New Media and EBM: Using Twitter, YouTube, and Other Tools to Engage the 'Crowd' and Improve Management

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

It was May 2011 and at the International Marine Conservation Congress in Victoria, Canada, a special panel discussion was underway on global negotiations for ocean issues. The panelists had many years' experience in international policymaking, and they talked about the advances being made - or not being made - on issues ranging from whaling to climate change and more. When it was time for the audience to ask questions, a young woman stood up.

"You have talked about the frustratingly slow progress in international negotiations on ocean issues," the young woman said to the panel. "In light of the instrumental role that social media tools like Facebook and Twitter played in the recent 'Arab Spring' movement in the Middle East, could the same tools be harnessed somehow to advance ocean negotiations?"

To the panelists, the question might as well have been whether teenagers should be put in charge of the planet. The panelists dismissed the idea with a few short comments: none of them was on Facebook, they had no plans to be, and they generally viewed social media as a waste of time.

Despite that dismissal, the fact is that new online communication tools are already starting to change the face of ocean and coastal management. A marine protected area in the Bahamas is receiving US $500,000 from online fundraising through social media. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has uploaded more than 200 educational videos on YouTube in five years, with some drawing thousands of views. And an upcoming web tool will soon let the general public help to monitor remote ocean areas from their home computers. Each of these cases is engaging the "crowd" - the public masses - as a way to help advance management.

The field of coastal and marine ecosystem-based management is changing, and changes will continue as more young people raised in the Internet age enter the management workforce. For this issue, MEAM asked several trendsetters to share quick insights on the application and usefulness of online media tools to ocean management:


[Editor's note: Mark Richardson coordinates the Surveillance and Enforcement of Remote Maritime Areas project (SERMA), led by the Marine Conservation Institute.]

Helping fishers document illegal activity, using smartphones

By Mark Richardson, Conservation Scientist, Marine Conservation Institute, US. E-mail: Mark.Richardson [at] marine-conservation.org

There are a number of forms that crowdsourcing - i.e., tapping into the collective wisdom and expertise of the community - could take in maritime surveillance. One area with particularly exciting potential has been the widespread adoption of smartphone technology. With smartphones you have the ability to take photographs linked with geographic position and timestamp data, and smartphone apps can be developed to allow users to record specific event data on a standardized form. Putting all of this together within a simple data visualization tool like Google Earth, you can have a low-tech, widely available crowdsourced solution to help underfunded enforcement agencies better understand the scope and nature of illegal maritime activity.

This technology is currently being tested in Liberia, a country that has seen an increase in illegal fishing by large trawl vessels in areas reserved for local fishermen. With support from the World Bank and others, several Liberian fishing communities are using smartphones equipped with a specialized application called Trawler Spotter (www.communitysciences.org/IntPages/News.php) to document the illegal activity. The community data captured on mobile phones are immediately uploaded to a publicly available map, which allows authorities to take action against the offending vessels.


[Editor's note: COMPASS, the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea (www.compassonline.org), offers programs to help scientists communicate about their work to a range of audiences, including policymakers and the general public.]

Why scientists should use social media

By Brooke Smith (Executive Director) and Liz Neeley (Assistant Director of Science Outreach), COMPASS, US. E-mail: brooke.smith [at] compassonline.org and lizneeley [at] compassonline.org

The biggest misconception scientists have about social media is that it is a waste of their time. This is because researchers tend to assume two things about social media: 1) that it is just another broadcast medium, and 2) that it is a mindless, antagonistic, narcissistic world primarily catering to teenagers.

Building a large and well-connected network of relationships through social media can be invaluable. From hearing about the latest research and policy developments to troubleshooting protocols, social media can help scientists get information faster than any other venue. This is the case with broad platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well as more focused online communities like ResearchGate, which has more than one million scientists as members (www.researchgate.net). Importantly, if you invest a little time in tuning the filter settings for your accounts, you will have real-time access to the information most relevant to you.

Another exciting possibility is the way that collaborative "open science" efforts (including citizen science projects) increase the ability of interested people outside of academia to see, and even participate in, the research process. Ultimately, using social media offers researchers and graduate students a low-cost opportunity for testing their assumptions about how the public wants to interact with scientists, share information, get feedback, and see what works best for each project.

Making use of social media like Facebook and Twitter can help scientists raise their profile, share ideas, improve communication skills, and build a community of active and interested supporters. Each piece pays off individually. Collectively they hold the promise of a culture shift that effectively gets science out of the ivory tower and into the conversation, which is necessary for effective oceans management.


[Editor's note: The International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) enhances marine research and management by aiding the exchange of oceanographic information among participating UNESCO Member States. An IODE program called OceanTeacher Academy provides online training courses on topics of oceanography and resource management, including a 2011 course on marine spatial planning taught by Bud Ehler (www.oceanteacher.org).]

Using the web as a global training classroom

By Peter Pissierssens, Program Coordinator, IODE, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, Belgium. E-mail: p.pissierssens [at] unesco.org

The main advantage of web-based training is that you can reach a far larger audience than with traditional classroom-based methods. The classes for our online professional training courses - which are conducted by live video conference - can be any size we want. Students can also revisit a class afterward by watching the recording online via our video library when it is convenient for them.

Our vision for the next decade is to establish a number of regional training centers that are interconnected and use multi-point video conferencing as the main technology (plus desktop sharing). This will allow us to have a class course in India, for example, and broadcast it to Brussels and Nairobi at the same time. The students in each location will be able to see and hear the lecturer and the other students, and will also be able to interact with each other. This means we can have a truly global classroom. Lecturers could also lecture from wherever they are (home, office, classroom), and we can invite the best lecturers for a variety of topics without having to fly them across the globe - not a minor detail in a carbon-conscious world. This technology already exists today but internet bandwidth still needs to grow in certain parts of the world for it to become routine.


[Editor's note: In 2010, WWF Germany produced a 28-page cartoon guide titled "Become a Maritime Spatialist in 10 Minutes", which used drawings, humor, and limited text to explain marine spatial planning and why it is needed (www.baltseaplan.eu/downloads/WWF_Cartoon_MSP.pdf). Response to the guide has been big: more than 100 websites have linked to its English version alone (the guide is available in six languages). A new animated version of the guide will be available soon on YouTube.]

How a cartoon guide on marine spatial planning went 'viral' on the web

By Jochen Lamp, Head of WWF Baltic Office, Germany. E-mail: Jochen.Lamp [at] wwf.de

There were several reasons we did a cartoon guide with limited text rather than a guide with shiny photos and the standard amount of text:

  • We wanted to reach non-experts and "quick readers".
  • We wanted to create something different from the usual stuff they see, which would make our guide stand out and cause people to be curious.
  • We wanted to address the readers' humor, which would make the experience fun.
  • And we felt a good illustrator could better translate an idea into a picture than a photo typically could.

We planned for the guide to exist primarily in printed form. But our use of the illustrations at conferences created demand for downloadable versions. When we made the guide easier to access online, the illustrations started showing up in other people's presentations, which in turn created more online demand. It was a snowball effect.

We anticipate our new animated version of the guide will reach a broad audience as well - particularly as internet users hear for the first time about ocean governance and maritime spatial planning, and discover the video via Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, etc.


[Editor's note: An online fundraising project has raised US $500,000 to support a 183-km2 no-take marine reserve in the Bahamas - the South Berry Island Marine Protected Area. See MPA News's coverage of this project at http://depts.washington.edu/mpanews/MPA124.pdf. The project team used Crowdrise, a web-based platform, to help raise the funds (www.crowdrise.com/summitseriesmpa). Via Crowdrise and similar platforms, ocean management institutions can harness their social media networks to help secure financial support.]

Using an online fundraising platform to finance an MPA

By Calvin Falco, spokesperson, Crowdrise, US. E-mail: falco [at] crowdrise.com

Crowdrise is designed to be super viral and give charities and fundraisers all the tools and features they will need to help get the word out and raise more money for their causes. In short, if Facebook is the place that defines you and Twitter is the platform where you say what you are doing, then Crowdrise is the site to show how you give back. (For a quick tutorial on using Crowdrise, go to www.crowdrise.com.)

Crowdrise takes a different approach to giving and is geared toward making donating and fundraising as fun and easy as possible:

  • In addition to being a platform for nonprofits, Crowdrise is also a social networking site for those passionate about giving back.
  • We offer points and other incentives, from iPads to t-shirts, in return for donating and participating.
  • Our charities and individuals on Crowdrise can populate their pages with photos, text, and videos. There are also several networking tools that they can use to share their individual projects on and off the site - including Facebook, Twitter, and good old e-mail (useful for people without social media networks).

[Editor's note: SkyTruth uses satellite images, digital mapping, and other visual technology to document and analyze environmental incidents, including oil spills (www.skytruth.org).]

Coming soon: a tool to let the public monitor remote areas

By John Amos, President, SkyTruth, US. E-mail: john [at] skytruth.org

SkyTruth is developing a program called "SkyTruth: Home Edition", which will be rolled out in stages as we continue to increase its functions. It is a do-it-yourself monitoring toolkit to allow users to subscribe to a specific geographic area they would like to monitor. As new satellite and aerial images from a variety of free sources become available over that area, our system will download, process, and produce Google Earth-ready chunks of imagery, and will automatically send the user a link to view it. We are already doing this internally with our volunteers at SkyTruth, using radar satellite images to monitor various areas around the world for oil pollution and vessel activity.

Future enhancements will provide simple application-specific tutorials for users so they know what to look for on the images, and can do their own basic analysis and annotation. There will also be a platform for users to publish their analyses so everybody can take a look, critique them, and share with their social networks. It is our hope that this activity will build public pressure for better management, and create market incentives for proactive companies to voluntarily do better even in the absence of strong government oversight.

Relying on free imagery has its weaknesses: we can't control when and where an image is acquired, and it is not the highest resolution imagery available (that becomes expensive). But the SkyTruth: Home Edition product does access the same quality of imagery that we used throughout the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 to map and measure the size of the oil slick, and to detect recent oil slicks from spills off Brazil and Nigeria. Vessel locations can also be detected on the radar images, so after-the-fact identification of illegal fishing is a possibility. That could help inform enforcement agencies if there are patterns of violation that need to be addressed.


[Editor's note: The Re|Source 2012 conference on natural resources will be held 12-13 July 2012 at Oxford University (www.resource2012.org). The conference will incorporate various interactive technologies and enable attendees to continue sharing ideas after the conference is over.]

Social media allow for better ideas and policy making

By Kathryn Murdoch, Director, Re|Source 2012 conference, Oxford, UK. E-mail: kmurdoch [at] resource2012.org

Spreading relevant information and engaging with online communities through social media channels can help policy makers to foster relationships with key stakeholders and generate new sustained discussions that can ultimately lead to better ideas and policy making. Beyond that, social media can be a useful tool for policy makers to trial new proposals and crowdsource ideas before they are implemented more widely.


[Editor's note: Green Fire Productions creates video communication tools and social marketing campaigns around issues of conservation, sustainability, and social justice (www.greenfireproductions.org). Its documentary film Ocean Frontiers: The Dawn of a New Era in Ocean Stewardship aims to help audiences understand key principles of EBM and coastal and marine spatial planning, profiling success stories that focus on a broad range of stakeholders (www.ocean-frontiers.org). Short clips of the film are available online to draw interest. The film premieres officially in February 2012.]

Video engages the public as other media cannot

By Karen Anspacher-Meyer, Executive Director, Green Fire Productions, US. E-mail: karen [at] greenfireproductions.org

Film allows people to access information that they likely would not read about. Most audiences are not going to read a scientific journal article or a white paper, and a Powerpoint presentation on EBM and marine spatial planning might leave them scratching their head in confusion. But they can relate to the case studies featured in Ocean Frontiers, as told by the practitioners themselves - industrial shippers and whale biologists, pig farmers and wetland ecologists, sport fishers and reef snorkelers. Their work comes across as dynamic, which helps make the concepts far easier to understand.

The film is more than a documentary. It is a communication tool - intended to educate, engage, and mobilize communities from coast to coast in the US to better manage and conserve our coastal and ocean resources. We are providing the film to organizations, agencies, individuals, and businesses to show it, host events, and use our online step-by-step screening toolkit and promotional materials, all for free. And our online social platforms (including Facebook, Twitter, and a blog centered on the film) allow the film's messages and calls-to-action to continue to engage people even after they have viewed the film.


[Editor's note: The X PRIZE Foundation creates and manages large-scale incentivized competitions to drive “radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity” (www.xprize.org). In October 2011, the Foundation's Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE awarded US $1 million to Elastec/American Marine, the team that demonstrated an ability to recover oil from the sea surface at the highest rate and efficiency (www.iprizecleanoceans.org).]

Harnessing online video and social media to help drive innovation

By Alan Zack, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, X PRIZE Foundation, US. E-mail: Alan.Zack [at] xprize.org

The web has become a very important tool to help us spread the word about the X PRIZE Foundation and our competitions. When looking at the web, our first strategy is to ensure a consistent message so the objectives and outcome of each competition are clear. We find that tapping into our large following within the various social media platforms - like Facebook and Twitter - is the best way to reach our audiences in an effective and efficient manner.

Second, because the web is a visual medium, we develop compelling videos about our Foundation and competitions that convey our message and end with a call to action. We then push them out via our social video platforms (like our YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/user/xprize), tag them all so that search engines can find them easily, and encourage our followers to share.

Third, we regularly change the content to keep it fresh. Once the competition has begun, we encourage competing teams to post videos, blogs, and tweets about the competition to their followers. In turn, we help distribute that information to our followers. Since each team has its own unique experience, we always have new, interesting content for the site from different viewpoints.

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