This Field School was held at Ecodorp Boekel (NL) on the 9th of April 2024. This Field School specifically focused on examining the socio-political relations of digital technologies that can be used to measure and monitor biodiversity in the specific local context of an ecovillage, living lab, and adjacent small forest, in the south-east of the Netherlands. The Field School was organized as a follow up from a larger case study project to invite relevant stakeholders, share findings, and further brainstorm together about biodiversity and data through participatory methods.

The 26 participants represented a wide array of backgrounds, including local policymakers, ecologists, researchers, technology developers, think-tank members, and inhabitants of different ecovillages. A key aspect of the Field School was its focus on moving beyond traditional views of biodiversity to include broader ecological relationships, including the creation of liveable environments, the social dimensions of biodiversity, and more system-oriented ecological thinking. Participants from a wide range of backgrounds reiterated how this shift is crucial for developing policies that support sustainable ecosystems rather than just individual species.

Prior to this event, over the last year, ecovillage inhabitants and Michelle carried out local biodiversity research through many collective activities, conversations, and different types of digital technologies. The Smart Forests Atlas narrates this research in more detail (e.g. see the tag Biodiversity to browse through these materials). The goal of this case study was to create a more multidimensional understanding of local biodiversity to inform technology development. Where most of the biodiversity technologies that are currently developed focus only on species identification, a broader understanding helps to think more creatively and pluralistically about how digital technologies can create biodiversity relations (Westerlaken, 2024). With the help of ecovillage inhabitants, Michelle designed a hybrid biodiversity portal that brings all the >150 gathered biodiversity data points together into an installation installed at the ecovillage. This installation was used in a series of workshops to discuss, categorize, and rethink local biodiversity knowledge and policy . This is a short video about this part of the case study:

During the morning of the Field School, we shared findings and reflections from this case study with a wider community network. Ad Vlems, founder of Ecovillage Boekel, shared the ecovillage’s biodiversity plan, Michelle presented a series of vignettes with reflections that emerged from the workshops with the installation, and a panel with Sanne Raes (De Derde Bouwstroom), Boudewijn Tooren (Creabitat/Herenboeren), and Martin Schoonman (Naturalis), hosted by STS researcher Marieke Meesters further expanded perspectives on understanding local biodiversity and building community projects.

After lunch, participants were taken on a tour through Ecovillage Boekel, led by Ad Vlems and Ronald Hazelet. This tour took guests through the two-hectare site of this ecovillage, the bio-based building materials, the water/sewage filtering system, the food forest and garden, energy system, and the heat storage battery. Participants also saw the surrounding lands, including the local forest, the agricultural lands, and the urban neighbourhood located next to the ecovillage.


Satellite image of Ecodorp Boekel and its surrounding lands. Screenshot taken via Google Maps.

The afternoon of the Field School consisted of six workshops. Participants signed up to three topics of their interest and formed smaller groups around different themes and rotated through three rounds of 45min sessions. The six themes were formulated together with the Ecovillage inhabitants and represent important local policy issues for which new ideas are needed. They included topics such as more-than-human local policymaking, ideas for assigning nature rights and protected entities, and reflections on biodiversity monitoring and AI systems. This logbook narrates the six workshops in more detail and shares the materials created by participants.


Image of the workshop setup for the afternoon activities of the Field School.


Image of the workshop setup for the afternoon activities of the Field School.

Due to the participant’s wide range of backgrounds, their interest in community building, the immediate local issues that were brought up, and the participatory methods used in this Field School this event was characterised by idea generation and relationship building. At the end of the day, all participants gathered around in a circle and each of us shared our main reflections and takeaways. For example, participants mentioned that they felt a combination of idealism and pragmatism, and that the event gave them a renewed energy . Someone stated that inner and outer worlds are unimaginably big and endless. People found that although they might have organized things differently, the workshops gave them new perspectives. One participant reflected on the transition of understanding land-use from stewardships to relationships. Participants emphasized the importance of being humble and treating different ideas as a means towards cohabitation, not a goal in itself. This implies that technologies and innovation should be brought more directly in relation to the futures they aim to contribute to and not become a focus in itself. People also underlined the importance of humor. Some of the activities were playful , speculative, or a bit absurd, and this helped to deepen connections with other people as well as to create new multispecies relations.

The next day, Ecovillage inhabitants gathered locally to share findings from the event with the people who were not present the previous day. Participants shared some of the highlights and learnings that took place for them personally, as well as their excitement about the inspiring people they met. Community members asked for the data from this workshop to be shared openly as much as possible and seek to build further on inventive local policy for biodiversity restoration .

Westerlaken, M. (2024). Digital Twins and the Digital Logics of Biodiversity, Social Studies of Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/03063127241236809

Header image: photograph taken during the workshops in the afternoon of the Field School. Picture taken by Michelle Westerlaken.

Smart Forests Atlas materials are free to use for non-commercial purposes (with attribution) under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license. To cite this story: Westerlaken, Michelle, "Biodiversity Monitoring: Field School," Smart Forests Atlas (2024), https://atlas.smartforests.net/en/stories/biodiversity-monitoring-field-school/.

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