Journal of Coastal Conservation

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 399–416 | Cite as

Participatory mobile- and web-based tools for eliciting landscape knowledge and perspectives: introducing and evaluating the Wisconsin geotools project

  • Francis R. Eanes
  • Janet M. Silbernagel
  • David A. Hart
  • Patrick Robinson
  • Max Axler


Despite synergistic goals across a wide breadth of fields and modalities, coastal landscape conservation projects that engage the lay public and integrate narratives of place remain elusive. This paper addresses these needs by introducing and evaluating the Wisconsin Geotools, an integrated pair of mobile-and web-based applications that allow users to generate and share spatially defined multimedia observations — including photos, short textual descriptions (or journals), and audio and video clips — of their surrounding bioregional landscapes. We followed a participatory, user-centered design process to develop a mobile application that uses GPS capabilities to geolocate multimedia observations of landscapes and feed them into a web-based application, which displays content through the structure of an interactive story map. The applications were piloted with coastal community user groups in Green Bay (Lake Michigan), Wisconsin, USA. Over 800 observations were recorded by participants in our study area. Results from a user evaluation survey indicate the geotools effectively engaged participants in learning about and exploring their surrounding coastal landscapes. A spatial analysis revealed participants’ affinity for water-related features in landscapes. We close by suggesting a variety of ways in which these tools can support future projects and existing methodologies that are advancing transdisciplinary approaches to engaging the public in coastal conservation.


Mobile geospatial tools Participatory landscape mapping Place-based learning Transdisciplinary research 



This work was supported primarily by a Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute (NOAA) project. This work was funded by the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute under grants from the National Sea Grant College Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, and from the State of Wisconsin. Federal grant number NA10OAR4170070, award ID MSN132106. Our team also had extensive in-kind support from the Applications Prototype Lab at ESRI (Redlands, CA), the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental StudiesBates CollegeLewistonUSA
  2. 2.Nelson Institute for Environmental StudiesUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  3. 3.Sea Grant InstituteUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  4. 4.Environmental Resources CenterUniversity of Wisconsin ExtensionMadisonUSA
  5. 5.Wisconsin Department of Natural ResourcesMadisonUSA

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