The Amazon Basin is the largest river basin in the world, interconnected by swaths of rivers and rainforest and home to a large diversity of migratory fish (; ). Fishing is one of the most important socioeconomic activities in Amazonia. A large portion of the rural and peri-urban population depends on fishing as a primary food source; this is especially true for indigenous and traditional peoples (; ).

Since the 1960s, the intensification of commercial fisheries has increased pressure on Amazonia’s fisheries (). Currently, the main stem area harbors some of the most productive fisheries in the Brazilian Amazon (). Within the context of increasing pressure on fisheries, many communities express an interest and need to develop fishery management systems, which are also opportunities to develop participatory conservation initiatives.

Aquatic conservation in Amazonia has often focused on floodplain fisheries, developing cooperative management at the local level (). These efforts have been successful for some species, such as Arapaima spp. (); however, a lack of more transnational cooperation for fisheries management is observed. The scale of the Amazon requires an integrated approach, more adequate to the life histories of migratory species, as they use multiple spaces over the basin throughout their life cycles (; ).

Citizen science projects are a potential solution to those concerns. Using replicable technologies, many projects work over large spatial scales to account for migration patterns and to collect and analyze crucial information for conservation (; ; ; ; ). Citizen science projects can also encourage broad participatory processes, expanding knowledge and promoting learning (). Yet citizen science is not a common concept in Amazonia. Experiences in participatory management or monitoring are more common (; ). Projects in this region, and their participants, have specific demands and characteristics different from citizen science initiatives in Europe or North America (; ).

In Amazonia, participatory projects are commonly implemented in indigenous or traditional communities. Local knowledge systems are key to enhancing understandings of the environment—in such a way that indigenous and traditional communities can determine their own futures (; ; , ). Through their ways of knowing and cosmologies, they maintain relationships with humans and other-than-human beings, as part of complex webs in which relations are expressed more in terms of kinship than property ().

Intersections with conservation initiatives also highlight the need to overcome colonialist practices that do not account for the social costs of losing access to land and resources owing to conservation policies or inadequate participatory processes (; ; ). Even in Amazonia, where indigenous, Quilombola, and traditional peoples have a long and recognized presence in the socioenvironmental movement, an instrumentalist perspective to conservation prevails (). In this sense, when implementing participatory projects in Amazonia, including citizen science projects, the relationship between different knowledge systems, natural resource access and land rights, and income generation are key elements that must be considered in conservation strategies.

Considering the potential of participatory approaches for fisheries management in the Amazon Basin, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) led the Citizen Science for the Amazon Project (CSAP). The CSAP employs a citizen science approach to generate information on different fish species, their habitats, and migratory paths across the Amazon Basin, involving citizen scientists as informed and empowered agents. The main scientific question guiding the CSAP is: “How do fish migrations work in the Amazon Basin, and what environmental factors influence them?”.

An app and a database were developed to record fishery activities. The app, named Ictio, is available for Android mobile phones. It allows people to record fishing activities or observations made at markets, and provide information on species, the number of individuals, total weight, market price, location, date, and photographs. The database includes information shared by app users and historic monitoring data from existing datasets, shared by different institutions through an upload tool.

Initiatives related to CSAP have been implemented in 15 different areas in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. In 2017, the Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development (IDSM) joined the project. IDSM conducted a pilot initiative from 2018 to 2019, in the main stem area of the Amazon River in Brazil ().

Most of the participants in the pilot initiative live in rural areas inside the Mamirauá and Amanã Sustainable Development Reserves. Local community participation has been key to the success of conservation strategies and management practices in this area (; ; ).

Participants are riverine people (ribeirinhos). This Brazilian Amazonian social group came into formation in the aftermath of Portuguese colonialism and comprises people from a mixed cultural background whose main economic activities include agriculture and fishing (). As experienced fishers, many have deep knowledge of trophic chains and feeding, and reproductive, migratory, and parental care behaviors. To fish, they develop mechanisms of ecological control and species conservation, based on their daily interactions with and observations of nature. Ecological and cosmological knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, yet at the same time, new information is learned from multiple sources, and innovations continually emerge ().

In this case study, we present the methods developed to promote participant engagement during the pilot initiative, and lessons learned from this experience. Our results are based on the early stages of the CSAP, specifically related to the pilot initiative undertaken by IDSM, and could be relevant to other projects in planning stages. Our goal is to contribute to citizen science projects and to the expansion of this type of initiative, especially in rural areas in the Global South. First, we describe the strategies used to implement the pilot initiative; then we analyze our results in terms of promoting participation. We work with information gathered through the monitoring process, which includes qualitative data from regular reports, interviews with participants, and an exercise entitled Most Significant Change. Finally, we share key recommendations based on the lessons we learned through this collaborative process.

Design of pilot initiative and strategies

The pilot initiative was developed in 21 months; we spent 15 months with the target groups and nine months working with versions 1.0 and 2.0 of Ictio (see Figure 1). During the pilot initiative, we implemented educational activities, promoted Ictio app use, and discussed participatory monitoring and use of collected data, using diagnosis and communication strategies to support and guide these activities. We developed the pilot with 26 target groups (see Table 1) that included local communities and local organizations considered important as fishers and as participants of civil society- in other words, key citizens. With some groups (Fisher Organizations and Communities), we developed continuous work, including presentations on the overall project and the Ictio app, training sessions on the use of the app, and evaluation sessions. With two Tourism groups, we promoted a few presentations and provided communication materials. With Regular and Technical Schools, we developed pedagogical activities, with or without Ictio’s training. Internet access was provided by an institutional connection or by users themselves.

Figure 1 

Timeline of the pilot initiative and monitoring process. Most Significant Change: MSC.

Table 1

Groups involved in the pilot initiative, their characteristics, and the approaches we took with each.


Fisher OrganizationsContinuous work
Activities related to presenting the app and project; training and evaluation
Provided by users9

Communities (from rural areas)Continuous work
Activities related to presenting the app and project; training and evaluation
IDSM’s institutional internet4

Provided by users4

Tourism (community-based enterprises)Selected presentations and communication materialIDSM’s institutional internet1

Provided by user1

Regular Schools (public schools)Pedagogical projectNot applied6

Technical School (educational project for adults from rural areas placed in Tefé city)Continuous work
Pedagogical activities and app testing and training
IDSM’s institutional internet1

Note: IDSM: Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development.

Before starting the work with the app itself, we gave presentations in communities and fisher organizations, inviting them to participate in the pilot initiative (Phase 1). Our presentations were designed to stimulate conversation on topics, such as fisheries management and local knowledge. With the beta version of Ictio released in April 2018, we held a test training with two Fisher organizations, with one Community group, and with the Technical School (Phase 1). Ictio was officially released in July 2018. In August, we started training sessions focused on the Ictio app and its functionalities, practical exercises, and policy for sharing and using data (Phase 2). Evaluation sessions (Phase 3) entailed participants’ evaluation of the app after training. Data collected through Ictio was also presented and discussed.

We facilitated a citizen science encounter as our last evaluation session (Phase 4). We invited organizations, researchers, and participants from target groups and participants from other regions in Brazil also involved in the project, like Porto Velho, Santarém, and Manaus. During a two-day workshop, we promoted discussions on how data could be used for local interests and in conservation strategies. We also conducted an exercise based on the Most Significant Change (MSC) method. We asked participants to share their experiences, promoting dialog between different groups and with researchers. We also held a discussion on the future of the Ictio app.

For Tourism groups, few project-dissemination activities were undertaken. We presented the project to guides, and printed materials were left at two tourist lodges located in the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve (Phase 2).

The target groups of schools, has distinct characteristics. Six Regular Schools used a pedagogical project named Amazonia Basin: Connectivity, Migrations, and Citizen Science. The teachers were introduced to the material (Phase 2) and used it in their classrooms (Phase 3).

The Technical School group was the IDSM Vocational Technological Center (CVT). CVT students are fishers or come from fishing families. Therefore, they were considered potential users of Ictio. We developed specific activities with these students, including testing the app, developing educational activities, and promoting evaluation discussions (Phases 1, 2, 3, and 4).

A closer look at participatory strategies

Participatory strategies are a crucial element for citizen science initiatives. We planned to promote participation and multi-way dialogues, therefore including local interests in the conversation. Importantly, a citizen science project related to Amazonian fisheries needs to recognize fishing as a crucial economic activity and also consider its importance to territorial and natural resource management and cultural identity. In this context, respectful and equal participation is imperative.

When introducing the project to the different target groups, we discussed local historical efforts to manage fisheries, local environmental and fisheries knowledge, and the basin-wide scale of the project. We used a specific question to jump-start the discussion, focusing on sharing information as equals (; ; ). Specifically, “Have you ever seen a catfish (Brachyplatystoma rousseauxii) ovulate?” This allowed us to start the conversation based on fishers’ knowledge and techniques because it is not common for the Brachyplatystoma rousseauxii to reproduce in our study region (; ).

To better understand local interests and the scenario in which the pilot initiative would be implemented, we also performed interviews during Phase 1. We investigated how people use specific technologies (email, internet, and smartphones) and if they might be interested in using an app to register information on fisheries management.

Communication was key during the implementation of the pilot initiative; our general goal was to promote an open dialogue between target groups and researchers. A broad selection of communication materials was elaborated for use during sessions—in addition to other products to keep participants informed and motivated. For instance, we developed news articles and reports, regular radio programs, calendars, folders, information packets, digital presentations, banners, and videos on how to use Ictio and/or share data.

Users’ testimonies and photos were included in communication materials, so that participants could see themselves represented. Testimonies were directly related to Ictio use and fish species, and also included fishing stories, or even jokes, fisheries management concerns, and messages for other users. Since many of our participants have different education levels, we preferred visual language techniques to both capture users’ attention and promote understanding.

We produced materials to be shared offline, considering that participants do not regularly access online information. For training materials, we chose to print most of our resources, because most communities do not have regular access to electricity.

During the sessions, we used visual registration techniques, such as using posters that could be built as interactive figures to analyze work completed; we also showed printed photos and data from Ictio, thereby creating opportunities to discuss the information and to decide how to proceed with future work.

Lessons Learned and Best Practices

In general, citizens’ participation in a citizen science project can be done at different levels (; ; ; ). Engagement can be evaluated considering various dimensions such as motivations, what is learned, affection, participation in broader activities, and social connections (). We considered the use of the Ictio app itself as a level of involvement, but also analyzed participation in general discussions, and the capacity of the project to adapt itself to local demands (; ). The latter is crucial, since our work was developed with traditional communities, on their territories and related to fisheries, which is a central activity in their lives.

In this section, we present what we learned with regard to the initiative’s implementation strategies. By evaluating monitoring information, we were able to understand the outcomes and limits of the proposed strategies, pointing to the best practices for potential use in other projects (see Table 2).

Table 2

Outcomes and recommendations organized by target group.


Fisher OrganizationAdministrative staff are not users, but they can advertise Ictio
Groups with more contact with IDSM had more availability to promote Ictio
Project agenda needs to be in line with group availability
Organizations have regulatory roles and we need to make it clear that Ictio data is private to users
Continue working with administrative staff to promote Ictio

CommunitiesDifferent levels of Ictio use
General interest in discussions promoted by the project
Test of functionalities and recommendations for app updates
Evaluation of potential uses of Ictio’s data
Project agenda needs to be in line with group availability
Phase 1 interviews allowed us to better prepare and respond to local interests
Participants should recognize themselves in communication materials
Communications materials could discuss local interests
App needs to address local interests in data collection
Login and app updates need to be adapted local specificities
Discuss data collected through Ictio and information from different places
Create a network of users

TourismNo use of Ictio; Low interest in the initiativeSport fishers need some specific functionalities in the app
Create an iOS version for Ictio

No use of Ictio; Low interest in the initiative

Regular SchoolsHigh interest in the initiative.
The pedagogical project was adapted by teachers.
Students were able to share their knowledge on fisheries.
Work with teachers to encourage them to be protagonists and implement the project according to their interests and ideas
Consider and work with students’ knowledge of fisheries

With adult students, low interest in the initiativeWork with the teacher to adapt the pedagogical project to adult classes

Technical SchoolWith the CVT, we had high-use level use of IctioProduce communication materials with groups in response to their interests
Students could promote Ictio in their communities

Note: IDSM: Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development, CVT: IDSM Vocational Technological Center.

Introducing the pilot initiative

Introducing the project to participants beginning with a question was a good way to stimulate dialogue. It allowed us to start the discussion on the basis of fishers’ knowledge, as opposed to scientific evidence, creating space for fishers to talk about their experiences. During these conversations, we heard that many fishers had never captured an ovulating Brachyplatystoma rousseauxii. One fisher told us that about 20% of the Brachyplatystoma rousseauxii he caught were ovulating. Others had never seen Brachyplatystoma rousseauxii ovulating at all. For another fisher, species like the Calophysus macropterus are a mystery because he had never caught one ovulating. During the presentation, fishers also pointed out how the project’s main scientific question is also the basis of their work. Fishers know local migration processes well; they know when fish are passing through, and fish according to this information.

Phase 1 interviews

Interviews during this phase highlighted local concerns and allowed us to better prepare for planned activities (see Appendix A). In the study area, smartphone use is not universal and internet access can be difficult and sporadic, even in urban centers. Younger citizens tend to make a greater use of these technologies. But even among younger participants, email is not a commonly used tool, and by default, neither is Google Play (See Figure 2).

Figure 2 

Use of email, smartphones, and internet access, related to participants’ average age.

During interviews we asked participants about their interest in using an app to register fishery records. Interests in nature conservation and in learning are commonly cited as factors that motivate citizens’ participation (; ). These interests were also mentioned by our interviewees. For example, someone mentioned that “the app could help decrease predatory actions, such as illegal fisheries and excessive extraction.”

Fishing as an important source of income also appears among participants’ desire to engage with the technology (as mentioned, “It’s a way to know and control the quantity and the quality of the fish we caught,” and “To the association [of fishers] and to the Flona’s [Conservation Unity] Fishery Arrangements, it will be very important”). This makes it clear that we are working with an activity that is central to participants’ lives, and is not a hobby or volunteer activity.

Informants were further motivated by the opportunity to be a part of a group. For them, the use of the app could help create relationships with fishers from different places (as mentioned, “To learn about the fish from Bolivia and other places,” and “To improve knowledge exchange between other fishers”).

Information from Phase 1 Interviews made us aware of technological challenges and the risks of marginalizing participants (). It also showed us how important the citizen science encounter (Phase 4) might be. We used this phase to create the following specific strategies.

How to address local questions

Because Ictio mainly registers information about where fish are caught and in which quantities, some information of local interest can be entered in the app as notes. During training with target groups, the potential of the note field was highlighted. However, notes alone could not be the only way to address this interest. Using the note function requires that people input information, which could be difficult in cases of low literacy, and could also present challenges when systematizing data. Thus, we also addressed and discussed local interests outside the app, using videos, radio programs, maps, folders, etc;

How to involve senior citizens

Senior participants had less contact with technologies like smartphones and the internet, but they are very experienced fishers. To overcome this limitation, younger people could be encouraged to use Ictio with older relatives or neighbors (); this would also promote interactions between people of different age groups in collaborative work. Meetings could thus be planned as an opportunity to engage people who are not directly using the app. At the same time, communication materials could also involve seniors by sharing their stories;

How to facilitate participant login

Since an email account is required to log into Ictio, we created general email accounts for most target groups. Logging into the app requires an internet connection, and it was often difficult to connect during training sessions, as in many communities the internet is not available. During training sessions, we generally had at least one smartphone already logged into Ictio (using the general account per group) so people could begin inputting fishery data.


Communication materials played an important role in discussions, helping to share information about the project and to motivate participants (; ). Long-term citizen science projects need ongoing collaboration and quality communication to inform, motivate, and engage participants (). Communication materials produced rendered positive results. These materials consolidated information from all the sites where the Ictio app was also being used, thus increasing users’ perception of belonging to a larger network. They also highlighted that the accomplishments are possible only through the work of each participant, reinforcing the importance of cooperation among all groups. We also used communication materials to address local demands not met through the app itself, such as providing complementary information on fish and data sharing (on a basin-wide scale and at regional and local levels).

We acknowledge that communication materials should privilege participants’ voices. In our case, participants spoke positively about being able to recognize themselves and their contributions in the materials, through recorded testimonies, stories, and photos. Some participants mentioned that, through this material, people from their communities now give them more recognition for their work (Phase 3 interviews).

Training and evaluation sessions

The strategies used during training and evaluation sessions (with Fisher Organizations and Communities) also had good results. The practical exercises proved fun and important, helping to clarify details regarding Ictio use. They provided an opportunity to understand user difficulties and to present app functionalities. The use of printed materials allowed people to interact with course materials (see Figure 3). These techniques helped to increase the sense that we were building discussions together (; ; ). Participants were also interested in the general discussions promoted by the project; of particular interest were themes like fish behavior, fishing techniques, monitoring, and management strategies.

Figure 3 

Activities with selected target groups. Photos: Vanessa Eyng.

Some technical problems occurred during the sessions. Many times, participants with an interest in Ictio could not log in. They had to wait for an opportunity to go to the nearest place with internet access to log in, which was inconvenient. Another problem related to login was the email requirement—something our participants generally do not use. As a consequence, participants do not commonly use Google Play to download/update apps. People use generally alternative offline transfer apps (like ShareIt), which requires that someone has the newest app version to share it with others. Groups ended up mainly working with the general accounts, and we were not able to create an alternative login process. In this context, if we want to promote an autonomous use of the app, we recommend that the Ictio login be adapted to local contexts. As a secondary solution, we could promote internet literacy activities or even look for ways to improve communities’ access to the internet, a very complex process.

Once logged in, Ictio users did not have difficulties using the app, mainly because they were younger participants. Senior representatives took part in the activities and shared their data, which were recorded in Ictio by younger friends or family members.

After at least one training and one evaluation session (Phase 3), we conducted evaluation interviews (see Appendix B). Our results showed that the main challenge for users, after logging into Ictio, was related to poor internet connectivity (either a poor connection or no connection at all), which made it difficult or impossible to upload data, particularly photos. This is a sensitive issue that directly impacts the amount of data able to be shared. Participants also mentioned that they expected Ictio’s new versions to be more interesting. They wanted to have access to a wider range of information through the app, including statistics related to their data. They also wanted the opportunity to learn more about other parts of the Amazon and suggested more interaction between users. Version 2.5 of Ictio fulfilled some of these expectations owing to the feedback between app developers and users; however, this version was released after the implementation of the pilot initiative and thus we did not evaluate it.

The citizen science encounter promoted interaction among different target groups, and some mentioned that they had learned about different places. Some participants commented on how they appreciated the presentation of a researcher who brought information on fisheries from across the Amazon Basin. They were impressed by the lack of monitoring data and the potential to collect information on a basin-wide scale.

The MSC exercise pointed to some key elements for understanding local engagement, as well as to the different relationships participants maintained with the project (see Table 3). It is interesting to note that participants’ stories range from issues of youth engagement (mainly using the Ictio app) to local organization, perceptions of a users’ network, and potential monitoring and scientific outcomes of the project.

Table 3

Outcomes of the Most Significant Change exercise elaborated during the citizen science encounter.


Youth engagementYoung people engaged themselves in scientific research

Incentive for children to help record information gathered by their parents

Network between users (at different levels)Learning about fish from other places and knowledge exchange

Learning other fishers’ realities

Local organizationGreater community member involvement

Recognizing the value of fishers’ work

Environmental education activities

Monitoring information and scientific researchMonitoring the community’s fish consumption

More organized information

Fishers becoming researchers

As of June 2019, there were 11 active users with group Ictio accounts out of the 17 groups expected to use Ictio (Fisher Organization, Communities, and the Technical School). Most were from Community groups; the average age was 27 years, and eight were men and three were women. These numbers are positive given the short period of time (only nine months) dedicated to the use of the Ictio app, especially considering the context of technology development and constant app updates. After 2019, we did not conduct additional engagement activities, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which restricted in-person activities. During 2020, seven users were still active. They shared 12% of the total lists exchanged through the Ictio app during the year.

In regard to Fisher Organizations, involvement was more restricted to supporting the pilot initiative. We worked mainly with administrative staff. In a few cases they used Ictio, but they are not necessarily fishers. We participated in regular meetings, advertising Ictio to associated fishers. Additionally, constituents of this target group have their own agendas that require an approach to engagement on a political level, beyond what our training or evaluation sessions could do. Since information on fisheries can often be sensitive data, with these groups it is important to emphasize the difference between personal data from the Ictio app, and data from the database, not shared on individual levels.

Other groups

The teachers involved in the Regular School group evaluated the pedagogical project positively. The most critical point was the presentation given to teachers in the middle of the Brazilian school year. The teachers had to reorganize some of their usual activities to include our initiative. Despite this difficulty, using project materials allowed students to share their knowledge on fisheries Some teachers mentioned that they have learned a lot from their students. In the case of adult classes, our results show a low level of engagement. Closer work with teachers working with this age group could improve future results.

The work with the Technical School CVT was conducted over the course of one year, which allowed us to build a relationship with students, who provided a very detailed evaluation of Ictio’s functionalities. During activities, students insisted on more information about fish in Ictio. To address this demand, an educational brochure was created, with information on fish species, recreational activities, and recipes. The students themselves researched the content and shared their knowledge on fish behavior and fishery techniques. They also used the brochures to support educational activities in their communities.

Regarding the Tourism groups, the strategy we developed was unsuccessful. In general, tourists were not interested in the materials we left at the lodges. In the case of a sport fishery tourist package, the guides mentioned that for these tourists, Ictio was not an effective way to register their fishing activities (same species more than once, with size measurements). Also, foreign tourists normally use smartphones with the iSO system, not compatible with Ictio.


Based on our findings, we understand that continued engagement, in the medium and long term, is related to the capacity of Ictio to respond to user expectations, to consolidate a user network, and to make tools available for data visualization across different scales. Ensuring better internet connectivity is important to the future of the initiative.

In terms of fisheries management, Ictio data (from the app and from the database) needs to be more politically relevant; this requires stakeholder mobilization and database consolidation (more information, from broader watersheds). However, efforts to work on a basin-scale are worthwhile. A broader reach could bring key information to manage fisheries on this scale, and at the same time, guarantee local communities’ access to natural resources to sustain their ways of life.

In future projects, which involve traditional communities in conservation strategies, we recommend some general principles, including working alongside citizen scientists as equals, including them in the conceptual stages of projects and in data collection and analysis. We also recommend the dissemination of initiatives and their evaluation and the elaboration of future phases, according to their interests.

Considering participants as key knowledge holders should be a mainstay of Citizen Science projects, particularly involving indigenous and traditional communities who are experts in this regard. This needs to be addressed in an equitable and adequate way throughout the entire process. In Amazonia, and even in other contexts, these relationships open up to a vast range of opportunities for citizen science projects to engage with different knowledge systems.

We hope that the lessons obtained through our pilot experience, and the best practices described in this paper, are useful to other projects, especially those involving traditional communities in the Global South. We recognize the importance of truly understanding the local context, so that strategies are not prescribed, but are flexible, leaving space for local adaptation.

Data Accessibility Statement

The Ictio dataset is available on Translated Phase 1 interviews data is available in Appendix A and translated Phase 3 interviews data is available in Appendix B. Personal data has not been made public to preserve interviewees’ privacy.

Supplementary Files

The supplementary files for this article can be found as follows:

Supplemental File 1

Appendix A. DOI:

Supplemental File 2

Appendix B. DOI: