Identifying digital technologies for reversing environmental degradation

The potential for digital technology to solve challenges related to environmental degradation is vast, but to date, there has been more of a focus on using technology to understand and quantify challenges, rather than applying it to implement solutions. The Royal Academy of Engineering wants to change this, with support from REDAA.

City park
Photo: Nerea Martí Sesarino, via Unsplash

In January 2023, the Royal Academy of Engineering (supported by REDAA) held a virtual Frontiers Symposium. This event brought people together to explore and identify practical interventions to prevent and reverse environmental degradation in Africa and Asia.


The aim of the Symposium was to encourage and seed fund fresh ideas inspired by real-life examples of where technologies have been used to address environmental degradation. 


Out of new collaborations, technologies could be developed to refine and scale up existing solutions. 

Inspiring conversation, collaboration and creativity 

The virtual Symposium provided a space for participants to hold creative conversations and collaborate on new ideas. It sought to identify new technologies which could: 

  • Support participatory approaches in research and decision-making 
  • Consider data access, visualisation, and analysis 
  • Promote real-time monitoring and learning.  

Under each category, participants were also encouraged to consider important cross-cutting issues:  

  • Locally led, low-cost technologies: how can technology support and mobilise local change makers who are effective guardians of biodiversity, especially local communities and Indigenous Peoples?  
  • Intersectionality: who owns, uses, has access to and benefits from the technology? How can technology be used to ensure more socially inclusive and gender-equitable societies while addressing environmental degradation?  
  • Interdisciplinarity and multi-stakeholder participation: how can the technologies draw on diverse disciplines and bring together different stakeholders to tackle challenges together?  

Watch the video explainer for an overview of the format:

The Symposium was held from 9 – 19 January 2023 and culminated in two days of live sessions. Some 77 participants from 25 countries attended, representing academia, NGOs, Indigenous Peoples & Local Communities representatives, industry, and government. Sessions were designed to encourage collaboration, conversation and seed fresh ideas inspired by real-life examples of using technologies to address environmental degradation.

To learn more about the symposium, read the report here

Seed funding for taking forward ideas 

The Symposium enabled participants to form new partnerships and helped develop 13 seed fund proposals. Seed fund proposals were focused on the needs of communities and ready to adapt to the specific contexts of the challenges they aim to address.

Following a rigorous competitive review process, four proposals were selected to be funded by REDAA. These are: 

  • ‘Unlocking the Nexus: Digital twins in Sustainable Decision-making for Water-Energy-Food’ led by Nagham Saeed, University of West London, in collaboration with Slingshot Simulations, Technology Innovation Agency, and Universiti Sains Malaysia.
  • ‘Scoping Research to develop a Digitally-Facilitated Community-led Product Guarantee System’ led by Emmanuelle Perlas Andaya, Non-Timber Forest Products – Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP) in collaboration with Busara. 
  • ‘Leveraging technology to foreground nature in the everyday city’ led by Prabina Shrestha, Utopia, in collaboration with Integrated Design 
  • ‘FishLove (FishCredit) to build a fairer, more sustainable fish industry value chain’ led by Wasiu Oyedepo, University of Maiduguri, in collaboration with Kenyatta University.  

All projects are one year long, and their focus countries include South Africa, Indonesia, Nepal, and Nigeria. The Royal Academy of Engineering, in close collaboration with REDAA, will support the seed-fund winners in progressing their projects.

Top-up funding

In August 2023, awardees were given the opportunity to apply for a top-up grant of up to £15,960 to enable them to carry out additional activities. Following a review process, the project ‘Leveraging technology to foreground nature in the everyday city’, led by Prabina Shrestha, was selected to receive the top-up funding. This project seeks to design an app that can help policymakers combine biophysical data on biodiversity loss and climate change impacts with socio-ecological data (i.e. the lived experiences of citizens) to make better land use decisions in and around urban areas in Nepal and India. 

Lessons-learned workshops

On 26 October 2023, participants from across the four projects engaged in a learning workshop, during which awardees gave an update on the progress of their projects, highlighting both challenges and achievements. Presentations were followed by a lessons-learned discussion focusing on time management and prioritisation, resilience, and adaptability, as well as collaboration and networking. Key insights from this learning event are available on the Royal Academy of Engineering website.

A second learning exchange was held on 26 March 2024. Project presentations from the four projects were followed by a lessons-learned discussion focused on adaptive management, community engagement, and bridging the digital divide. Many projects shared similar experiences and insights regarding the digital divide and the adoption of technologies at the local community level, highlighting several key learnings:

  • Physical divide: in some regions, particularly rural areas, enhancing infrastructure such as broadband internet and electricity could significantly improve access to digital technologies.
  • Economic divide: addressing the costs of smartphones and data plans could help make technology more accessible to low-income individuals.
  • Technical divide: providing resources and training to boost digital literacy, especially among older adults, could encourage the uptake of digital tools.
  • Psychological barriers: Helping communities, particularly older adults, to overcome their fear of technology could help facilitate the adoption of digital innovations.


Royal Academy of Engineering

Demonstrator project