discussion / Software and Mobile Apps  / 8 April 2021

Ecognize: A platform for environmental and conservation issue reporting

Hello everyone,

inspired by platforms like WildALERT in the Philippines and the eJustice app in Sri Lanka, I developed the beta version of Ecognize over the last couple of months. For those unfamiliar with WildALERT and eJustice: These are platforms for reporting environmental and conservation issues. Users can submit reports (with photos and geotags) to these platforms for further processing by local organizations in the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Ecognize takes this idea, generalizes it (by allowing users to select from a variety of issue categories), and applies it globally. That means that users can send in reports wherever they are on the planet. These reports are automatically distributed to organizations in the country where the report was submitted, provided the organizations registered with Ecognize before. Just a few examples of more than 30 categories users can choose from:

  • Deforestation, land clearing, arson
  • Poaching
  • Sales of various illegal animal goods
  • Illegal sales of live species
  • Food items on restaurant menus

Additionally, Ecognize offers various communications channels for organizations to work together within their country and internationally through a fine-grained forums system which provides forums by (a) geographical location and (b) professional sphere (law enforcement and customs have separate forums from non-profits, but shared forums exist as well). Dropbox-like file sharing with a strong focus on security exists too.

The idea behind this development was to save national efforts and to have one global platform where users can report on environmental and conservation issues, just like in the national solutions for Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Additionally, collaboration on reports should be easy both within and across borders. Users can hand in reports both via the website and through a mobile app. This way, Ecognize facilitates a "citizen reporter" approach to environmental and conservation issue reporting. Organizations can access reports only through the website (not the app) and only after registration, which is vetted to prevent unauthorized access to reports.

Before finalizing Ecognize and making the platform public, I am now looking for the following:

  • General feedback: Is the idea good and useful? (my general assumption was that it would be, given there were several national efforts already, but I might be wrong)
  • Beta users: I would like to receive feedback from professionals in the areas of conservation or environmental protection who could see themselves profit from receiving reports submitted through Ecognize
  • Organizations interested in registering to receive reports: organizations who could serve as pioneers for deployment and handling incoming reports and would consider using them for crowd reporting, as well as spreading the word about the platform and the app (if they find Ecognize to be good and useful)

I can provide anyone interested with a test account for Ecognize. Additionally, there are introduction slides attached to this post.

I'd be very happy to hear your (honest) thoughts!

Update (April 16): I just open-sourced the code at https://github.com/ecognize-hub/ecognize. I released it under the Apache 2.0 license so it can be used for pretty much anything, including commercial use.

Great initiative. Very detailed and many features. Wondering how nothing like this exists yet.  One thing I'm thinking of is privacy. For many folks on the front line that I know (many of which indigenous persons) posting anyting that would be traceable to them in any way would be a real risk. I probably didn't read carefully enough sorry.

Theun Amsterdam

I definitely think it's a great idea! I think some of the reasons there are country-by-country versions of initiatives like this are because of country-specific laws, regulations, privacy restrictions, level of enforcement, etc. There is also the issue of multi-national organizations such as WWF, WCS, FFI, etc. who may be working in some areas alongside local, community-led initiatives. You'd just want to be careful that there was equitable distribution of reports. On that note, internet access and smartphones may not be available in many places globally. I work in Madagascar and this would definitely be a problem. Perhaps allowing some sort of retroactive reporting, so someone who saw something but didn't have internet could at least report it the following week when they are back at a research station or town, for example. 

I would worry too about the users reporting illegal activity and what specific security protections are in place to ensure any personally-identifiable information cannot be leaked. It might be worth thinking about how those engaging in the illegal activities themselves may try to weaponize an app like this, e.g., a large-scale mining operation reporting individuals from the community for cutting down trees (the scale of one versus the other is very different, but company-backed illegal activity will have more resources than an indigenous tribe, for example). Given how corrupt officials in different goverment agencies help perpetuate shady business dealings, there could be targeted or inequitable enforcement based on reports like this. 

I would recommend reaching out to folks specifically embedded in this space, such as the people at TRAFFIC, TRACE (wildlife forensics), etc. The folks at SMART will likely have good ideas, and already have some of the functionality you're describing (albeit focused on rangers and park officials rather than the general public at large).

Hi writer (I didn't get your name ;-),

if you like we can talk for 30min or so to review your solution. There are a number of them out there, including our Cluey Data Collector & Tracking app.

The main things that we wanted to solve was:

  • ease to start a project (without requiring the user to understand things like data-models etc.)
  • seamless integration with other data sources and (realtime) analytical functions to help rangers optimize patrols etc.
  • ease to share observations
  • ease to combine/aggregate project 

Would be great to share some ideas and see if we can help each other,


Jan Kees