Mobile Application Deployment Supporting Volunteer Observation in Coastal Main

Our mobile application engages citizens to be the eyes and ears of Casco Bay, enabling them to collect qualitative observations that support watershed and coastal management.

Project Takeaways


Miles of Main Coast Observed


Active volunteers collecting daily observational environmental data


Observations submitted by volunteers

Approaches to data visualization and use for Coastal Management

“We were delighted to work with the Commons on the rollout of our new Friends of Casco Bay-branded app. The Commons team specifically designed it for our volunteers to keep an eye on our waters. They made the program easy to use for our volunteers and easy for us as staff to maintain. We look forward to all the ways our volunteers will use this new app to track the health of Casco Bay.”

Will Everitt
Executive Director, Friends of Casco Bay

Project Deployment Strategy

Working in partnership with Friends of Casco Bay, The Commons built a comprehensive data management system to handle all observational data collected by Friends of Casco Bay volunteers. This system includes a community-based mobile application based on patterns established by The Commons' Water Reporter platform, a centralized data management system, and integrations with ArcGIS Online to display and map all observations collected by volunteers.

AirTable | Data Management

Working with the Friends of Casco Bay staff, The Commons deployed an program-specific AirTable Bases to facilitate easy collection and management of community shared observations related to Casco Bay.

Pipedream | Integration

Leveraging Pipedream, our team deployed a series of Workflows that watch for event changes in AirTable and automatically sync data to ArcGIS Online as records are added, updated, or deleted.

ArcGIS Online | Mapping & Analytics

Using ArcGIS Online, our team deployed program-specific, live updating maps depicting location and observation type shared by Friends of Casco Bay volunteers

Glide | Mobile Application Development

Leveraging Glide, our team created a progressive web/mobile application that allows volunteers to easily share and manage observational data

Training and Support

Throughout the lifecycle of the project, our team grew proficiency amongst Friends of Casco Bay staff to full fully operate, maintain, and extend the deployed system with limited developer intervention.


Project and Environmental Policy Intersection

The Casco Bay watershed encompasses some of the most populous regions in the state of Maine while also hosting some of its most beautiful natural resources. The watershed has seen an increase in population growth and human development, introducing a new wave of environmental threats to Casco Bay’s delicate and sensitive ecosystems in the form of stormwater runoff, nutrient pollution, algae, and wastewater. On top of this, climate change induced changes to the bay are becoming more and more noticeable as sea levels increase erosion rates around the region and threaten wildlife around the state.

To combat these forces, Friends of Casco Bay (FOCB) has established their program areas as the leading environmental watchdog and Waterkeeper in the region keeping an eye on coastal waters and inland streams throughout the watershed. Believing in the power of people, and challenging residents to protect the resources that encompass their homes, FOCB established the Water Reporter observational monitoring program in 2018 using the app of the same name developed by The Commons. With the sunsetting of the observational monitoring features in the Water Reporter application, Friends of Casco Bay decided to upgrade and expand their observational monitoring program and build an application that fit their specific needs.. The Commons took the best parts of the original Water Reporter app and created a modern, open data infrastructure. The result was a comprehensive platform that supports data collection, data management, and visualization, increasing the application's usability and allowing FOCB staff unparalleled access to potential issues across the watershed.


Project Planning

The FOCB Water Reporter program began as an opportunity for local volunteers to complement the in-house water quality monitoring program with observational, geospatial data intended to keep a pulse on the health of the Presumpscot watershed. With over 500 miles of coastline to monitor and limited staff capacity, the program needed an easily adoptable data collection method and low overhead for data management to turn observations into critical visualizations that decision-makers could use to act on watershed issues.  

With many moving parts, the project team identified three main requirements that would need to be met for a modernized Water Reporter program. First, volunteers needed an easy-to-use data collection application that could be used in the field, supported geotagging of pictures, categorized observations, and provide community features to encourage participation and engagement. Secondly, FOCB staff needed this application and its submitted observations to integrate with a centralized database which would allow them to manage, visualize, and act on submitted observations quickly. This database needed to be linked to web mapping analytics that were currently used and adopted by FOCB staff.  Lastly, in an effort to develop necessary hooks for volunteers and establish continuous contact, our team deployed a push notification module that enables FOCB staff to immediately notify their entire Water Reporter volunteer base to be on the lookout for certain types of environmental threats such as sea level rise, plastic, or erosion. 

To meet the necessary requirements, The Commons took the most widely used UI/UX patterns of the Water Reporter application and add them to a hybrid workflow utilizing cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) software. For project data collection, we opted to use the custom application development framework Glide. This choice allowed us to recreate the data collection interface of the old Water Reporter application while simultaneously updating it with new observation categories and more community-focused features. Glide was chosen for its high degree of flexibility and its no/low code development environment, making maintenance, management, and extension of feature sets achievable by FOCB staff. All project data is stored and managed in Airtable, which directly links with the Glide application to streamline data submission and organization, making the process seamless. Finally, we established a connection between Airtable and ArcGIS Online to allow data to flow in real-time to a hosted feature service layer that can be leveraged in various web mapping applications via ArcGIS Online.



The core component of this project was the development of a custom data collection application that volunteers could use in the field to submit environmental observations under the Water Reporter program. The collection application contains the following features:

  • Mobile usability in the field on volunteer smartphones.
  • Geolocated photos.
  • Categorization of observations to allow for more detailed organization of posts.
  • Social features like commenting and post-viewing to allow volunteers to engage more with the application. This also includes profile and account management enabling volunteers to have full ability to add, edit, and modify observations in their account.
  • Notification features for FOCB staff alerting them of posts or updates.
  • Integration with FOCB’s Water Reporter database in Airtable.

We chose the custom low-code app development platform, Glide, with which we created our own data collection application. Glide dramatically decreases the time it takes to iterate, test, and deploy an application while also offering pre-built integrations with a variety of third-party platforms, like Airtable, allowing an easy flow of information from the app to a designated database. The Commons stood up FOCB’s custom Water Reporter application in a matter of weeks. The application contained all of the features referenced above. Furthermore, volunteers can easily discover and save the application to their smartphone home screens easy access in the field.  

Close collaboration is a core component of our development strategy. Friends of Casco Bay stakeholders had access to the application at every stage of development, allowing their team to provide ongoing feedback, and allowing our team to make revisions quickly and at the point of discovery.  Glide’s feature-rich development environment contains numerous components that are fast and easy to build allowing our team to respond to modification requests at the rate Friends of Casco Bay needed.

Airtable was used as the centralized data manager and repository for all observations collected in the Water Reporter application. A widely adopted data management system, Airtable allows for easy data editing, organization, and supports a wide variety of third-party integrations, enabling data to be shared with other platforms. We created a data model inspired by the one developed for the former Water Reporter application. We then mirrored the same data model in the Glide collection application. In Airtable, we created the necessary tables for items such as users, posts, comments, and post categories to better organize program data. Finally, we linked the data to Glide through a pre-established integration, allowing submitted observations to flow seamlessly from the collection app to the appropriate record in Airtable.

The final part of the project workflow involved visualizing observations in a publicly accessible platform where viewers could explore all mapped observations. To achieve this, we linked the Water Reporter Airtable database with a corresponding Feature Service in the geospatial mapping application ArcGIS Online. Using the integration platform Pipedream, we established a connection that allows the ArcGIS Online Feature Service to continually update with real-time data whenever observations are submitted via the data collection application. With this integration in place, FOCB staff can create various visualizations for their Water Reporter program, providing the wider Casco Bay public with direct access to their observational data.

Diagram of the data flow, the software utilized, and role of each system in supporting FOCB


Results and Outcomes

From rising sea levels to human-caused pollution, Casco Bay faces numerous threats. Despite encompassing only  3% of Maine’s total land mass, nearly 20% of the state’s population lives within the Casco Bay watershed, making its preservation essential to the sustainability of Maine’s ecosystems and public health. Friends of Casco Bay has established itself as the leading watchdog for Casco Bay, using science and advocacy to protect its valuable habitats and ecosystems. From day one, Friends of Casco Bay has been a community-centric organization, encouraging the local public to actively participate in protecting the Bay. Through their Water Reporter program, they collect observational monitoring data on key habitat indicators around Casco Cay (e.g., sea level rise, and wildlife). To ensure the program’s growth and the collection of high-quality environmental data, Friends of Casco Bay needed a data collection and management system that could adapt to growing demand while allowing Friends of Casco Bay to receive data from across the watershed’s vast geography. 

Photo courtesy of Friends of Casco Bay.

The result was a monitoring program built around three core connected software components working in unison to collect, manage, and visualize all of Friends of Casco Bay’s Water Reporter Data. This workflow, built entirely with SaaS-based platforms, provides a significant upgrade for Casco Bay’s monitoring network while continuing to build the robust community of dedicated water stewards the region is known for. With a Glide-backed data collection application, an Airtable database, and an ArcGIS Online hosted visualization, Friends of Casco Bay’s Water Reporter program is now modernized and poised to support the Casco Bay watershed for years to come and scale as more volunteers become the eyes and ears of Maine’s Coast.

Increased volunteer engagement and ownership surrounding water data and health in Casco Bay

The primary intended benefit of community-based monitoring programs is the dual advantage of collecting essential observational data and fostering education and engagement among community members. The challenge for organizations is finding the balance between a program design that volunteers can readily understand and one that also collects essential, quality-controlled water data. Friends of Casco Bay’s Water Reporter program was built around this concept, allowing volunteers to easily collect important observational data regarding Casco Bay by simply snapping a few photos in the field. Originally built utilizing The Commons’s Water Reporter application, Friends of Casco Bay staff sought an updated data management system that would continue to engage volunteers while also improving the way staff handle and receive the collected data. 

The new Water Reporter system built for Friends of Casco Bay not only allows them to manage their data in a new and easily accessible way but also offers a new user interface for volunteers via Glide. Taking inspiration from the original Water Reporter application, The Commons overhauled and retooled the best features of the old application to build a Glide-backed application. This allows users to submit observations, categorize their observations, see others' posts, and comment on other observations. By balancing the community features with a robust backend data management infrastructure, we built a data collection application that is easy for general users and staff alike to learn, navigate, and use with minimal training. Friends of Casco Bay volunteers can now spend less time figuring out how to operate a new application, and more time submitting vital environmental observations that help FOCB protect and conserve Casco Bay’s vital natural resources.

Adoption of user-friendly, modernized data infrastructure that adheres to FAIR data principals 

Community-based environmental monitoring programs often suffer from overly siloed data stored in inaccessible data management systems, limiting reusability. This creates a Catch-22 for conservation and protection efforts, as community-generated data is crucial for filling knowledge gaps but can’t reach where it is needed most due to restricted data infrastructure. Thankfully, with the increased accessibility of powerful data management software, community organizations can affordably pair their robust datasets with modernized data management tools. This integration allows staff to use these vital records effectively, eliminating data silos and increasing the overall impact of collected observations. This system will not only allow the public to better access environmental data surrounding Casco Bay but also give Friends of Casco Bay the agility needed to alert necessary agencies of pollution-related issues that may need an immediate response.

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