Indigenous peoples worldwide can have difficulties ensuring that during development and policy decisions their voices will be heard. Being non-literate or unfamiliar with data collection can handicap their ability to collate information to support their case. The challenge of the ExCiteS (Extreme Citizen Science) group is to provide non-literate indigenous people with tools that will empower them to take action to protect their local environment and way of life.

Geographical Information Systems enable users to record, analyse and present information connected to geographical area, and so are very useful when presenting evidence about land use. However, current Geographic Information Systems (GIS) require significant education and knowledge to operate. ExCiteS’ overall objective is to develop innovative GIS tools that can be used by semi-nomadic and non-literate indigenous communities.

In this case, portable, interactive, iconbased and intelligent digital maps will be developed. These can be used by indigenous people to monitor environmental changes. At the same time, the maps will serve to present inhabitants’ concerns to others in scientifically validated and readily intelligible ways.

The project emerges from work with indigenous Pygmy groups in the Congo Basin, who already participate in environmental data collection and monitor illegal activities such as poaching and deforestation. They expressed a need to have greater control over their local areas, which the ExCiteS group hopes to address by providing a framework, tools and methodologies to allow the indigenous groups to analyse the information they collect in a variety of ways. This will help them to understand environmental change, and so facilitate informed decision-making.

For the research group, the project will improve our understanding of how technology can assist non-literate people in rapidly changing environments; explore new ways for lay users to interact with GIS; and explore the potential for using geographic technologies to facilitate anthropological research about conceptions of the environment.

Just one example of how research at UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering could change the world.