Retkikompassi engages hikers to help develop and preserve the nature in Finnish National Parks using a PPGIS (Public Participation Geographic Information System) approach.
Problems and Purpose
Metsähallitus, the Finnish Forest Administration, wanted to improve interaction and gather feedback from hikers in order to get up-to-date information about the maintenance needs and conditions of different nature areas. Additionally people are encouraged to provide informal communication such as pictures and free comments to other users using the service.
Background History and Context
Metsähallitus is a Finnish state-owned enterprise, which is responsible for development of large land and water areas. These state-owned nature areas make up almost a third of Finland’s total surface area.
In order to get accurate information about the conditions of these vast areas, Metsähallitus wanted to introduce a digital platform, that would allow seamless conversation with hikers and gathering of location-specific feedback.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The vendor for the project was selected via an innovation contest, which was facilitated by a specialized company. An innovative procurement method was used, which makes it possible to continue to country-wide operations with the service after the pilot in four parks.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Retkikompassi is open for all users. As of August 2020, the service spans two Finnish National Parks and two Finnish National Hiking Areas and visitors can freely share their thoughts and feedback on a map.
Methods and Tools Used
As the initial purpose was to improve interaction and get location-specific feedback, a PPGIS (public participation geographic information system) solution was chosen after an innovation challenge.
The vendor of the project, Zoneatlas, ships these digital platforms under the name Zoneatlas Engage – a PPGIS product that combined all the necessary features including customized maps, communications channels and comprehensive statistics from the usage.
“The close co-operation with Metsähallitus and innovative procurement as a method has provided us input to further develop our product offering“, summarizes Teemu Joensuu, CEO of Zoneatlas Inc.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The interaction between Metsähallitus and the users has grown steadily. Retkikompassi works in any modern web browser and users can participate even on the fly without registering an account.
The service was designed to be easy to use in order to get the users to communicate as much as possible. The said National Parks and National Hiking Areas also have areas with weak cell reception so every unnecessary step had to be removed. Hikers started immediately sharing their observations, pointing out maintenance needs and also interacting with each other. To gain audience for the service, location-specific signs with QR codes were placed on the most popular nature spots.
In July 2020, Metsähallitus introduced a special campaign to locate unauthorized campfire sites. All the permitted campsites are shown on the map, so hikers can easily distinguish them from the illegal ones. During the campaign, users reported and dismantled hundreds of illegal campfire sites to help the prevention of possible forest fires.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Retkikompassi has already yielded concrete results through improved interaction and the fire safety campaign, but the effects are even longer lasting. Hikers use the nature areas throughout the year and can provide massive amounts of valuable information, that would have been impossible to acquire otherwise.
Responsible usage and development of the national parks remain in the center, as Metsähallitus and Zoneatlas keep on improving Retkikompassi.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Engaging users through map-based participation has been found to be an effective way to pinpoint the location of the feedback and get more specific information. Accurate location data in combination with user generated content can provide an invaluable tool for cities, nature areas etc, but proper planning of the communications actions is crucial to reach the potential users for the service.
More lessons learned will be published as this pilot project continues.
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About Zoneatlas Engage: https://zoneatlas.com/products/zoneatlas-engage/