The community based monitoring component is frequently an afterthought in research projects. It is often described in proposals in a very vague language and only after the project has been approved does actual planning for a community based monitoring component begin. This is too late and should be planned at the time of the project design and proposal development, on par with all other project activities.
Collaboration: Build a Team
As every project leader emphasized in Section 3, community based monitoring is rooted in collaborative research. Building relationships with potential communities, researchers, and other partners is essential for its success. It is important to understand that social scientists are indispensable in developing appropriate research methods even if the project is aimed at monitoring for biological resources, including biosampling and other “hard science” research.
Anticipate Competition: Find Out What Else is Happening in the Community
Some communities, especially the ones with relatively easy access, “enjoy” popularity among researchers. If the project plan calls for work in such a community, it is useful to determine if other projects are planning their activities in the same timeframe. When a community is inundated with research projects residents may not want to participate in yet another project, regardless of the perceived benefits. There may also be a competition for the few individuals available to work on projects.
Make Timely Decisions: Select Community Based Monitoring Types and Methods to Meet Project Goals
There are no recipes for how to design community based monitoring, but the ingredients are known and it is the responsibility of the project developer to figure out which ones are necessary to accomplish the goals of the project. The community based monitoring Decision Tree (Section 2.2.) leads you through a possible decision making process in the selection of the right ingredients. This Decision Tree is an example of how one may proceed in choosing a type or types of community based monitoring, which could be appropriate for a particular project. Please refer to Section 2.3 to match community based monitoring types with recommended methods.
This is How This Process Unfolded in BSSN:
In 2004, it was decided to develop a community based monitoring project because, it was believed, that it would benefit emerging circum-Arctic observation systems. This would be a science driven project. It also would respond to the needs of community based organizations to develop capacities to gather local environmental observations and organize them in useful data sets, as well to exercise control over the use of these databases. BSSN was intended to be an independent community based monitoring project, but various synergetic programs were explored to ensure that the future results would fit within a larger scheme of Arctic research.
Several concept papers were drafted and discussed with other organizations and scientists. At the same time, funding opportunities were monitored, and National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Arctic Observing Network appeared to be the most promising. Once the funding source was determined, a detailed project design became the focus. It was decided from the outset that the gathered observations should be quantifiable, meaning that some sort of a survey should be used.
Thus, as early as in the pre-proposal phase, BSSN had identified what type of community based monitoring and what methods should be used; what experts would be needed to do this work and how much that would cost. Programs where community based monitoring is only a component may not need such an extensive amount of background work.
Depending on the scope of the community based monitoring component, an appropriate plan should be developed. An adequate budget should be planned for analysis, data management and reporting. Developing a cost estimate at the proposal planning stage would be prudent.
Be Prepared in Advance: Get Project Data Organization System in Place
Once the decision on the type of community based monitoring for the project has been made and the methods suitable for this type are determined, it should become clear what kind of data may be generated. Being able to design a data organization and storage system prior to the collection of data is a big advantage. Unfortunately, data management, analysis and reporting are often overlooked and under-budgeted components that should be addressed at the beginning of the project. While programs such as Excel and Microsoft Access are quite common, many other software packages require an expert, who can guide the process of data gathering and storage. For projects that are part of larger research programs, data management requirements are often more specific. For community based monitoring projects, this often presents a problem, as their data often does not fit into the moulds created for other disciplines. Community based monitoring data can come in many different formats and media, and designing a system that accommodates all of them is a challenge that should not be underestimated. There are many resources available for data management. The more complex the program, the harder it is for a nonspecialist to work with it. (See Appendix 1.)
A Project Developer Should Strive to Ensure That:
- The information gathered can be converted into data.
- The monitoring methods are repeatable and information collection is easily standardized (collected in the same way no matter who the observer or recorder is).
- Project personnel are available to process and organize the data using appropriate software.
- The data is deposited where it can be easily retrieved by potential users.
- The terms of the data use are clearly spelled out and reflect local requirements in addition to all applicable national laws.
- Metadata is created and is broadly available.
Communicate Effectively: Make it a Priority
Communication between all collaborators and partners is essential. A communication plan should be developed early in the project and, if possible, dedicated personnel should be selected or hired. For the programs that originated outside of communities and with only marginal initial consultations with the residents, starting on the right foot with the communities may make or break the project. Below are some suggestions about how to approach such communication, including the most extreme situation when researchers are new to the community and don’t have strong ties there.
It goes without saying that researchers should learn as much as possible about potential participating communities, including their culture and administrative structure before contacting that community.
What Materials to Prepare
- Describe the project in a simple language using visual aids, such as graphics and photos.
- Emphasize the links between the project goal and issues of concern in the community and be open to modify the project to reflect community’s recommendations.
- Show how the researchers will be reporting the results of the work back to the community and how the results may be used by the community.
- Prepare a realistic budget for the work in the community based on actual costs of “doing business” in this community (find out in advance rate of rent, salaries, communication cost, etc.)
Who to Contact
Find out the government structure and direct your first inquiries to that individual or body and be persistent in getting a response from them. (See Appendix 3. for more information on local and indigenous governments in the Arctic countries). Use local media where appropriate to make introductions and short presentations.
How to Contact
- Realize that in rural and indigenous communities people may have a different way/protocol for what is appropriate. Don’t get discouraged if your attempts to communicate are not reciprocated.
- Find an authority figure who may introduce you to the community and show some support for your project.
This is an Example of Pre-Proposal Communication and Early Project Phases in BSSN
This meeting was organized in pre-proposal time without any dedicated funding and was instrumental in deciding what the network should be observing. An indigenous consultant with extensive ties to many indigenous communities in Alaska was hired to communicate with five Bering Sea coastal regions in Alaska and seek their support and contribution. This preliminary work proved to be crucial in developing a successful proposal.
It may not be possible to accomplish all suggested planning phase tasks due to a lack of resources, or time, or both. This should not be a deal breaker as almost no project has been able to accomplish all of these tasks. However, the more tasks are checked on the list, the fewer problems will surface later in the project.