When I emailed a Brazilian friend mentioning that I was headed to the city Belem, in the state of Para, she replied, “Best to call me. Belem is at the end of the world.”
Renna Al-Yassini, Design Director of IxD and Research, and I traveled to the congested port city on the northern coast of Brazil to conduct the design research phase of our partnership with Imazon, an NGO that aims to end deforestation of the Amazon. The goal was to gain a deep understanding of Imazon’s work, both how it is generated and how it is consumed. Our time in Brazil will define constraints for a second phase of the project—the development and design of a robust online tool. Over the course of ten days, Belem’s rough edges charmed us, and we found the city to be a seat of progressive action around preservation, with Imazon playing a central role.
Imazon was founded in 1990, during a time of rapid deforestation, as the first private research institution in the Brazilian Amazon devoted to documenting deforestation, articulating its consequences, and promoting sustainable land use in the region. Over the past twenty years, Imazon has trained more than 140 young Brazilian researchers in ecology, forest engineering, environmental law, rural and mineral economics, geoprocessing, rural planning and public policies.
Renna and I met with dozens of Imazon stakeholders and partners with the objective of identifying workarounds or points of frustration in the collection, dissemination, and consumption of Imazon’s data. We designed tools to support group discussions, outline typical workflows, and identify pain points. Through interviews with each of Imazon’s five program coordinators and their teams, we gained insight into their diverse efforts and products, from analysis of satellite imagery to on-the-ground training of small-scale farmers in sustainable practices.
Imazon’s mission, stopping deforestation of the Amazon, could be divisive. However, we were impressed to find that Imazon’s diverse consumers uniformly expressed a deep trust of the data and high regard for the caliber of work Imazon conducts. Talking with upper level government officials, representatives from other NGOs, public prosecutors, journalists, and even lobbyists from the timber industry, we learned that the organization is an essential resource for its partner network. We also learned that technology is an essential resource for the dissemination of Imazon’s data to its partners. As the State Secretary of Para’s Green Municipalities program put it, “Imazon’s future relies on technology.”
Back in Berkeley, as we turn to the synthesis of our research and start identifying patterns, we are constantly reminded of Imazon’s solutions-oriented approach to ending deforestation of the Amazon. Imazon’s work is inspiring, and we look forward to lending Tomorrow Partner’s perspective and expertise in support of their mission. Though things progress quickly, it is easy to look back and remember that our work started with a trip to the end of the world.