Communicating Conservation with Google Geo Tools – Cape Flats style

Posted on July 6th, 2012 in General,Google Geo Tools,Workshops by Alta

As much as it is a pleasure to run trainings in other parts of our beautiful continent, it’s just as special being able to connect with conservationists here at home (which just happens to be a pretty important place for conservationists to be).

Two weeks ago, we had the privilege to do just that, as we showed 45 practitioners from non-profit and for-profit organisations, academia and the government how to use Google’s Geo Tools to communicate information and improve operations. Having run these workshops in the winelands and in the shadow of Devil’s Peak previously, we figured that it was the Cape Flats’ turn this time. Accordingly, we set up shop on the 5th floor of the University of the Western Cape’s state-of-the-art New Life Science building.

Full house on the first day of our training in the BCB departments’ 5th floor training room

One of the biggest reasons we love running Google Geo tool trainings is that we get to learn so much about what conservationists actually do on the ground, and how we can assist them with tools to communicate their efforts.  At this workshop we again saw the pressing need for practitioners to quickly and easily be able to visualise information to the public, stakeholders and colleagues, and we were delighted to see how quickly participants capitalised on the tools we were teaching them to do just that.

One example of this is PhD student Nicola Okes, who put together a crowd-sourcing application using Google Forms & Fusion Tables: anyone that has seen an otter, dead (red) or alive (yellow) on the Cape Peninsula can go to her website and contribute their finding, which will immediately display on a sightings map.



This workshop was also really special for a number of other reasons. For one, it was the most extensive one we had ever attempted. After “basic training” in Google Earth, Google Maps and Fusion Tables, participants could customise a training most suitable to their needs, choosing from sessions on Google Earth Tours, Open Data Kit, GIS & Google Earth, GPS in Google Earth, Google Maps API, Google Map Maker and Google Maps Engine.

March enthusiastically explains touring to a participant during one of the tea breaks

It was particularly exciting for us to be able to offer the latter two tools. Google Map Maker had only just become available in South Africa, so it was a real privilege to have Google’s Evans Arabu on hand to show participants how to put the places they care about on the map. Similarly, we loved that we were able to share the incredible geospatial capabilities of Google Maps Engine, a tool that is only just becoming available to nonprofits globally.

But perhaps the most outstanding thing for us about this workshop, from a personal point of view, was that it represented one further step in what we hope will be an ongoing and developing relationship with institutions  like SANBI and the University of the Western Cape. This training was a truly collaborative venture and we owe a really big debt of gratitude to the staff of the Biodiversity & Conservation Biology department at UWC. In particular, we’d like to thank Dr Richard Knight, Martin Cocks and Audrey King without whom we would definitely not have been able to pull this off.   We  hope that we can do this again sometime…


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