The app we created with Instant Apps gathers all the data into one place in a focused, streamlined, and efficient way and helps people easily see data and make decisions.
Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership Develops Web App to Display Maps, Photos for Aquatic Conservation Project
The Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP) is a regional collaboration of federal and state natural resource and science agencies, nonprofit conservation organizations, and private interests that focuses on protecting, conserving, and restoring aquatic resources in the southeastern United States. One way it accomplishes this is by strategically identifying high-priority aquatic restoration projects using geographic information system (GIS) technology in conjunction with external partners. With the passing of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the identification of priority aquatic connectivity projects is critical to apply for federal funds to restore habitats and protect aquatic species.
With funding from multiple organizations, including the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (a fish and wildlife resources management agency), SARP has been spearheading an initiative to identify aquatic barriers in the Southeast, which includes compiling existing data on dams and road-stream crossing barriers, for removal or replacement. In addition to compiling existing data, staff and volunteers collect data at field sites throughout the region, and photos are an important part. The application the group set up to display web maps and other information didn't offer a simple way for partners to view visuals.
To allow for easy viewing of photos and the data collected, the GIS team of SARP set out to create a new application that delivered a more streamlined user experience in viewing the survey data by deploying ArcGIS Instant Apps, a solution for creating configurable, focused web mapping apps. The new application has enhanced collaboration among SARP and its conservation partners and improved decision-making, helping the group fulfill its mission of conserving the nation's aquatic resources.
The Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP) wanted to develop a new streamlined data collection app for staff and volunteers that collect data at field sites.
ArcGIS Instant Apps
The new app template enables easier viewing of field site photos and more efficiently delivers research and data, enhancing collaboration among SARP and its partners.
SARP adopted a standardized field collection methodology developed by the North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative (NAACC) to assess aquatic barrier severity at road crossings and has trained over 300 partners, including staff and volunteers, to collect data. SARP and its partners have visited road-stream crossing structures at more than 13,000 sites to collect data using ArcGIS Survey123, a tool for creating, sharing, and analyzing surveys. These surveys help SARP and its partners understand where problem structures are that block aquatic organism access to riverine habitat across 14 states and beyond.
Once this data is collected, partners from multiple organizations must be able to view it easily, especially the photos of the structure, to ensure the data is correct. The collected data feeds into SARP's overall inventory and aids in determining which barriers are the highest priority to remove or replace.
After data collection, the SARP team created a web map that displays the point data in a color-coded format based on barrier severity at each site. The primary users for this data are SARP partners who want to see the data they have collected, ensure it is accurate, share it with other stakeholders, and use it as a tool for decision-making. To accomplish these goals, it was imperative that users could see the photos easily.
"Together with our partners, we've replaced over 70 road-stream crossing barriers using these field surveys, many of which open up a habitat for endangered species," says Kat Hoenke, GIS coordinator of SARP.
While the previous web map displayed the field-collected data, it was difficult for partners to see the assembled site pictures. According to Hoenke, a user would see the web map, which was composed of multiple data layers, and have to click dots and navigate the pop-up to then open the photo. She says it was difficult for users to quickly view photos.
To provide a more user-friendly experience, Hoenke explains that she wanted partners to see the images immediately without having to view the information contained in the multiple layers or clicking multiple prompts.
"The pictures are very important for our partners who are out in the field and want to come back into the office to view the data collected quickly. All we really needed was for people to be able to see these photos with the click of each point and not become confused with too many bells and whistles," says Hoenke. "We just needed to simplify the app to isolate a single objective for our conservation partners."
Hoenke went in search of a solution to help her and her team create a new web application. She eventually chose ArcGIS Instant Apps, which enables users to share maps as apps with no-code app templates. Hoenke had not previously used Instant Apps, but once she saw a demo of the Attachment Viewer app, she knew it would be a perfect choice for the project. She says there was a minimal learning curve, and she began by choosing the template she needed from the Instant Apps website.
"I thought again about the objective that we had for our app, which was the ability to easily view the photos associated with the survey points," says Hoenke. "With that in mind, I chose the Attachment Viewer option and walked through the stepwise questions that led me through configuring the app. It was a lot easier than other routes I could have taken."
For setup, Hoenke says she was able to simply point to the web map she created with the field surveys and used Attachment Viewer, a configurable Instant Apps template that lets users page through a layer's features and review image, video, and PDF attachments. She explains that she needed users to have the ability to view photos and ensure they aligned with the colors on the map that represented aquatic barrier severity without taking a lot of extra steps. This allowed users to see what the barrier looked like and whether the survey accurately reflected the barrier severity.
"I realized that this was way easier to create what I needed [with Instant Apps] and implement much more quickly. It was essentially three steps to make this application, whereas it would probably have been several hours, if not days [with other solutions]," says Hoenke.
The use of Instant Apps helped Hoenke and her team provide a streamlined user experience and has enhanced collaboration amongst partners with a simpler view of the surveys. Hoenke says Instant Apps let her accomplish a specific objective very quickly so that she didn't have to spend a lot of time developing the new application, which in turn saved her time and money.
"It was very surprising that I was able to find something [like Instant Apps] that was very quickly and easily implemented without a lot of back and forth and configuring," says Hoenke. "I feel like Instant Apps does a really good job of isolating an objective for users without too many other features within the user interface, which can cause users to get lost. That's what I think the beauty of Instant Apps is."
In Hoenke's experience, users were not likely to take multiple steps to view photos, largely because people in the conservation community have limited time. She would often have to walk people through the process of seeing the pictures with the web map on a phone call. With Attachment Viewer, Hoenke says partners can now easily click and see the photo and associated barrier score visible in the feature sidebar and share that information with other stakeholders.
"Sometimes [for our partners] having to take one more step to see something is too many. This app is very simple. Rather than a long-winded email or a phone call to explain how they can get to photos, I can easily send them the link, and they can click on each barrier and there's a picture," says Hoenke. "It's a quick fix, bridging the gap between science and implementation for people with little time."
For example, the group's partner Trout Unlimited trained 50 volunteer anglers to collect the data, many of whom did not have prior experience with ArcGIS Online. However, with the photos easily browsable in the Attachment Viewer app, volunteers can quickly see what information they have collected, which increases engagement and has helped SARP educate users on its work.
The collaboration with SARP partners has also been improved, especially in meetings with multiple organizations and partners. Hoenke says the ability to look at data and images in real time together during calls helps facilitate decision-making. Recently, SARP and its partners had to meet to decide which barriers might be good options to replace in a trispot darter (Etheostoma trisella) habitat, an endangered fish. All attendees were able to view the same set of collected data on the app to discuss which barriers might be the highest priority.
"It's easy to have these collective conversations with people in multiple sectors when you can simply show the location of the sites as well as the photos and say, 'Look, here it is. This is the one we're replacing,' or 'Look at how bad this one is,'" says Hoenke. "It just makes it a lot easier in these multistakeholder meetings to look at the potential project sites for funding. It's much more streamlined than it was."
The mission of SARP is to protect, conserve, and restore aquatic resources, and the organization uses scientific results to inform on-the-ground implementation, connecting the scientific research community and the management community of conservation, says Hoenke. As such, the group tries to deliver research efficiently to help partners with their work.
"It's really taking that data and making it very digestible and understandable by our partners who are trying to strategically implement aquatic habitat restoration work on the ground, and that is the key to why I think Instant Apps is great," she explains. "It allows people to easily create an application with an objective in mind and begin using it immediately to accomplish a task, and see outside of all the minutiae and the weeds."