and mapping. Observations are recorded in established locations, in regular time intervals, using standard instructions. Multiple observers in multiple locations could be employed. GPS mapping and hand-held computer devices are used in more advanced communities. The collected observations are organized in a database.

Free style observations

An experienced individual, recognized as a local expert, is instructed to record on a regular basis either observations of something specific, e.g. of ice, or any observation of significance from the perspective of that individual. The quality of records greatly depends on the skills of the individual, such as the ability to accurately express observations in writing. The information contained in these records is analysed and converted into data if possible by a researcher.

2.5.2 Meetings

In general, any type of meeting could be used, such as a seminar with frontal presentations, focus groups, round tables, or traditional gatherings. For meetings to meet the monitoring criterion, they have to be organized on a regular basis for a period of time, e.g. monthly or yearly. They also need to be arranged thematically and be facilitated. There should be a record of proceedings.

Meeting results are presented in the form of reports, and it is unlikely that quantitative data can be generated from these reports. Monitoring meetings should not be confused with other types of meetings that are common for community based monitoring projects, such as training workshops, or project information meetings.

2.5.3 Population Survey

This is a method often employed in Surveying human sensors. It can produce both qualitative and quantitative datasets.

Survey research is a complex and sophisticated methodology. Many researchers who do not have a social science background often underestimate this fact. Community based monitoring is often associated with environmental observations. These projects often fall within the natural and physical sciences and many researchers have difficulties with designing a survey. This is why this method is described in greater detail than the other methods. However, it should be noted that this field of research is well developed and many sources are available for education and information. (See Appendix 1)

Asking the right people the right questions, getting answers that are comprehensible, complete, and comparable, and being able to effectively work with this data once it has been gathered is not easy. These tasks involve a number of complex issues related to:

  1. Developing the questions and designing the survey
  2. Handling informed consent and observing standards of research ethics
  3. Establishing protocols for administering surveys Sampling technique
  4. Training personnel
  5. Understanding local human knowledge systems and local culture
  6. Choosing a particular survey type (e.g. questionnaire, semi-directed interview, etc.)
  7. Overseeing fieldwork and monitoring data quality to ensure reliability and validity
  8. Managing and handling all the data once it’s been collected
  9. Analysing the data and presenting results

Deciding what to do at each of these steps demands a great deal of thought, as every decision made at one point will affect things at another point (e.g. sampling technique will determine how the data can be analysed and presented). Furthermore, problems at any of these steps can also create difficulties at a later stage (e.g. a poor understanding of local human knowledge systems and the way people think about the environment may result in ineffectively worded questions, difficulties for those administering surveys, and problems analysing the results).

These are just some of the issues that require specialized knowledge on survey development. While this publication will not address all the issue details, many help books and self-education tools are available on the Internet. A list of useful resources is available in Appendix 1.

While population survey is one of most difficult and expensive methods of community based monitoring, it can produce the most useful sets of statistical and qualitative data that can be used in many fields.