Using technology to monitor and share information on rainforests and forest peoples’ rights


This is an introduction (or ‘primer’) to using technology to monitor and share information on rainforest issues, land rights and indigenous rights.

It is the product of a partnership between Rainforest Foundation Norway and The Engine Room.

Rainforest Foundation Norway The Engine Room

Lire en français Léelo en español Leia isso em português Baca ini dalam bahasa Indonesia

The primer is designed as a starting point for organisations and activists interested in adding technology to improve their advocacy work, but can also be useful for organisations that have some experience using technology and want to reflect on how to increase the impact of their work. It has been structured so that you don’t need to read the whole thing, but can explore sections that are relevant for you and find more information elsewhere. Download the whole primer (1.6MB pdf). or read it online below.

This primer:

  • shows ways in which technology can help your work,
  • highlights some of the tools that are available,
  • gives practical information to help you decide what you need, and
  • provides links for more detailed guidance on specific tools and strategies.

What do we mean by “technology”?

The word “technology” in this primer doesn’t refer to a specific technological solution (like satellite maps) or tool (like mobile phones). We’re including a whole range of tools, methods and techniques: computer software, digital devices like mobile phones or cameras, analysing large amounts of data, using online tools to communicate information, and more.

How to use this guide

This guide is not comprehensive – it gives you the basic information you need to get started, with a selection of good places to go if you want to learn more. It has three main parts:

Setting a solid strategy

This is probably where most projects fail. A successful project requires explicit goals and a solid strategy – from planning out how the project will work, to managing information when the project is in progress. The first section of this primer sets out general principles and things to think about when designing any project that uses technology.

Overview of Tools

The second section introduces some of the tools that can be useful in rainforest-focused projects, grouped into six types:

  • mobile (cell) phone applications to collect and record data from the field
  • maps produced together with communities (participatory mapping)
  • satellite imagery
  • do-it-yourself aerial photography (such as drones)
  • audio and video
  • online maps that combine and layer different types of data on top of each other

Additional resources

The final section lists a series of guides and tools with more detailed information that can help you take the next steps in adding new technology into your project.


By Lars Løvold - Director, Rainforest Foundation Norway

How can new and evolving technology be useful in advocacy for rainforest protection and forest peoples’ rights? This broad, open question is the starting point for this primer. In 1989, when Rainforest Foundation Norway was founded to promote rights-based rainforest protection, phones were hardly mobile and the world wide web was science fiction. A lot has changed.

Now advanced technology has become cheaper, more available and easier to use, opening up exciting new opportunities for rainforest monitoring and sharing of information. Every week a new tool or platform seems to be created to help us map forest resources, detect illegal logging, report on human rights abuses or trace the origins of commodities.

However, other things have not changed at all. Indigenous peoples and local organizations in rainforest countries still struggle to claim their customary rights and protect rainforests under difficult conditions. Often infrastructure and means of communication are poor, and lack of training and funding can be serious obstacles to taking advantage of the opportunities that technology offer.

In general, the interest groups behind unsustainable forest exploitation have more resources to use new, evolving technologies than the local groups or civil society organizations working for forest protection. Even so, there are a lot of amazing examples of how local activists employ new technology in ingenious ways to make their work more effective and efficient. Unfortunately, there are also a great number of unsuccessful projects where money and hard work are wasted. Although objectives and tools vary greatly, what the successful projects generally have in common is that they are solidly designed and based on clear goals and a thorough analysis of the problem at hand.

Seeing how important solid planning and design is for the success of technology-projects, Rainforest Foundation Norway has partnered with The Engine Room to make a basic introduction to the use of technology in rights-based rainforest protection. In the process of mapping the myriad of existing initiatives that could be useful in our work and for our partners, we decided that a basic introduction to the use of technology in rights-based rainforest protection could be useful to many.

That is the purpose of this report: It describes advantages and disadvantages of different tools that may be used, using concrete examples. It also provides a step-by-step guide to strategic project development, suggesting essential questions that must be answered to ensure that technology serves the project’s needs and not the other way around.

While the guide can be read from start to finish, it is designed to allow readers to easily access the information that interests them the most. Suggestions for further reading are provided for those who want to explore a particular tool or experience in more detail.

Use of technology has a great potential for strengthening indigenous peoples’ rights and forest protection - and it has been inspiring to see so many inventive ways that indigenous peoples and local activists already employ technology.

Hopefully this primer can help those who want to start new projects - or further develop existing ones - to use technology effectively, as well as inspire us to learn more from each other’s experiences.

Information technology and forests

What’s new about technology?

Sharing information is easier: Internet access and mobile phone networks are spreading across countries and into previously isolated areas. Organisations can now document and share information about incidents as they happen (in ‘real time’). Technology also makes it easier to collaborate with organisations from other countries (like the Amazon-focused network RAISG) or other continents (like Rainforest Foundation Norway’s network of partners).

Tools are being developed for your needs: A wide range of tools – many designed for use in rainforest environments – have been shown to make it easier to campaign and monitor information.

It’s simpler to find and use the data you want: Data on topics like land usage, forest cover and natural resources used to be hard to find, expensive or difficult to use. Now, this is changing. Combined with information collected by your organisation (such as community boundaries or biodiversity), this can give you a rich, powerful set of data to use in advocacy.

Technology is cheaper and more powerful: More and more organisations can now think about accessing tools like smartphones and data visualisation software, which were previously out of reach.

What’s not new

Technology still needs humans: No matter how sophisticated the technology, it cannot replace the need for strong relationships with communities, based on trust and knowledge of local context.

Introducing any new tool takes time, money and effort: Nothing slows a project down like discovering too late what resources a technology component needs. Project staff and local communities need time and ongoing support to use new tools or information sources to their full potential. Technology is never a magic bullet and rarely a quick fix.

Technology can help organisations protect forests or people’s livelihoods, but it also helps those with the opposite objectives: Governments seeking to suppress data or companies behaving illegally also benefit from technological advances, and often have the advantage of more money and human resources.

Principles in designing projects involving technology

Define clear project objectives and use technology only when it helps you achieve them – not for the sake of using technology. (For more on this, see the Planning section below.)

Don’t assume - ask. Learn about how your organisation and the people you’re working with relate to technology, and factor this into your project design. Don’t assume you know how staff will respond to new mapping software, or what a community will find useful. Ask them – and keep asking all the way through the project.

Recognise that you will have to commit resources to use tech effectively. You may need to invest in hardware at the start, train people in how to use a new tool, or bring in external expertise. You will definitely need to dedicate funds to maintaining and replacing technology, as well as expert support when things go wrong.

Don’t spend time and money on new technology if a good solution already exists. Take the time to research what has worked for similar efforts before choosing any tools, and collaborate with organisations that have had similar experiences.

Think about your project’s potential impacts on people and the environment: Here are some principles.

  • Do no harm: Make a written list of ways in which your project could inadvertently harm people or environments, or help other actors that are causing harm. (For example, could companies benefit from knowing the location of a particular community or a valuable resource?).
  • Let people decide how data about them is collected and used, particularly when working with marginalised communities. The communities themselves should have the final say on the level of risk and exposure they are willing to take. If you are working on any project working with marginalised communities, try asking yourself this list of questions.
  • Use data responsibly: Think about how the data you are collecting could affect people or environments, and how you will manage those risks (see Strategy section.)
  • Collect and present data in a rigorous and expect to be held accountable for the data you present: data can be used to mislead. Be aware of any assumptions that might affect how you collect and analyze data. If you find flaws or gaps, be open about them when sharing or publishing.


This section draws on the Transparency and Accountability Initiative’s ‘Fundamentals’ guide, which is a great place to go for more tips.


Agree on the fundamentals: Strategy, vision and organisational health check

Define your long-term strategy

Work out your organisation’s long-term strategy, involving staff and anyone who has a stake in your work. Ask three questions: What do you want to change? Whose behaviour needs to change for this to happen? How could you change their behaviour?

Then, state how technology will support this strategy (your technology vision)
  1. Identify all the practical activities that your organisation does (for example: communicating with local communities or monitoring satellite imagery).
  2. Rank them in order, with the most important at the top.
  3. Choose the activities at the top of your list. Could technology improve the way that you do them? Then decide what practical steps you would need to introduce technology (read the Tools section for more details on this).
Case study: How three organisations decided to use technology to support their strategy in Congo (DRC)

In Congo (DRC), the government created a protected area and granted a logging concession on the same piece of land belonging to the villages of Mpole and Mpaha in Maï-Ndombe. The overlaps created disputes between the different groups involved.

How did they decide to use technology?

  • The long-term strategy of Congolese organisation Natural Resources Network (Réseau Ressources Naturelles - RRN) was to ensure that the government took local communities’ customary rights into account.
  • Their technology vision was to use participatory mapping to collect local knowledge of the geographical area, and combine it with existing maps to show evidence of overlaps and bad practice by government or companies.
  • RRN took practical steps including training local cartographers to use GPS receivers, recruiting GIS mapping specialists and giving them an office, and working with the community to validate the maps.
Give your organisation a tech health-check

Assess how well your organisation currently uses technology – do you have the right equipment? Can you get technical support easily when you need it? Sort out any existing problem areas before starting any new project.

Design your technology project

Define your goals

State what you hope your project will achieve. Base your goals on the three points above: your organisation’s strategy, your technology vision and your technical capacity. (See Use the Data)

Design together with your users

Think about who might be involved in implementing the project (from your organisation’s staff, to local communities or forestry officials), and involve them in your planning. Timing is everything: when asking for input, make space to incorporate it into the project. Consult specialists like technologists and lawyers before deciding on any essential components.

Make a project plan

Decide on the critical features you need before choosing any tech tool, and be sure that it tool can grow along with your program. Ask other organisations if they have conducted any similar projects.

What worked, and what didn’t?

Think about what a reasonable timespan might be for your project. Then, add in plenty of extra time for training, problem-solving and delays to implementation. Start thinking early about the end of the project – what will happen to any equipment, and the data? Some projects take time to make an impact: plan how you will continue after the project deadline has passed.

Pilot your project first

A pilot allows you to test at a small scale, identifying early on what is working and what isn’t. Choose something that you can measure easily. (For example, for a system monitoring illegal logging, this could be the number of reports collected by monitors in one month.) Design your project so that the pilot’s results can influence how the rest of the project develops. This will make your plan much more flexible if circumstances change.

Case study: Piloting a new piece of technology can bring unexpected benefits

In 2013, Rainforest Connection held a pilot project in West Sumatra (Indonesia) to test an application to monitor illegal logging using a modified mobile phone.

How did it help?

  • The pilot was designed to assess whether the technology worked, but it did even better than expected, capturing information that allowed local authorities to catch illegal loggers two weeks after it was installed.
  • The loggers have not returned to that area since then. Rainforest Connection is now holding a second series of pilots in Equatorial Africa.

Monitor the difference you make

Before starting, assess the situation and document what you find. This will give you a ‘baseline’ that you can use to measure what has changed as the project progresses, and to demonstrate results for partnerships and fundraising.

Then, think about your project’s potential effect on that situation, and how you can measure any changes. Decide when and how often to track progress using these measurements.

Responsible data box: Planning to use data responsibly

Almost every project involves dealing with data in some way, even sending emails or using a spreadsheet. Failing to manage this data carefully can put your organisation and the people you work with at risk. Data leaks might lead to violence, open data might help land speculators, and hardware might be tracked to target activists. A risk assessment is an essential part of a project plan that helps you prepare for the unexpected.

  • Start by identifying a set of events and actors (people or organisations) that could stop the project from achieving its goals. Consider including digital security risks, but also think about how the colllection of data might impact local power relationships, or how data might be re-used by others.
  • Write down answers to these questions: How likely is each of these events to happen? How serious would their impact on the project be?
  • Prioritise the events that are most likely to happen and the most serious.
  • Create a set of practical steps: what can you do to make each event less likely? Can you limit the damage if it does occur? What is your back-up plan?

Preparing for the worst. Even with the best planning, emergencies happen. Responding might require resources from external advocacy support to emergency medical funds, legal support, increased security funds, or tool replacement costs. Digital Defenders’ Digital First Aid Kit gives some simple advice on dealing with emergencies, and suggests organisations to contact if you need further help.

Budget what you need

Be realistic: don’t underestimate costs. Ask other organisations how much they spent on similar projects, and remember that unexpected expenses will always occur.


Training may take up a significant proportion of the budget: make sure there is money for people to get the skills they need. Other things to think about include:

  • Do your staff have enough technical capacity to use a new tool, or might they need external support to help them use it?
  • Don’t rely on one ‘expert’ who has essential skills in one area – what if they leave?
  • What do technical staff need to know about the communities you are working with (for example, when designing technical tools ?
  • Do staff need security awareness training?
Technology costs

Always include user development, testing, maintenance and support. Budget to replace devices that get lost or broken, as well as strategies. How much will it cost to replace your software in one year? Five years? If you are collecting sensitive information, is your software secure? This costs money, but it could save you more later on.

Get the data

Any piece of information that you collect during a project is ‘data.’ Go back to your project goals and list all the types of data that might be available (from maps to survey responses, photos or interviews). Select the data that will help achieve your goal.

Where you can find the data?

If good data already exists, don’t waste time and money collecting it again. Think creatively: do international datasets include your country? Has another organisation created a database on the same issue? You can find publicly available datasets in the Open Access Directory’s data repository list, Data Portals or the Open Knowledge Foundation’s DataHub site. If you can’t access map data on a topic, can you use information published by a company instead? For example, the Environmental Justice Atlas is a global map of environmental conflicts, while the GDELT project provides free, structured data of media reports of violent incidents and protests. Many non-profits work to provide free access to environmental data, like the Open Data Portal on Global Forest Watch, which offers downloads of over 100 data sets on forest change, land cover and land use from all over the world. If the data has been collected but is not publicly available, check whether Freedom of Information laws can help push governments to publish it. The Data Journalism Handbook has more information on how to make Freedom of Information Requests (in Brazil, you can use the Queremos Saber).

Case study: Sharing data from different sources

The Indonesian news site Ekuatorial creates interactive maps and presents them with articles on environmental issues written by partner publications. The maps combine geo-referenced data from Global Forest Watch on palm oil plantations and forestry concessions; information collected by the Indonesian Forestry Ministry, international datasets like the World Database on Protected Areas, and volunteer-submitted information from Humanitarian OpenStreetMap. To make the map, Ekuatorial hired professional cartographers, who used CartoDB and MapBox to create the maps and then published them directly on their website using the WordPress theme JEO (see Online Mapping).

How did it help?

Ekuatorial allows other organisations to republish its maps on their own site using an easy-to-use ‘share this map’ function. The raw data collected is also useful for other Indonesian organisations because it is regularly updated, and available to download for free.

Set standards for your data

Before starting, double-check that your methods will give you data that you can actually use. Collecting the wrong type of data can be expensive and time-consuming. ‘Qualitative’ data like texts of interviews with forest communities can be powerful in advocacy, but ‘quantitative’ data that can be counted will be easier to analyse, more manageable in large quantities and simpler to compare with other sources.

Create categories for your data, to help you organise and analyse it later. Take time to decide on the categories that you need, and test them first to make sure that all your data will fit into them (it will be time-consuming if you have to re-categorise half-way through).

Pick the right format

Collect data in a format that computer programmes can read and process automatically. Avoid formats that can only be read by software from a particular company (like Microsoft), which may become unreadable if the company stops making the software.

Consider recording and publishing it as Open Data, which means that it that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone. This involves two things: choosing a suitable format and licensing it so that it can be re-used. There are many benefits to publishing like this: it shows that your organisation is transparent about the data it collects; and other organisations may be able to use your data to help them.

Understand where you can compare data – and where you can’t

Combining different data sources can reveal entirely new information and present powerful messages for campaigning. For example, you can combine aerial photography collected by DIY satellite photography with participatory mapping data. But examine these data sources carefully. Can they be compared? Do both sources cover the same geographical area, and is the quality of the data consistent enough? If the right data isn’t available, think about changing the way you collect it so that the results fit better with data that already exists.

Case study: Combining different types of information

Organización Regional AIDESEP Ucayali (ORAU) established a monitoring system designed to document the existence of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation (IPVI) and threats to the environment in Peru.

How did it help?

  • Photographs of evidence, GPS data and other information is saved and systematized in a digital database.
  • Together with similar information from other indigenous peoples’ organizations, this has made it impossible for the Peruvian state to keep denying the existence of IPVI.
  • The authorities are now more cooperative with ORAU on address cases involving IPVI and developing policies relating to IPVI territories, and have allocated funds for this purpose.
Sometimes the simplest option is the best

Don’t spend money on technology unless you’re certain that you need to. For example, if you are collecting data from a small number of people in an accessible area, it may be cheaper and easier to do it using paper rather than a specific technology solution.

Practical considerations when working with data and rainforests

Power: Unstable power supply can corrupt data: if possible, use an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) and power surge protectors, or battery-powered external hard drives. Some mobile phone batteries have much longer lives than others - test thoroughly before use.

Connectivity: Think carefully before relying on communications networks. If mobile internet isn’t available, pick tools that use regular mobile phone (GPRS) networks; if phone networks aren’t available, don’t use them. Always have a back-up plan if any network goes down.

Internet connection: Be realistic about what you can achieve with a weak internet connection – it will slow progress and increase costs. Consider modifying project websites to work in low bandwidth or choose tools that work offline. Aptivate has a guide to designing websites that work better in poor internet connections, and Engage Media provides advice on compressing files that work better in low-bandwidth areas.

Don’t rely only a company to store your data online: For example, millions of photos hosted on the Twitpic service were at risk of deletion in 2014 when the company closed down, while in 2011, thousands of videos hosted on the South African site MyVideo were lost because the service lacked back-ups and servers hadn’t been properly maintained.

Storing data: Physical storage like DVDs and flash memory drives can develop mould or get dust inside them: keep them in airtight, waterproof plastic bags. Don’t rely on any one piece of storage: back up your data in several locations.


To start with, create a methodology (an explanation of how you have collected and analysed the data). Check your methodology is robust with experts, and present it clearly whenever you publish results. Be ready to explain your methodology or use it to defend the credibility of your work. For examples, look at Open Development Cambodia (for a simple methodology) and the Land Matrix (for a more detailed one).

Case study: Getting recognition for the quality of your evidence

Borneo Resources Institute (Brimas) trains communities in Sarawak (Malaysia) to map their own communities using GPS, plotting indigenous territories, land use and areas with natural resources. The government and private sector companies initially dismissed Brimas as not being knowledgeable enough. However, law courts recognised the quality of the data collected during cases to prove indigenous ownership of land, improving Brimas’ reputation for accuracy. Malaysia’s Land and Survey Department now uses Brimas’ maps to validate their own products.

Responsible data box: Know when not to collect data

To reduce risks, only collect the minimum amount of data that you need to carry out your project (see this example). Think back to your risk assessment (see Planning section) and collect sensitive data in a more secure way (1) (2) if necessary.

Informed consent

When you collect data about an individual, you hold information that is personal to them. It is up to the person providing the data – not you or your organisation – to decide how that information should be used. Create a process to follow whenever you collect data from people that includes the following steps:

  • Explain how the data you are collecting will be used, published and stored.
  • Discuss any risks with the person, and check if they have additional concerns.
  • If they decide that they are still happy to participate, record a statement from them agreeing to this (either by signing a document or recording a spoken statement).
  • Allow people to change their decision about how their data is held or used later on.

Get feedback

Don’t wait until the end of your project to find out how well it is working: ask at regular intervals, and adjust your activities accordingly. You can collect this information using methods like surveys, face-to-face meetings and tracking other measures like online interactions.

Manage the data

Before you start collecting information, plan out some categories to help organise the data. Before you start collecting information, plan out some categories to help organise the data. Base these categories on the people you want to reach (see Use the Data for more on how to do this).

Control the quality of your data early

Don’t wait until you have finished collecting the data to check it: check these factors before starting.

Make your formats consistent

Have a clearly defined system, format and set of categories for collecting information. This will save time in preparing it for analysis later: for example, record dates in the same way throughout (rather than some like ‘12-March-2015’ and others like ‘12/03/15’). Double-check that anyone inputting data understands the system.

Identify where problems are most likely to occur

Think about the people using the technology: where will they make mistakes? Once you know where these points are, introduce a second check on the data or include extra training for staff. Technology tools can help: for example, you can make certain fields in an online survey only accept a response in a format you specify.

Make sure all your data goes through the same process

Ensure all data is collected with the same methods and analysed in the same piece of software - this will make it easier to compare and analyse.

Making the data useful

Here are the main things you need to think about when preparing and analysing data. School of Data’s ‘Data Fundamentals’ course has more information on all the sections below.

Preparing your data

You may need to clean data (manually removing any errors or fixing keyboard mistakes) and convert it into another format. This stage is commonly called ‘data wrangling’, and it may take up a lot of of time. Include it in your budget.

Statistics 101

There are many techniques for finding meaning in data. These include straightforward methods like percentage increases and more complex statistical techniques like correlation (“increased logging has been matched by increased flooding”). If the dataset is very complex, people on your team may need to understand statistical analysis to extract meaningful, robust information. If your project needs more expertise, consider hiring a consultant or asking an NGO that provides pro bono data support. See School of Data, DataKind, and Data Look.

Presenting data clearly

Communicating what your data shows is one of the most important parts of a project – if you do it well, you can grab your audience’s attention and encourage them to act. There are many free or cheap tools that can help you make data visual - see Tactical Technology’s Visualising Advocacy project for examples based on your needs.

Responsible data box: Look after your data

How will you store your data within your organisation?

If you are storing data on a network in your organisation, it will be kept on a server (a computer that provides data to other computers). If you have a server that is kept physically in your location, budget for someone with skills to take care of it. If you are paying to host your data on an external server, check that the provider offers all the features you need and has good security measures.

Encrypt physically stored data

Data can be stored physically on computer hard drives or external hard drives, which can be encrypted using software like TrueCrypt or FileVault. (This is not a substitute for the strong digital security measures: if a person can access your password, encryption will not help you.)

Deleting or archiving your data

It is best to keep your data only for the period that you need it. The data may not be at risk now, but it is difficult to know what the future will hold. To delete data on a hard disk properly, you need to write over it several times. However, if the data has lasting cultural or historical value, or might be useful as evidence in the future, you may want to preserve it. Pick a format that is likely to be usable in future, and consider partnering with an archive that will maintain the archival systems for you.

Legal issues will vary depending on your country and the kind of data you have, but can include data protection, copyright issues and even prohibitions on encryption technology. If you find that you have been breaking the law halfway through the project, you may have to pay a fine or even stop work. Look into this carefully, and get legal advice if you are unsure.

Who else can access your data?

If individuals are identified in data you collect, your staff, allies or local communities could face threats. Lower the risks by taking three steps: only collect and upload the information that you really cannot do without; remove names and information that might identify people wherever possible; and avoid using any technology services that are a particular risk in your country.

Use the data

Now you’ve collected the data, you need a carefully planned campaign strategy to use it well.

Planning your campaign

Map out the field

List all the people and organisations that are involved in an issue. Be as specific as possible: avoid broad categories (like ‘the public’ or ‘government officials’) and choose specific sub-groups (like business journalists). Then group them into three categories:

  • Allies – people or organisations that already support what you do. You need to get these people to actively support your campaign.
  • Neutral parties – people who are not currently involved. You need to educate these people to turn them into allies.
  • Opponents – people who oppose the change you want to see. You need to counter these people – either by changing their mind or limiting the impact they can have.
Identify allies

Any advocacy campaign needs a network of allies. Plan how to engage the groups you listed above, keeping them interested and involved. Think creatively about whether you can help each other: would your data be useful for them? Do they have contacts that you need?

Case study: Using your allies

In 2007, the Chilean organisation Movement for the Defence of the Environment (MODEMA) produced a series of posters of the Punta de Choros to make local residents aware of the risks of building four thermoelectric plants. The posters were seen by a visiting group of Chilean video-makers, who filmed a documentary about the area and started a campaign called Chao Pescao (‘Bye-Bye Fish’ in Spanish).

How did it help?

  • The groups worked together to increase their impact. As the campaign grew, more allies got involved, with national media covering the issue for over ten days.
  • The campaign combined online and offline tactics: the documentary was screened on the streets of the capital Santiago using bicycle-powered cinemas, and citizen demonstrations were immediately uploaded and shared through YouTube and among the 10,000 members of Chao Pescao's Facebook group
  • In January 2010 the government cancelled building the thermoelectric plants, and new presidential candidates were pressured to keep Punta de Choros clean.
Choose a target audience

Choose one or more of these groups whose behaviour you want to change: they are your target audience. Do you want civil servants to change policy on land rights, or get a company to improve forest management practices? Avoid targeting very large groups: the more difficult it will be to craft relevant campaign messages.

Case study: Choosing your target

Indonesian organisation Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN) received information through its SMS reporting platform that 30 people had been detained in north Sumatra (Indonesia) for allegedly obstructing a company's operations.

How did it help?

  • AMAN used the information from the SMS alert to identify who had detained them – and who they should target in their advocacy campaign.
  • They then created a team of communications, mapping and legal experts, who successfully lobbied for the people to be released.
Figure out how to reach that group

Start with what you already know: where do they get their information? What are they interested in? What media do they use? What kind of change can they realistically influence? Fill in the gaps in your knowledge: go public meetings, scan social media or meet people directly.

Running your campaign

Choose the right tactics for the situation

Use your knowledge of your data and target audience to decide which tactics you should use:

Present data in a way your target audience can use and understand

Find out what information your audience needs. If your audience doesn’t understand your data or work out what to do with it, they won’t act on it. Sometimes you might want to target a particular newspaper’s readers; at others, you might need to give input to policy documents.

Think about both the words you use and the way you present them: Choose the words you use carefully and think about developing different materials for different groups. Some groups might not know the technical terms involved in land rights negotiations, while others might only take you seriously if you use them. Using English might let you reach an international audience, but could limit your reach in your home country. Vary how you present your data according to your audience. Members of the public with limited time may only read a short summary of your findings, while policy-makers may need detailed reports.

Case study: Using video footage to mobilise support

In 2009, the Peruvian organisation AIDESEPrecorded eyewitness footage of police violence against a group of indigenous people in Bagua region and uploaded it to the video sharing site YouTube.

How did it help?

  • The video was distributed widely online by bloggers, providing evidence of an incident that might otherwise have been ignored by a wider audience.
  • Solidarity marches took place worldwide and a government commission was established to investigate the incident. In 2013 Peru's state entity responsible for indigenous peoples officially recognised that people living in voluntary isolation were resident in the Napo-Tigre region (although a campaign to establish an indigenous reserve is still continuing).

Check whether your campaign is working

If you can analyse different parts of your campaign while it’s in progress, you’ll be able to work out where to focus your effort.

What to track

The list of potential sources to check how people are responding is long, but monitoring everything can be time-consuming: focus the most important sources for your campaign. Three things you should be tracking:

  • Who is talking about the issue: has it changed during your campaign?
  • Your data or campaign message: is it being mentioned in public? Where, and how?
  • Your target audience, opponents and allies: have they responded to the campaign, or changed in any way?
Make progress measurable

Create targets that you want your campaign to achieve and track progress against them. Good targets are ‘SMART’:

  • Specific - make a precise definition of what you are measuring (for example, the number of newspaper articles that use your data on incursions into indigenous land)
  • Measurable - choose things that can be counted, like the number of people that sign a petition in one month.
  • Achievable - don’t aim to reach 100% of a particular group, unless it’s actually feasible
  • Relevant - pick useful indicators: for example, if your audience doesn’t use social media much, don’t measure it.
  • Time-bound - pick a time by which you expect to have achieved your goal.
Using technology to track your campaign

Technology tools can improve advocacy campaigns in a number of ways, from monitoring campaigns, to managing data, to visualizing data for powerful presentations. For suggestions on using technology to track media attention, user engagement or project implementation, see this guide. The Visualising Advocacy gives many more examples of things that you can do with your data.

Responsible data box: Publishing data responsibly

If you use an external online service to visualise or present your data, remember the risks. Once you have uploaded your data, you can’t always know whether the company can access it or will provide it to other people, or what would happen if that service went out of business. If you do decide to upload data to them, try not to include data that could put people at risk.

Matching objectives with tools

Are you clear about your organisation’s goals but not sure where technology could fit in? A few common objectives are listed in the table below, with some types of tools that might help achieve them.

Keep in mind that technology tools can only help achieve these objectives when they fit into a well-designed programme strategy. The Strategy section gives tips for thinking about how to ensure a tool fits with your priorities, and the Tools section provides more detail on each tool.

Remember, the best tool for different objectives will be different in every situation. The table below shows some common uses, but isn’t a roadmap.

Objective Tools that could help achieve that objective
Starting or supporting dialogue between communities and the government Participatory mapping, Video and audio
Providing evidence to governments to encourage them to recognise indigenous lands Participatory mapping, Online mapping, DIY aerial photography, Mobile applications, Video and audio
Collecting evidence of deforestation or forest degradation Satellite mapping, Participatory mapping, Mobile applications, DIY aerial photography, Video and Audio
Providing evidence of wrongdoing towards individuals or communities Mobile applications, Video and Audio
Providing evidence of companies’ wrongdoing in their use of land Satellite mapping, Online mapping, DIY aerial mapping, Video and audio, Mobile applications
Recording and monitoring the environmental value of areas of land Satellite mapping, Online mapping, Participatory mapping, Mobile applications, DIY aerial mapping
Supporting communities by presenting and providing knowledge Participatory mapping, Audio and Video, DIY aerial photography


  • mobile (cell) phone applications to collect and record data from the field can be used for a wide range of purposes, including recording illegal mining or logging; biodiversity surveys; helping communities to map their own land; or validating government maps. If used carefully, they can make collecting data quicker and more accurate.
  • maps produced together with communities (participatory mapping) can be used to show how an area is actually being used, compare this with “official” maps, and use the information to claim communities’ rights to land.
  • satellite imagery or analysing changes to a forest area over time, or combined aerial imagery with other forms of information such as other types of maps. Comparing regular images of the same area can provide proof of deforestation, trends like increased commercial activity, or visible results of forest degradation.
  • do-it-yourself aerial photography (such as drones) can be used for making maps or 3D models to monitor wildlife, record land claims and document climate change impacts. It can produce images that are more detailed than satellite data, and that can be updated in real time.
  • audio and video can be used to simply and effectively present short advocacy messages, collect visual evidence of human rights violations, publish participatory films by community members, or document deforestation over time.
  • online maps that combine and layer different types of data on top of each other can be used for real-time monitoring (showing the places where most incidents happen), campaigning (such as showing where forest cover is being dramatically reduced) or analysis (gaining new insights by overlaying different types of data on the same map).

Further resources

This list of resources includes many mentioned in the Primer, with some additional resources. It is not comprehensive, but aims to highlight some of the most practically useful resources for rainforest organisations using technology in their work.

Getting data

Managing data

  • Security in-a-Box is a guide to digital security for activists and human rights defenders throughout the world produced by Frontline Defeners and Tactical Technology Collective
  • The Responsible Data Forum provides resources and guides to help organisations use data while addressing privacy and consent issues
  • Digital Defenders’ Digital First Aid Kit offers a set of self-diagnostic tools for organisations or activists facing attacks
  • EngageMedia’s Secure My Video Guide provides video activists with tools to make their work safe and secure. It has an Indonesian focus but is relevant for other contexts too.

Support on collecting and using data

  • School of Data’s courses include introductions to data and specific information on topics like scraping
  • DataKind creates teams of pro bono data scientists who work together with non-profit organisations to help them solve problems involving data
  • Data Look is an online community for people using data to address social problems
  • Open Knowledge’s Open Data Commons has a 2-minute guide to open licences
  • The Open Data Handbook lists open file formats that you can use to publish data in an open way.

Help choosing technology

  • Forest Compass collects resources for selecting the right tools for forest monitoring
  • Aspiration has created a template to produce requests for proposals for technology support
  • Aptivate has a guide to designing websites that work better on poor internet connections
  • Engage Media provides advice on compressing files that work better in low-bandwidth areas


  • Earth Journalism Network provides training and resources to help journalists in developing countries cover the environment more effectively, including through visualisations
  • Environmental News Lab hosts tools and tutorials on reporting environmental issues in Brazil and throughout the Amazon region
  • Tactical Technology Collective’s Visualising Information for Advocacy gives examples and advice on using data and visualisations in campaigns
  • Geojournalism provides online resources and training for journalists, designers and developers to visualise geographic data

Mobile phone applications

  • Forest Watcher is a mobile application for forest monitoring and data collection using remotely-sensed data from Global Forest Watch
  • Forest Compass collects resources for community-based forest monitoring
  • The Engine Room’s Mobiles in Development report gives an overview of mobile usage in development, including more information on how mobile data collection works
  • NetHope and Humanitarian Nomad both offer sets of questions to help you choose a mobile tool
  • Kopernik gives information for small organisations on mobile data collection tools, mapping platforms and sensors, with information to help you compare them.
  • TechChange offers a free online course on mobile data collection apps:
  • The World Bank’s ‘Opportunities and guidance on mobile applications for forest and agricultural sectors’ report includes guidance on comparing mobile applications’ features and planning short- and long-term costs
  • FrontlineSMS’s Data Integrity User Guide gives a framework to understand the level of risk involved in any SMS-based activity
  • OpenForis is a set of mobile applications and software tools that can help you collect and analyse data
  • TechSoup has advice on choosing mobile devices that fit your needs

Satellite mapping

  • Global Forest Watch is an interactive online forest monitoring and alert system that provides satellite and other types of information
  • MAAP (Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project) is a project of Amazon Conservation Association and ACCA-Conservación Amazónica
  • CLASlite is designed to provide weekly updated high-resolution mapping and monitoring of forests with satellite imagery. (English and Spanish)
  • AAAS’s Geospatial Technologies Project contains detailed case studies of how satellite imagery was collected, categorised and analysed to document human rights abuses

Video and audio

  • The Guardian Project’s CameraV app can help to collect video and photo evidence securely and in a way that can be verified by others.
  • The StoryMaker app for Android phones helps you create multimedia stories on your Android device
  • WITNESS and Video4Change both have useful resource libraries on using video in your work
  • Small World News offers guides on making video and audio
  • Audacity offers free audio editing capabilities, while Lightworks Free version can tackle many simple video editing tasks

DIY Aerial photography

Resources by language

The resources below are available in the language described, and typically also include an English version.

Bahasa Indonesia

  • Ekuatorial creates interactive maps that combine data from a wide range of sources and combines them with articles on environmental issues written by its partner publications
  • Global Forest Watch is an online monitoring and alert system that collects data for about forest landscapes worldwide
  • EngageMedia provides resources to organisations using video for social change
  • The Open Data Handbook has guides to finding and using open data
  • Kopernik gives information for small organisations on mobile data collection tools, mapping platforms and sensors, with information to help you compare them.
  • Datahub is a data management platform that lets you search for data, register published datasets, create and manage groups of datasets, and get updates from datasets and groups you’re interested in
  • Video4Change collects guides, manuals and other resources useful for video activists
  • Security in-a-Box is a guide to digital security for activists and human rights defenders by Frontline Defeners and Tactical Technology Collective


  • The Open Data Handbook has guides to finding and using open data
  • Security in-a-Box is a guide to digital security for activists and human rights defenders throughout the world produced by Frontline Defeners and Tactical Technology Collective
  • Frontline Defenders provides training and resources for human rights defenders
  • Aptivate provides web design guidelines for low bandwidth environments
  • Global Forest Watch is an online monitoring and alert system that collects data for about forest landscapes worldwide
  • The Open Data Handbook has guides to finding and using open data
  • Resource Extraction Monitoring provides manuals for independent monitoring and consent in forest communities
  • WITNESS has a resource library on using video safely and effectively
  • FCTV have model texts for organisations involved in community monitoring, including agreement for community groups’ use of project-owned mobile phone equipment


  • Global Forest Watch is an online monitoring and alert system that collects data for about forest landscapes worldwide
  • Open Development Cambodia offers maps, briefings on companies and economic sectors, and information about laws and regulations in Cambodia
  • Datahub is a data management platform that lets you search for data, register published datasets, create and manage groups of datasets, and get updates from datasets and groups you’re interested in.


  • WITNESS has a resource library on using video safely and effectively
  • Environmental News Lab hosts tools and tutorials on reporting environmental issues in Brazil and throughout the Amazon region
  • provides online resources and training for journalists, designers and developers to visualise geographic data
  • The Open Data Handbook has guides to finding and using open data
  • Security in-a-Box is a guide to digital security for activists and human rights defenders by Frontline Defeners and Tactical Technology Collective
  • Imazon provides monthly maps of deforestation in the Amazon region
  • Datahub is a data management platform that lets you search for data, register published datasets, create and manage groups of datasets
  • Global Forest Watch is an online monitoring and alert system that collects data for about forest landscapes worldwide


  • RAISG (Amazonian Network of Georeferenced Socio-Environmental Information) collected information on protected areas, indigenous lands, water basins, and illegal logging
  • Security in-a-Box is a guide to digital security for activists and human rights defenders throughout the world produced by Frontline Defeners and Tactical Technology Collective
  • The Monitoring Project of the Andean Amazon (MAAP) collects data and maps for monitoring the Andean Amazon region
  • Frontline Defenders provide training and resources for human rights defenders
  • The Open Data Handbook has guides to finding and using open data
  • WITNESS has a resource library on using video safely and effectively
  • Video4Change collects guides, manuals and other resources useful for video activists
  • Global Forest Watch is an online monitoring and alert system that collects data for about forest landscapes worldwide
  • CLASlite is designed to provide weekly updated high-resolution mapping and monitoring of forests with satellite imagery
  • Datahub is a data management platform that lets you search for data, register published datasets, create and manage groups of datasets, and get updates from datasets and groups you’re interested in

tiếng Việt

  • Security in-a-Box is a guide to digital security for activists and human rights defenders throughout the world produced by Frontline Defeners and Tactical Technology Collective
  • Datahub is a data management platform that lets you search for data, register published datasets, create and manage groups of datasets


This site was created by Rainforest Foundation Norway and The Engine Room as an introduction to using technology to monitor and share information on rainforest issues, land rights and indigenous rights. Download the whole primer here. It was first published in July 2016. Last updated in July 2016.

Comments or questions? Contact or

Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) is one of the world’s leading organisations in the field of rights-based rainforest protection. Its mission is to support indigenous peoples and traditional populations of the world’s rainforests in their efforts to protect their environment and fulfil their rights by assisting them in:

  • Securing and controlling the natural resources necessary for their long-term well-being and managing these resources in ways which do not harm their environment, violate their culture or compromise their future;
  • and developing the means to protect their individual and collective rights and to obtain, shape, and control basic services from the state.

RFN collaborates closely with more than 70 local and national environmental, indigenous and human rights organisations in 11 countries in the Amazon region, Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania.


The Engine Room is an international organisation that helps activists, social change organisations, and change agents make the most of data and technology to increase their impact. The Engine Room provides direct, project-level support for social change organisations; brings together communities to coordinate emerging ideas and collect practitioners; and documents and publishes findings to help anyone in the sector make better decisions about using data and technology.

Tom Walker and Tin Geber researched and wrote the main narrative, while Ruth Miller led work on the design and visuals creation. Vemund Olsen and Christopher Wilson provided invaluable input and editing support. The site sourcecode is available on Github.

Return to Library Home