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Dr. Dan Ducker
October 25, 2017

Environmental Threat (Weeds) Meets Its Match, Gamification-Style



Buddleia is one of the 13 common weeds, or Dirty Dozen, threating native habitat in New Zealand.

Editor’s Note:

We love all our AppSheet creators but once in a while we come across an ingenious use of our app making platform. Picture this: an environmental threat (weeds) meets its match in the form of a game.

Here’s what you need to know:

Environmental weeds pose a great threat to New Zealand’s parks, reserves and coasts and they’re not fun to remove. And New Zealand has no standard protocol for reporting and monitoring environmental weeds.

Enter AppSheet creator Dan Ducker, Research & Strategy Lead with EcoMatters Environment Trust, with a big idea: Make weed reporting, monitoring and removing as fun as playing a game. Whether you’re a weeding novice or expert, conservation coordinator or simply a person who enjoys walking in the bush, this game (app) is for you.

We asked Dan how AppSheet helped with his game-changing idea, and this is what he had to say:

“The primary benefit that AppSheet provides is the ability to rapidly prototype ideas. AppSheet is awesome because we’re not spending heaps of money contracting app developers to experiment with our ideas - it enables us to actively experiment for ourselves, rapidly and at low cost. This is of huge benefit because we can trial ideas, and if they’re not working well can refine or discard entirely, and not feel huge pangs of remorse. Also because it’s only moderately technical at the back end, collaborators feel empowered to try new things and innovate. More diverse eyes early in the development process equates to a better, more innovative product, quicker. Finally, the functionality provided by the platform gives us the ‘palette’ to explore new and interesting ways to make progress on our mission to nurture environmental guardianship, and the development team at AppSheet regular introduce new functionality enabling us to continually improve too.”

Thanks for the kind words Dan!

Dan  submitted his brilliant idea to the 2017 WWF Conservation Innovation Awards and we may be a bit biased but we hope he wins!

  • Check out his award submission below.
  • Download the War on Weeds player guide here

This was originally published on WWF New Zealand. Dan's original submission can be found here.

A mobile and web browser app that turns spotting, identifying and removing environmental weeds into a fun, engaging game. Whether you’re young or old, a weed novice or weeding expert, a conservation coordinator or simply a person who enjoys walking in the bush, this game app is for you.

Spot an environmental weed? … gain points at the push of a button on your mobile phone - marking it on a map. Confirm the existence of a weed or help others to identify weeds they’ve discovered and gain additional points. Go on a mission to remove invasive species, mark your weeding efforts and improve your score. Confirm where weed removal has been successful, and where further work may be required. As your score increases so does your rank, and the credibility of your observations and actions. Sign up or create a local “battalion” and work together on weeding missions. Easily see the progress you are making on reducing environmental weeds in your neighborhood, as well as your collective impact nationwide.


Main view shows actions in your immediate vicinity. Blue: your location. Red: weeds discovered. Orange: already attacked. Yellow: injured. Green: removed.

What conservation problem are you trying to solve?

Environmental weeds are not sexy, they’re not particularly fun to remove, and yet they are a huge conservation problem. Auckland has the dubious distinction of being the “world’s weediest city” yet it is remarkable how little we know about the specific location and spread of environmental weeds. What knowledge we do have can be hard for the general community to access.

There are a great number of small, awesome environmental groups doing weeding work in local areas, but these have well known challenges. For example, getting volunteers, maintaining morale, keeping track of efforts, communicating actions and finding funding are just some of the difficulties which have been highlighted.

At a broader national level there are no standard protocols on the reporting of environmental weeds, which means reporting and monitoring is inconsistent.

Predator Free 2050 has the potential to increase the threat of environmental weeds (a greater dispersal of weed seeds due to birds).

How are you going to solve this conservation problem?

The Tend your Planet/War on Weeds game will provide:

  • A fun way of learning for people who have little or no knowledge of environmental weeds
  • Collection of weed data on a scale we have been unable to achieve in the past, on both public and private land
  • Sharing of data between and within organizations
  • Better definition of reporting protocols, through collaboration and discussion about appropriate points scoring mechanism in the game.
  • Increases in voluntarism for environmental restoration and participation in environmental groups
  • Enhanced funding opportunities through mission and prize sponsorships
  • Enhanced capacity for research on environmental weeds (e.g. dispersion, effect of predator free policy, etc)

We’ve developed a prototype! Try it out at:

Install link for mobile device (iPhone and Android), for browsers. Player Guide link.

What makes your idea new and unique?

As far as we are aware this is the first time that identifying and removing weeds has been turned into a viable game. There is some novelty also in the simplicity of the location based tool for mapping, monitoring and reporting conservation data. 

We will be making two different user interfaces, one Tend your Planet is inspired by the book “The Little Prince" which emphasizes weeding as a form of local guardianship, the War on Weeds interface has a more tongue-in-cheek combat theme. These interfaces connect to the same underlying database, and this novel way of engaging different audiences will increase reach and interest (and enable fascinating opportunities for competition and research).

Another great feature is the low cost involved for collection, storage, and maintenance of environmental data (shout out to Google and AppSheet for reduced NFP rates) which means we will be able to provide the game hosting service for free indefinitely into the future. 

Who will use your idea, and how will they benefit?

We strive to make environmental connection engaging, fun, and honor the contributions of individuals and groups. Our principles are therefore about keeping things simple, providing open access to data in real time, and using the contributions of participants to expand the overall knowledge and understanding of weed species.

The Tend your Planet/War on Weeds game concept has been designed with the intention of being useful to a wide array of people and groups. Participants with little weed knowledge will have fun learning about weed threats to our ecosystems, community groups will find it to be a useful way of tracking weeds and volunteer actions, experts will be rewarded by seeing reductions in problematic weeds, researchers will benefit from a new credible environmental weed dataset. Municipal and national authorities will benefit for more uniform conservation reporting.

What tasks or activities do you need investment for? How would you spend a $25,000 grant?

The initial prototype provides a demo of the possibilities for game development, and is essentially only the first step. The next phases of development will include:

  1. Demoing, testing, and refining the early prototype
  2. Developing the Tend your Planet user interface
  3. Adding additional features (e.g. mission deployment, text messaging of reminders, enhancements to Te Reo language option, new ideas)
  4. Exploration integration, with the Naturespace website/app iNaturalist and online events/calendaring (e.g. Facebook, Eventbrite)
  5. Collaborations across organizations (Local, Regional and National Organizations, MfE, Weedbusters, DOC, Forest & Bird and others) to work on a protocol for reporting which will be embodied in the gameplay
  6. Broad deployment (hopefully with the assistance and support of the above organizations)
  7. Acquisition of sponsorship. We’d like to invest $5000 of the grant funding to generate $25,000 in sponsorship for community weeding groups as prizes.

Read more about his idea here. Check out the 2017 WWF Conservation Innovation Awards here. For more AppSheet app creator stories, please go to Citizen Developer.

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