With the global pandemic changing how people around the world can collaborate and learn, the Natural Capital Project has been adapting their training approach. This September, NatCap held the first-ever hackathon with environmental specialists in Mongolia, organized in partnership with the Mongolia Wildlife Conservation Society. Their goal was to virtually introduce and give participants hands-on training in the Natural Capital Approach, the InVEST software suite, and the Rangeland Production Model. “We at NatCap had never organized an event like this before, but given that the option to travel to Mongolia to deliver this training was off the table due to the pandemic, we came up with a new plan,” explained Ginger Kowal, a GIS Programmer Analyst at NatCap who helped lead the event. “We hoped that they would learn the basics of how to use our tools in the Natural Capital Approach, but they really surpassed that goal in incredible ways.”
The hackathon, which included daily virtual workshops and office hours led by NatCap experts, introduced and gave hands-on training to its 14 “hackers.” The participants brought a wide range of backgrounds to the event, including experts from The Nature Conservancy and the Mongolian Academy of Science as well as recent college graduates. Throughout the week, the five hackathon teams learned about the Habitat Quality Model, the Rangeland Production Model, and the InVEST Carbon Model and then applied these models to their own work.
Congratulations to this year’s hackathon winners, Team ENSURE! This team’s three members, Bayasgalan Amgalan (a biodiversity conservation specialist), Bolor-Erdene Lkhamsuren (a pasture management specialist), and Khongor Tsogt (a forest management specialist) are currently working with the ENSURE project, which stands for “Ensuring Sustainability and Resilience of Green Landscapes in Mongolia.” ENSURE, a project of the United Nations Development Programme, plans “to enhance ecosystem services in multiple landscapes of the Sayan and Khangai mountains and southern Gobi by reducing rangeland and forest degradation and conserving biodiversity through sustainable livelihoods.” Thinking about the impact of this hackathon on their work, Team ENSURE reflected, “The knowledge we have gained during this training-hackathon could be used to answer various pressing questions. We already have introduced this to some senior professionals and decision-makers.”
Not only did the hackathon serve as a new way to engage and train environmental leaders, but it also helped improve NatCap’s own models and will continue to support WCS’ conservation work in Mongolia. “They developed new ways of integrating the models together, they contributed their own input data that was a huge improvement over the basic inputs that we provided, and they even suggested ways to improve the models that we will be drawing on as NatCap continues with the development of these tools,” Kowal said. “Best yet, WCS will be using the model results that came out of the hackathon moving forward in their work in the Eastern Steppe. The hackathon was a great group effort to give WCS a huge head start in their use of natural capital information for conservation in this area.”
This hackathon built on NatCap’s long standing relationships in Mongolia— see this video for more information on our work with the Mongolian Sustainable Cashmere Project.
This work became possible with the funding from Trust for Mutual Understanding.