· 3 min read Posted by Touchlab

Jane Goodall Institute: Mobile Innovation for Tracking Deforestation

Jane Goodall Institute approached us to build their first mobile app, to build something with a lasting impact on communities suffering from deforestation.

When the Jane Goodall Institute approached us to build their first mobile app, Forest Watcher, we were more than excited. We had the opportunity to build something with a lasting impact on communities suffering from deforestation and non-profits battling to make a difference. Forest Watcher is the brainchild of The Jane Goodall Institute (in partnership with Global Forest Watch (GFW), some great folks at the Google maps team, and Touchlab and was funded by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Touchlab partnered with these organizations to put Global Forest Watch data into the hands of local African decision-makers by harnessing their capacity to monitor forests using mobile technology and creating a model that can be replicated across the globe.

Client Challenge

The goal of the mobile solution was to improve forest conservation on the ground by enabling local stakeholders with limited and occasional internet connectivity to use and contribute data to the Global Forest Watch platform using mobile and cloud technologies.

Tracking and preventing deforestation is a complex logistics problem that was normally managed with inefficient manual paper data entry. The network connectivity for a potential mobile solution in Africa and digital literacy was also low. The local government needed to control how deforestation data was shared and played a critical factor in the development of the mobile solution. 

Touchlab’s Solution

We understood that Forest Watch was the organizations’ first mobile product and that user features needed be defined. Through design thinking exercises, user surveys and workshops with clients, we defined the features that would deliver the most value to users.

The Forest Watcher App serves as a real-time tracker for forest rangers, local community members, farmland owners, and other affected parties. Forest Watcher users can download offline maps over wifi, and use the app to find GFW alerts, mark areas with signs of tree removal, and upload field data such as photos. With crowdsourcing, more frequent reporting, and accurate documentation, local decision makers and conservationists can collect evidence, track damages, and perhaps prevent further loss by visiting deforestation hotspots.

See below: Lilian Pintea presenting the Forest Watcher App at Geo For Good 2015


After countless months of testing in the field, the beta version of Forest Watcher has launched in Uganda to promising reviews and feedback.

  • “Around 90% of users are able to use the beta and the alerts generated to guide their activities.” – Lillian Pintea (client stakeholder)
  • “Because of the alerts I know where illegality is occurring and also make follow ups.” – Actual user feedback
  • “It will make my work EASY, get proper information from forests without having to move randomly.” – Actual user feedback

The beta and product we developed was expanded upon by the Global Forest Watcher team and our initial product was eventually also developed for iOS. You can view the current iteration of the product here.