Designing the LandPKS App: Guidelines for Developing a Global App

The LandPKS app ( helps users make more sustainable land management decisions by assisting users to collect geo-located data about their soils, vegetation, and site characteristics; and returning back to users useful results and information about their site. The LandPKS app is a global app that can be used in any location around the world. As visible on the LandPKS Data Portal (, there have been LandPKS sites completed on 6 continents!

While being a global app has major advantages, it also comes with design challenges in order to assist our global users. In order to address this, we have developed three major design guidelines:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Usability
  3. Usefulness

In order to maximize simplicity, the LandPKS team aims to minimize the number of components and screens. We aim to break tasks into manageable chunks so that users are not overwhelmed.  Additionally, we strive to have the LandPKS app be as visual as possible by using simple graphics and charts. For example, in the vegetation monitoring module, LandCover, users select vegetation types based on simple images.


Figure 1: Selection of vegetation and cover types in the LandCover module of the LandPKS app. Users choose from these simple images to determine what types of vegetation are present at their site.

In order to maximize usability of the LandPKS app we aim to design the navigation of the app to be intuitive and seamless. Most importantly, the LandPKS app is designed and built to be useable by non-technical experts. Therefore, we aim to use minimal technical language, include question marks with brief text and/or graphical explanations, and include explanatory videos when needed.  For example, in the LandInfo module, we include videos that help explain how to hand-texture the soil for a user who is not a soil scientist and may be unfamiliar with how to hand-texture the soil.

Figure 2: Screenshots of videos that help walk a user through how to hand texture the soil in the SoilInfo Module of the LandPKS app.

Lastly, we focus on the usefulness of the LandPKS app globally. This includes soliciting feedback from our users in order to help mold the LandPKS app to meet their needs. The LandPKS team conducts a bi-annual online user survey to gain feedback about various components of the app. We also spent a month in Tanzania last year testing the app with smallholder farmers and agricultural extension agents, making sure they found the app useful and were able to understand the outputs.


While the effort to create a global app is guided by the three steps outlined here, it is still very much a work in progress. The LandPKS app Version 3.0 is free and available now on the Google Play Store and iTunes Store. Learn more about the LandPKS app on the website. The LandPKS app was developed by the LandPKS Team for the Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKs) with support from USAID and USDA-ARS. Please contact us at with any questions, comments, or feedback.

By Amy Quandt, LandPKS Global Coordinator

Announcing the Release of LandPKS 3.0

The LandPKS team is happy to announce that we have released a new and improved version of the LandPKS app.  This new version is a result of months of hard work for everyone on our team, as well as helpful feedback from our users around the world.  The LandPKS app helps users make more sustainable land management decisions by assisting users to collect geo-located data about their soils, vegetation, and site characteristics; and returning back to users useful results and information about their site.  It also provides free cloud storage and sharing, which means that you and others can access your data from any computer from our Data Portal at  The LandPKS app does not require a data connection to be used, and users can upload their data when they next have connectivity.  LandPKS app includes two modules: LandInfo and LandCover.  The LandInfo module walks a user through how to determine the texture of their soil, which is critical information for smallholder farmers and can help them plant crops suitable to their soil type.  The LandCover module walks a user through how to collect vegetation cover data, important for vegetation monitoring and ecosystem restoration. The LandPKS app Version 3.0 is free and available now on the Google Play Store and iTunes Store.

What’s New?

  • Updated and improved user interface
  • Easy navigation between data input and report (results) screens
  • Graphical LandCover results including cover trends over time
  • Graphical LandInfo results with a table of texture and rock fragment volume by depth
  • Available Water Holding Capacity and Infiltration calculations for your soil
  • Upload data to the Data Portal at any time by hitting the “Synchronize Now ?” button


Other Improved Features Include:

  • A simple, primarily graphics-based interface that minimizes language and literacy requirements.
  • Embedded tutorials and explanations to guide the user through the app.
  • Offline data collection
  • Unlimited access to stored data via our Data Portal at


Learn more about the LandPKS app on the website.  Training resources, including guides and online trainings, are also available on the website. The LandPKS app was developed by the LandPKS Team for the Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKs) with support from USAID and USDA-ARS.   Please contact us at with any questions, comments, or feedback.

LandPKS Tools: Overview Presentation at the Jornada Experimental Range

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The Land-Potential Knowledge System project (LandPKS) is based out of the USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range ( The Jornada focuses on the management of land resources in the southwestern US, as well as globally. The Jornada programs are comprised of long-term scientific investigations, experiments that contribute to national research objectives, development of technologies applicable to land management, and synthesis of information for public use. The Jornada works to find solutions to real problems.

A few weeks ago, the LandPKS team presented an overview of the new LandPKS App (Version 3.0) at the Jornada. Caitlin Holmes (LandPKS Program Coordinator) introduced the LandPKS team and discussed the new LandPKS website ( Amy Quandt (LandPKS Global Coordinator) presented an overview of the LandPKS app and how it is being used in Tanzania and Kenya to help land managers make more sustainable land management decisions. Jeff Herrick (LandPKS Project Lead) then provided an in-depth live demo of the app and walked the audience through how to use both the LandInfo and LandCover Modules. Shawn Salley (LandPKS Soil Scientist and Head of Research) presented the various research projects that the LandPKS team are working on. Lastly, Brandon Bestelmeyer (Researcher Leader at the Jornada) and Jeff Herrick discussed future linkages between LandPKS and EDIT (Ecosystems Dynamics Interpretive Tool) to support ecological site-based management decisions. The LandPKS team hopes that this video presentation is helpful to organizations and individuals interested in using new, innovative technologies for more sustainable land management. The LandPKS app is available for free on both the Google Play and iTunes Stores. Please contact us at with any questions or inquiries.

Linking Land Potential to Ecosystem Response

As part of a growing community of LandPKS users, we are highlighting use cases around the world. Below is one of the use cases from the United States.

At New Mexico State University, student researchers are using the LandInfo module of the LandPKS mobile application to augment a more detailed vegetation monitoring program designed to investigate the ecological impacts of brush control on big sagebrush communities in northern New Mexico. On research sites, the assessment of land potential based on soil properties is providing useful insight into ecosystem response to herbicide applications designed to achieve management objectives linked to livestock production and other ecosystem services. By linking LandPKS evaluations to plant and soil biological community response, researchers hope to develop best management practices for future brush control treatments to produce the desired results while also minimizing degradation risk.

Jeremy Schallner and Amy Ganguli (Graduate Student and Associate Professor of Range Science) Department of Animal and Range Sciences, New Mexico State University

LandCover: A Mobile Tool for Vegetation Monitoring

LandCover: A Mobile Tool for Vegetation Monitoring

By Amy Quandt

The Land Potential-Knowledge System (LandPKS; is creating mobile applications that help land managers collect, store, and analyze data in order to inform decision making, agricultural production, and vegetation monitoring and restoration.  It does this through the use of the LandPKS Mobile app, which is free to download and use for both Android and iPhone.  The LandPKS app currently has two modules: LandInfo and LandCover.

The major goal of the LandCover module is to assist users with collecting vegetation cover data using a point-intercept method.  LandCover is designed to be a simple, user-friendly substitute for traditional paper monitoring sheets for vegetation cover.  The only equipment needed is a meter/yard stick and the LandPKS app installed on a smartphone.  First, the user designates a center point of the plot.  Next, the user walks 5 meters/yards in one direction from the center, drops the stick, and enters which vegetation types directly touch the stick at 5 points along the stick, measures plant height, and establishes if there are canopy or basal gaps.  This is then repeated at 10, 15, 20, and 25 meters/yards along that given transect.  Lastly, this process is repeated in the 3 remaining transect.  Overall, this method yields 100 points of vegetation cover data per plot in about 20 minutes.

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Importantly, results are calculated immediately on the phone about cover type, plant cover, canopy height, and gaps.  In addition to receiving results on the phone, users can also access their data on our open-source data portal at  Further, a user can enter vegetation cover data for the same plot at various intervals and immediately get results about trends in vegetation cover.  LandCover can be used globally, and the module is currently being used extensively in the rangelands of Namibia and Kenya.

There are several important advantages of using the LandCover module for measuring vegetation cover.  First, it gets rid of paper forms that can be lost or damaged. Second, results are delivered immediately to a user without the need for extensive data analysis.  This benefit was mentioned by rangeland managers in Samburu County, Kenya, who told the LandPKS team that now they can see results directly on the phone themselves, instead of waiting months to maybe get results back from their headquarter offices.  This makes it easier and more efficient for real-time vegetation monitoring and decision making. Third, the LandCover module makes vegetation restoration efforts easy to monitor.  This has important implications for both maintaining wildlife habitat and encouraging the growth of fodder species for livestock.  Lastly, the LandCover results help natural resource managers make more sustainable decisions about their land, which can lead to greater productivity and less environmental degradation.  Download the LandPKS app to try out the LandCover module today!  For more information about LandPKS please visit our website at or e-mail us at


Introducing Heather Brown: Web Developer

The LandPKS Team would like to introduce Heather Brown, our new LandPKS Web Developer.  Heather has been working hard to improve both the usability and usefulness of the LandPKS website over the past few months.  Heather graduated with her Masters of Library and Information Science degree from San Jose State University in May 2016. Her focus was in web design and information architecture. Heather is responsible for designing and maintaining web pages of Land Potential and Portal websites. Her most recent project included constructing a new website for Land Potential with the help of several of our enigmatic team members.
In order to create the new site Heather had to research all available web builders to see which one would best serve our needs and enable the growth of our organization and project. Once the web builder was chosen she had to import all relevant data and text into the new site. With the help of our graphic designer and local coordinator, the theme, color scheme, and page images were chosen. With the new site up and running Heather will be responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of the site and providing assistance where needed. She is hoping to be able to develop plugins relevant to our project’s work and upload them to WordPress for more organizations to employ.
On a more personal note, Heather enjoys gardening, crafting, and trying new recipes. She believes that living in the southwest provides a fun challenge when trying to construct a garden.

Location Matters! LandPKS Can Provide Point-Scale Soil Information

The Land Potential-Knowledge System (LandPKS; was created to help put valuable information about the land, including climate, soils, and vegetation, in the hands of land managers across the world.  It does this through the use of the LandPKS Mobile app, which is free to download and use for both Android and Iphone.  Importantly, LandPKS is a way to both input and access data that is point-based and georeferenced. The LandInfo module is one component of the LandPKS app and allows the user to obtain information about the soil directly beneath their feet. The LandInfo module walks a user through digging a hole and hand-texturing the soil to determine the soil texture and available water holding capacity or AWC. Future versions of LandInfo will also include infiltration rates, organic matter, soil color, and have algorithms that match the user-input data about soil texture with global soil maps to provide the user with the specific name of their soil.

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The point-based model used by LandPKS is incredibly powerful because in many parts of the world the soil varies significantly from place to place and these changes in soil types can have dramatic impacts for farmers and others aiming to utilize that land.  One excellent example is from the village of Nyamihuu, located near Iringa, Tanzania (image below).  With local farmers, the LandPKS team dug three LandInfo Plots within a short distance from each other on a slightly sloping landscape.  The differences in soil texture and AWC were quite drastic, with the Lower Field having almost double the AWC of the Upper Field.  This has serious implications for farmers because the Lower Field will be generally more productive due to the greater ability to hold water in the soil for crops to utilize.  Further, the Forest plot had by far the lowest AWC, which is important because it suggests that clearing the forest for cultivation may not be worth the effort and environmental impact.


The lesson here is that location matters!  Soil can vary from one farm to the next, and LandPKS can empower farmers, agricultural extension agents, and others to gain access to site-specific soil information.  Knowing your soil texture and AWC can influence what decisions are made.  First, it can help a land manager decide if they want to farm a piece of land or not.  As the example of the Forest plot above shows, some land is not suitable for agriculture, and LandPKS can help provide knowledge to show this.  Second, soil texture and AWC may influence decisions about crop selection or crop varieties.  Planting crops that are suitable for their specific soil will help farmers increase production and farm more sustainably.  For example, the farmer on the Upper Field may want to plant more drought resistant crops or practice water conservation measures in order to make up for the lower AWC of their farm.  Location matters, and LandPKS is one tool that can provide point-based, georeferenced data to those who need it to make more sustainable land management decisions.  For more information about LandPKS please visit our website at or e-mail us at

Online Training for Using the LandPKS App – Available Now!

Want to learn more about using the LandPKS app?  Interested in learning about how to access, analyze, and interpret your LandPKS results on the LandPKS Data Portal ( Now it is as easy as accessing our new online LandPKS training at  You can create an account to track your progress or use the training as a guest.  If you have any trouble accessing the training, please contact us as

The Role of LandPKS for Wildlife Conservation

Protected areas cover nearly 13% of the earth’s surface, illustrating the critical importance of conserving biodiversity globally (Barua et al. 2013).  However, wildlife habitat is not confined to protected areas and many wildlife species live and migrate in landscapes dominated by humans (Nyamwamu et al. 2015).  Thus, not only is effective protected area management important for conservation, but also maintaining human-dominated landscapes that can still function as wildlife habitat. The East African country of Kenya is world renowned for its wildlife, with over 10% of the land in national parks and much more in community-managed wildlife conservancies (Western et al. 2015).

In Kenya, the Land Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS; has been providing a valuable tool to help land managers, researchers, and rangeland managers effectively conserve and restore biodiversity. LandPKS is a free, open source, mobile app that provides users with information about the potential of their land, including identifying the soil type and monitoring vegetation growth or degradation.  Using the Land Cover module, a user can track changes in vegetation cover, including the restoration of important fodder species for both livestock and wildlife, as well as monitor the abundance of invasive, destructive plant species. The LandPKS app makes monitoring important areas for both wildlife and livestock easy and convenient, with instant results delivered directly to the user’s phone.


Managing land more effectively for wildlife also means managing land more effectively for communities that also rely on the same land for their livelihoods. LandPKS can help identify areas that are more suitable for rangeland, agriculture, wildlife conservation, and other uses. Matching land with suitable land-uses is critical for natural resource governance because it helps promote sustainable conservation and livelihoods simultaneously. Further, matching a land use to a suitable area will increase the ability of communities, and wildlife, to adapt to changing environmental conditions, such as increased drought frequency and severity. Further, in mixed-use areas of Kenya, such as the case study below, maximizing fodder species, and reducing undesirable species has benefits for both wildlife and livestock.


In the Laikipia and Samburu Counties in Kenya, complex historical land tenure systems have resulted in a patchwork of private ranches, community-owned conservancies, and open rangeland.  Here, rangeland degradation manifests itself through increased bare ground and replacement of perennial grasses by undesirable species, such as Acacia reficiens.  LandPKS is being used here to help assess the success of invasive species control methods.  LandInfo, was used to describe selected treatment sites, and provided data for biophysical matching with control sites.  LandCover was then used to collect data on various vegetation metrics.  Using LandPKS in Westgate and Kalama Conservancies helped to identify, match, and assess treatment and control plots for large-scale mechanical clearing of unwanted species and reseeding projects.  This type of vegetation restoration benefits livestock and wildlife, and can help conserve critical biodiversity.  LandPKS is one potential tool that can contribute to wildlife conservation, as well as effective natural resource governance and land use planning.

For more information about LandPKS visit our website at or visit our blog at

Barua, M., Bhagwat, S. A., & Jadhav, S. (2013). The hidden dimensions of human-wildlife conflict: health impacts, opportunity and transaction costs. Biological Conservation, 157, 309-316.

Nyamwamu, R.O., Mwangi, J. G., & Ombati, J. M. (2015). Untapped potential of wildlife agricultural extension mitigation strategies in influencing the extent of human-wildlife conflict: a case of smallholder agro-pastoralist in Laikipia County, Kenya. International Journal of Agricultural Extension, 3(1), 73-81.


Western, D., Waithaka, J., & Kamanga, J. (2015). Finding space for wildlife beyond national parks and reducing conflict through community-based conservation: the Kenya experiences. Parks, 21(1).

Manual Testing of the LandPKS App for Quality Assurance

Huong Tran is the Quality Assurance Coordinator for LandPKS. She is based in Las Cruces, NM and has been working with the project since Jan 2016. Huong’s primary roles with the project include creating test plans and test scenarios, working with software developers to ensure quality standards, and performing manual tests for various products of LandPKS. She enjoys catching LandPKS bugs before users do and is glad that she can contribute to provide confidence towards software quality.

Scenario testing is done to make sure that the end to end functioning of the LandPKS app and all the process flows are working well. In scenario testing, the tester puts herself in the end user’s shoes and figures out the real world scenarios or use cases which can be performed on the app by the end user. Scenario testing helps testers to explore how the app will work in the hands of an end user. This is very important for catching bugs in the LandPKS app and designing the app with users’ needs in mind.

Even though the main goal of testing is to be able to detect and catch many of the bugs, the automated tools cannot test for visual considerations like gestures, image color or font size. However, the manual testing that Huong does can judge these types of app features. Manual testing can also test the User Experience and User Interface. Any bugs in data connection and/or slope measurement, which are two critical functionalities of the LandPKS app, can also be caught with manual testing

In light of the fact that access to an Internet connection in Africa is still limited, Huong has prioritized her testing efforts and focused on the reliability of the apps in an unstable data connection environment. She has tried to replicate the scenarios that a common end user might face when s/he is in the field collecting data and using the app. Her tests are done to ensure that the GPS is still working well, the app is behaving as expected, and that entered data is saved when there is no network or data connection.