Who should be involved and how?
What team structure will best meet your aims; who should be involved, what roles do you need; who is making decisions and who are you accountable to?
The answer to this question of who should be involved could vary wildly. Perhaps it is just you and your mobile phone, or perhaps it is going to involve thousands of people across multiple countries working together to compile a mass of data. Most of the partners we have worked with directly are somewhere in between, often a community or group of communities with a dedicated team of collaborating to collect data.
However even the projects we have partnered on directly, which might look superficially very similar, have set up their project structures in very different ways, sometimes out of need and sometimes out of preference. So here are some things to consider.
Are there any traditional or other authorities that should be consulted before you start, or who should be involved in some role? This is particularly relevant if you are collecting data from indigenous lands (your own or belonging to others) and/or might be collecting potentially sensitive data.
Who is your project accountable to and how can you ensure you meet their needs? The answer to this might be the traditional authorities mentioned above, or it could be particular sectors of your community, funders, the future generations or others. Consider how to keep them up to date with project progress if relevant and how to produce materials they will find accessible and useful.
Do different members of your community hold different knowledge that you want to ensure is represented. How can you honour and involve these people and their knowledge? Think here about women, elders and young people in particular, and how to ensure they are involved in the work and that they are not simply used to extract information from. Then depending upon the details of your project other groups might arise: traditional healers; skilled artisans; storytellers; health workers etc.
Consider the ownership of the project: If the project is meeting needs identified by your community, or collecting data intrinsic to them or their future consider how to ensure the community feels involved in the work and feels ownership over any results. Mapeo was built to try and facilitate community ownership of both projects and data by having a simple interface that could be explained to people without data collection training and people who might be non-literate or unused to computers or smartphones. Involving people at different stages of the project, including the planning phase can help increase this feeling of ownership, as can keeping the data locally, providing frequent feedback and reports back on what is happening, and creating outputs that people can use themselves or see at work.
What other stakeholders or people with interest or authority do you want to involve? Perhaps there are people who it would be useful to involve because they could help the project reach its goal such as local authorities, law enforcement, press, park rangers. Think about what role they might have in the project, whether they are consulted about things in advance or are simply informed and kept up to date with project progress. Consider too if there are people you want to keep the work and data secret from due to security or other considerations.
Who is going to collect your data? Unless yours is a solo project you are going to need to work with a team or teams of people to collect your data. This will be particularly necessary if you need to cover a large area of land, have time constraints or need different skills on your team. Think about the composition of the team and how you are going to build it - is it something people will volunteer for or will they be asked? Do you need to ensure diverse representation and if so how will you do this? Do you want to involve as many people as possible or have a small team that moves around?
What other roles do you need? If you are working with a team or teams of data collectors or mappers you are likely to need someone to coordinate them, help plan trips, collate the data they collect, analyse it and prepare any reports or outputs. This might be the role of a single coordinator, or you might need multiple ones due to the number of people involved or because of cultural or political sensitivities or the way the project ownership is set up. You might also have people involved in training, decision making, liaising with external bodies, helping with legal and communications work etc.
What skills do people need? We hope Mapeo is to learn and use, but if you are working in a team and want to collect comparable data people will need some training in how to use the app, and how to use it in the way your project needs. There might be other trainings necessary such as training in basic smartphone usage if people aren't accustomed to it; training in taking good photographs that illustrate what you want to show; training in gps; drones; video; audio recording; oral history recording; GIS software etc. conflict resolution, de-escalation etc depending on the details of your project.
Create a project protocol: Writing a protocol, if possible in a collaborative manner, which lays out any different roles within the project, their relationship to the data, agreements about use and ownership of data, any payments that are being made, what will happen to equipment and data at the end of a project etc. can be a way to keep things transparent and accountable and help avoid issues during and after the work.
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