When you think of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), it’s hard to not feel touched by the incredible research and advocacy work the institution has done over the years. When we got the opportunity to interview Shawn Sweeney, Associate VP of Communications & Policy at the Jane Goodall Institute, we were excited to share their story.
JGI initially came to MediaValet with the challenge of preserving Dr. Jane Goodall’s 60-year legacy and distributing marketing imagery to various global chapters and stakeholders. However, they quickly came to realize that the advanced functionality available to them in MediaValet, would allow them to extend the use of the DAM to areas they hadn’t even dreamt of — scientific research.
Curious where this took them? This interview shares Shawn’s experience with implementing a DAM and using artificial intelligence (AI) to broaden its use case to facilitate both marketing efficiency and scientific discovery.
So, to start us off, can you tell us about the Jane Goodall Institute?
“JGI is a namesake for Dr. Jane Goodall, famous for her groundbreaking observations of great apes in Gombe National Park. Jane started the Institute in 1977 to continue that research, as well as advance wildlife conservation. Since JGI's inception to the present day, the organization has developed a few separate initiatives.
The first is community-driven conservation. Around the late 80s, Jane realized that chimpanzees were critically endangered across the range in Africa and recognized that the poverty human populations living there experience, in part, was driving those issues. So, Jane knew that in order to save the chimpanzees - and other wildlife around the world - we needed to invest in and develop a model of community-driven conservation that also helped create sustainable economies for those communities. Today, we work with communities to identify what their needs are, diagnose threats to wildlife and work together with the community members on solutions.
Another initiative is focused on youth empowerment through our Roots & Shoots program. The concept is really simple – to empower young people to identify an problem for people, animals or the environment they share in their community and implement projects to address it. We're celebrating our 30-year anniversary this year, and we members active in over 50 countries around the world. I'm actually an alum of Roots & Shoots myself.
The last part of our work is really Jane’s advocacy for captive wildlife. She started working on wildlife trafficking and finding homes for orphaned chimpanzees. We have the largest chimpanzee sanctuary in Africa and Republic of Congo. She’s also done a lot of advocacy for animals in zoos and labs.
So, JGI really runs the gamut in terms of helping both captive and wild animals.”
Can you tell me a little bit about your journey with JGI?
“I’ve always been obsessed with great apes, and when I was 10 my grandma introduced me to Alan Brown, who did photography work for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. My grandma took me to his gallery and a bunch of his talks, and, when I met him, I told him that I would carry his camera equipment if he would take me with him on shoots.
I ultimately ended up going to school for animal behavior, where I worked with capuchin monkeys for all four years of undergrad. I met Jane when she came to the college to give a lecture. She encouraged me to join the Roots & Shoots program, which I did, and here I am today!
I started on staff with JGI in 2007 and spent the first six years on staff doing marketing and communications for Roots & Shoots and coordinating our youth leadership council and college program. I worked my way up to being National Director for Youth Outreach & Engagement and then, moved into a broader marketing position for JGI, which is now focused on communications and policy.”
How were you operating before implementing MediaValet?
“We weren’t operating in any efficient way whatsoever. We had assets all over the universe – Dropbox, OneDrive, our servers, local hard drives, external hard drives – you name it. And nobody really knew what we had, so there were a ton of duplicates.
We had a lot of challenges that were really highlighted in the last year. Usually, we’d get new imagery regularly from our projects but, as you can imagine, getting imagery from the field is tough enough in regular times, let alone in a pandemic. Not having the ability in the field to retrieve hard drives has made access to imagery much more difficult.
We also consider ourselves to be a “democratic” organization, and we were trying to both protect and curate our assets, which really has us walking a knife’s edge of exposing ourselves to too much risk. So, prior to using MediaValet, everything was locked down because that was the only way we could protect the assets.”
What was the spark that initiated your search into DAM?
“There were a few things that kick-started our DAM initiative:
- Reducing manual processes as much as possible,
- Increasing democratic access to the archive, and
- Continuing to onboard with new products in our digital transformation with Microsoft.
Reducing Manual Process
First, when I was installed in my current position, I became the custodian of our image archive. We were doing a lot of manual work to distribute our imagery and, as a lean team, we were never going to be able to serve all our various stakeholders at the rate or with the efficiency we would like. We needed to find a way to really minimize those manual tasks and processes.
Secure Access to Archives
Paired with that, we wanted to provide more open, democratic access to our archive of images, but also implement controls to it. Some people were asking for more content and others were giving us more content. Just keeping up was becoming an impossible task.
Microsoft Digital Transformation
Another big spark was our digital transformation with Microsoft to support our science work. We wanted to continue to ride that wave, and it was important that any partner we brought on worked directly with Microsoft and could exist in the same cloud platform as the rest of our work.”
Was there anything specific that made you choose MediaValet over alternative options?
“Our top priority was to achieve democratic access to the system, and to do this we needed to be able to onboard a lot of users with some level of administrative capability within the system. We want to empower people to add assets, to edit metadata, etc. – it’s not something we want to centralize with just one or two people. For this to happen, we needed to be able to train people to use MediaValet, as well as have an unlimited number of users that could use the platform. With this in mind, MediaValet’s unlimited users (including administrators), user groups, and training structure was critical.
What was also really beautiful about the relationship, was having the opportunity to interface with David MacLaren (Founder & CEO of MediaValet) and really align our values. He saw an opportunity with us to create a digital home for JGI’s archive and helped us to map out the full vision. I can't tell you how many decades we've been trying to figure this out and it’s great to finally have the opportunity to do that. It started out as a project to find a spot for our imagery, but now, I think we've lost count of all the different applications – especially scientific ones - we can see for MediaValet.”
Now that your vision is coming to fruition, can you describe more about how you’ll be using MediaValet?
“Our goals with MediaValet are divided into three buckets:
- Marketing Material Distribution: Storing all assets used for storytelling purposes - the photos and videos from years of JGI initiatives.
- Scientific Research Distribution: Using the platform to facilitate our scientific research and discovery - the 60-years of handwritten notes, field videos, etc., which help researchers and scientists around the world understand great apes.
- Organizing Precious Archival Assets: Creating a digital home for the ongoing archiving of Jane’s global outreach past and present. A place where we gather and transcribe Jane’s digital recordings from throughout the year – making them searchable and shareable.
Beyond organizing what we already have and bringing all of JGI’s legacy data into the system, we're also getting our teams from the field set up to upload directly to MediaValet. This is a gamechanger, as much of this this data and imagery used to be brought back by our staff on external hard drives .”
Can you tell us more about how you’ll be using MediaValet for scientific research?
“We’re working to bring all of Jane’s long-term research onto the platform to help take advantage of the artificial intelligence tools that MediaValet offers, as well as to increase accessibility to not only view the assets, but contribute to the metadata. We’ve always wanted to be able to give more open access to that research, so students and researchers around the world could benefit from it. This is now possible using MediaValet.
Our science strategy is really focused on artificial intelligence, so we're looking for opportunities to speed the pace of conservation and science using MediaValet’s AI capabilities. Some specific applications include:
- Automatically transcribing handwritten research notes, and
- Using facial recognition to identify specific apes in field footage.”
Transcription of handwritten notes
“We have 60 years (equating to 17 terabytes) of paper records that include critical observations from the field. Many of these have already been digitized and imported into MediaValet, where the handwritten notes – in both English and Swahili – are automatically transcribed and added as searchable metadata. This makes these notes significantly more accessible and searchable from across the globe.
Oftentimes, when researchers need to review a specific topic in these notes, they had to manually search them page by page. Even worse, they would have to physically go to where the paper records were located, open a filing cabinet, pull out the paper and read from that. So, now we’re giving easy access to this data that used to be so inaccessible – getting it into the scientists’ hands right away.
Facial recognition of apes
JGI has been working on a few different chimpanzee facial recognition projects for years now. We have terabytes and terabytes of footage and photos, and we're hoping to train AI models to recognize specific chimps within these assets. Working with MediaValet, we’ve already had our first successful facial recognition from footage of a chimpanzee, so we’re optimistic about the work this could take off our plate. We also hope to eventually train AI models to detect behavior – for example, termite fishing. This would help streamline research of specific behaviors, as researchers could jump to specific video clips quickly.
We're adding thousands of hours (about 36 terabytes) of research footage from the field in Gombe to MediaValet. This is huge for scientific research, as researchers are going to be able to go to one single location to call up any photo, video or piece of research from any day to study them.”
We’d love to hear more about how you’re using Branded Portals.
“We love using Branded Portals because they give us a lot of control – we can turn them off, change the contents or URL, password protect them or restrict downloads. We use them for specific distribution partners, who we don't want to bother with registration.
We’re experimenting with a few different ways to use them. For example, we recently pitched our research in Gombe to a video streaming service. The PDF we used was really data heavy and included a lot of video content, so we used Branded Portals to deliver the pitch in an easy and seamless way.
What makes you most excited about this partnership with MediaValet?
“Just the potential for growth, honestly. MediaValet has expressed really deep commitment and interest in our success and there's so many different ways we can go. We have a lot of challenges that we're finding solutions for with MediaValet.”
Do you have any tips to give to organizations undergoing a similar transformation?
“There's definitely a steep learning curve, so be prepared for that. Change management and tried and true practices for new user training and adoption is the name of the game. It’s not a flip the switch and you’re online kind of thing. There’s a lot of upfront work to do. I’ve really just been trying to pace this out in a way where it's digestible, so all users can feel really confident with the system before we just migrate everything over.
Crawl, walk, run is the name of the game - I just can't underscore this enough! Don’t just flip a switch – otherwise you could find yourself drowning.”
Just one last question for fun - what's your favorite movie and why?
“Oh man, this is both an easy one and a hard one! I have a collection of favorite movies that all sort of fall into the same category, but my number one is Kinky Boots. I actually saw it at an independent theater in 2006 and immediately fell in love with it. It has two of my favorite actors in it, one of which plays a drag queen. My favorite movies are usually about more inclusive thinking and the importance of kindness. That’s a main theme of Kinky Boots in a lot of ways, but it’s also about innovation – being creative and saving your family business in a way that you wouldn’t normally think about so. I find it to be an inspiring movie about creativity, helping broaden people's mindsets and welcoming more inclusive thinking.”
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