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Webby for Good is a collaborative program formed by The Webby Awards and WP Engine to showcase Webby-recognized projects built to change the world.

A mobile technology solution was essential to ensure maximum data is captured while volunteers are moving through clean up events. - Beaconfire RED Team
What’s the elevator pitch for your project?

Ocean Conservancy educates and empowers citizens to take action on behalf of the ocean using the Clean Swell mobile app. The app was developed to streamline data collection for trash cleanups around the world from over 800,000 volunteers, allowing Ocean Conservancy to easily collect data year-round. The data is used by scientists, conservation groups, governments, and industry leaders to study ocean trash and take action to ensure trash never reaches our beaches.

What was the impetus for this project? What real-world challenge were you trying to solve?

Clean Swell allows individuals to make direct contributions to a cleaner, healthier ocean, not only by cleaning up visible trash, but also by contributing to the broader trash collection data record to help inform ways to eliminate trash in the future.

Before Clean Swell, recording data for clean ups was done on paper data cards, which then needed to be manually entered into a database. Data collection was then limited to events when paper data cards could be pre-arranged and distributed, like the annual International Coastal Cleanup.


Did your team have a breakthrough or “a-ha” moment while formulating or executing this project?

The data from all the Clean Swell submissions goes into an online database that researchers use. The early versions of this reporting interface required laborious management of a geographic hierarchy so that reports could be run at local, regional, country and global levels. Once we had data coming in from Clean Swell that was geo-tagged, we realized that we could replace the manual geographic hierarchy with a Google Maps integration - creating much more intuitive and accurate reporting.

Once you settled on your idea, what was your first step in moving it forward?

The first step was to develop a prototype and proof of concept. We worked with a group of volunteers in Florida who were already walking the beaches every day for a sea turtle project. They would walk the beach in one direction counting turtles and on the return trip pick up trash and record findings in our Clean Swell prototype. Their feedback from the field was invaluable.

Was there a moment during the project where you ran into a hurdle; or faced a problem you didn’t know how to solve? Take us to this moment, what happened and what did you do next?

One key challenge is knowing when users are ready to share their data. The app requires users to press Submit when they are ready to send their clean-up data to Ocean Conservancy. If they do not have a cell signal, which is often the case in some remote parts of the world, the app will wait until they have a signal and resubmit then.

Users sometimes forget to press Submit at the end which can then throw off the GPS and date stamps as they go about their day. We’ve played around with notifications to ask “Are you still cleaning up?” and are now exploring an autosave feature.

Did the real-world impact meet your expectations? Can you share an example?

We’ve seen a 38% growth year over year in the number of cleanups submitted through Clean Swell. In fact, the first 2 months of 2019 have surpassed the whole of our first year (2015).

Another example is Badges. For example, you earn the Fast Foodie badge when you have cleaned up over 200 food related items. You earn Level 1 at 200 items, Level 2 at 600 items, and Level 3 at 1,000 items. There has been a strong correlation between people earning badges and social sharing.

What technologies/media did you use to develop this project (AI, Social Media, WordPress, etc.)?

Clean Swell is a hybrid mobile application built in Cordova which makes it easy to build into multiple mobile devices at a time (e.g. iOS and Android). Clean Swell also uses a plethora of plugins provided by the Cordova community to enable mobile device features such as vibration, geolocation, battery usage, and data communication with the centralized Clean Swell servers.

Clean Swell is now available in English, Spanish, and Bahasa Indonesian. We’ll be adding more languages over time to meet the needs of users around the world.

Was the tech/medium you chose crucial to conveying your message? If so, why?

A mobile technology solution was essential to ensure maximum data is captured while volunteers are moving through clean up events. It was important to the client to be able to offer this application in the most popular mobile operating systems, which at the time were Android and iOS. To maximize efficiency and avoid having to maintain separate apps for different operating systems, we chose Cordova because it is a web-based mobile development platform which allows us to develop and deploy on multiple mobile platforms.

How did this project defy your expectations?

The growth of the user base and the number of users who are repeat users. We have over 4,000 users now who have submitted more than one clean up!

How will you use technology in future work to create inspiring, cutting-edge projects that also make a difference in people’s lives?

For the last 18 years, Beaconfire RED has been working with nonprofits and social enterprises to create innovative and results-driven digital experiences that solve significant technical, marketing and design challenges. Our clients are making the world healthier, more equitable, and sustainable.

About the Public Service & Activism category

Apps, mobile sites, and progressive web apps that educate and empower citizens, and/or encourage civic engagement within one’s community or society at large.