By: Richard Flamm & Lauren Partridge
Citizen reports of fish and wildlife observations are common to agencies like ours. Reports range across a variety of disciplines, including wildlife violations, injured animals, fish kills, exotic species and general species identification. These kinds of interactions with the public can be considered a form of social networking with smartphones as the primary networking tool. More people are now using smartphones than desktop or laptop computers and mobile apps more than fixed internet access web pages. Our agency’s citizen engagement strategy must adapt to this reality.
One step toward this reality is the FWC Reporter. This app provides a reporting platform for citizens committed to mobile communication devices. It accepts enhanced data functions from the user like images, video files, GPS, and date-time that can be sent as part of the reporting email. It can also integrate with and enhance FWC’s citizen science programs as well as partner with organizations inside and outside FWC. The FWC Reporter is the first comprehensive multi-species reporting app produced by any fish and wildlife agency in the U.S.
Before we could get started we needed to assess the mobile app marketplace and our app’s value proposition, understand the theory behind designing, building, and launching a successful mobile app, and build a team that includes the designer and programmer, FWC offices that receive reports, testers, and outreach and marketing specialists.
The marketplace is not about us. It is about our users, so the design of the FWC Reporter does not project what we as FWC employees think it should be, but what we understand our user base will accept and use. The FWC Reporter aims for the broadest user base possible. To achieve a broad user base, we applied the concepts below.
Value proposition (VP) is an understanding of the benefits received from a product when compared to its costs. An understanding of VP informs any app’s design and engagement strategy. Successful commercial mobile apps tend to provide users with a high VP through entertainment (games), utility (directions, prices, ratings, etc.), and social networking. The VP for the FWC Reporter is relatively low. The user receives some value such as participating in the rescue of injured wildlife or reporting a fish kill, but most of the value goes to the agency.
The low VP suggests that the design of the FWC Reporter should be simple and fast to use. We employed the heuristic concept of “fast and frugal” and applied inductive reasoning in the menu listings illustrated by having more specific items at the top of the list and more general at the bottom. We used plain language when possible and we also avoided dead ends – something the user wants to report, but no way to do so in the app.
The FWC Reporter works within FWC’s existing citizen engagement system. At its simplest, it is a telephone that people use to call the agency. It also allows the user to contact the agency via email, and automatically attaches GPS coordinates, a time-date stamp, the user’s email and a photo if they took one. Offices receiving emails may also receive a phone call if they choose. All methods for public interaction with any office was specified by that office.
FWC/FWRI Information Science and Management staff designed and programmed the app with input from OIT, offices that receive reports, their supervisors, and the public. Building the app within FWC has allowed us the necessary flexibility to change or add functionality on FWC’s schedule. The app is available on Android and Apple app stores at no charge.