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In our continuing shift towards using the new Q&A feature and the new Activity grids as a framework for collaboration on PublicLab.org, we're encouraging people to post their work more in the spirit of Instructables.com -- "showing each other how to do something" rather than just telling people about something you've done. This shifts the emphasis from solely documenting what you've done, to helping others do it too. (image above from a Lego Technics kit)
There are several reasons we like this. A how-to guide (what we're calling Activities) must have extremely thorough and easy-to-follow steps (and may need to be revised if people get stuck). Perhaps even more importantly, its success (we hope) can be measured by how many people are able to follow the steps successfully, which exercises and fuels the power of broad communities and open science.
While there are various types of activities for various purposes, all of them ought to set out some basic information to help people get started:
Speaking of room for improvement, can folks suggest other important parts of an activity? With an eye toward making it easy for anyone to write and post activities, and for others to replicate them, what's the minimum necessary?
(IKEA Stonehenge. Justin Pollard, John Lloyd, and Stevyn Colgan designed an IKEA manual for Stonehenge, publishing it under the title HËNJ in the QI 'H' Annual)
We'd also like to suggest that people post things early -- to share ideas, solicit input, and acknowledge that most posted activities will go through some (if not many) revisions as people try them out and offer feedback. Could we even have a separate "Publish Draft" button so they're clearly marked as such, and people know they're encouraged to share early and often?
One important way we think will increase the chances that people will complete a replication of your activity is to simply write shorter activities -- perhaps breaking up a longer set of steps into several related modules. Instead of posting a long and complex activity, a few shorter ones -- each with a simple way to verify that the steps so far were correctly completed -- are much more accessible, and will tend to separate distinct possible causes of failure for easier troubleshooting.
Distinct modular activities can be linked and referenced to create a larger activity that might span, for example, building and verifying a tool functions properly, tool calibration, and lab or field tests of various materials using the tool. Even if the final activity cannot be completed without the previous activities first, breaking them out into distinct activities that build on each other will help the onboarding process.
Finally, beyond this overview, what more can we do to make it easy to write good activities? Some have suggested a kind of "assistance group" who could provide helpful tips and constructive critique to people posting on Public Lab. This sounds like a great idea, and potentially extra helpful to folks who are hesitant or unsure of what makes a good and thorough post.
Would "activity templates" be useful, to the extent that they can be generalized?
We're also, of course, posting some example Activities, such as this spectrometer calibration activity, which we hope will help set some conventions.
We're also interested in how people could be introduced to other activities on a topic once they complete the current one -- maybe there's a "sequence" of activities that grow in complexity? Or we could display a mini activity grid of "related activities" at the bottom of each one?
Finally, we're trying to figure out how people can request an activity for something they want to learn to do, but for which there is not yet an activity posted. This'll be especially important as we're starting out, since we have very few complete activities posted -- but it'll also be a great starting place for people hoping to share their knowledge and expertise. Our initial stab at this is to list "limitations and goals" for a given kit, clearly explaining the problem we'd like to solve. This is actually a list of questions using our new questions system -- and we imagine people might post an activity, then link to it as a proposed answer.
This is all quite new, and we'd love to hear other ideas for how this could work. And of course, if you're interested in giving it a try and writing an Activity, please do! Activity grids are going up on many wiki pages across the site, so if you have questions about where and how to post, please leave them in the comments below. Thanks!
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Asking and answering questions is at the very heart of Public Lab. It's how we get started, it's how we make progress, it's how we get to know each other and our environmental concerns. Dedicated readers will recognize that some "getting started" exchanges have been repeated countless times on the mailing lists. (PS To those of you who are high volume question answerers -- everyone is endlessly grateful for your responses!) While it's critical that that questions from newcomers, however repetitive, will always be welcome, generating a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) grid will lower the barrier to exchanging information.
There are two parts to the new automated FAQ system:
1) The new Question and Answer system that @Ananyo2012 built into the plots2 codebase this summer is up and running.
See it here: https://publiclab.org/questions And read more about it here: https://publiclab.org/wiki/public-lab-q-and-a
2) The FAQ Grid is a variation of the Activity Grid insofar as it's also generated by a powertag, and sorted by Likes.
FAQs will be on every "top-level" research page, see it here https://publiclab.org/wiki/spectrometry#Frequently+Asked+Questions
You can add an automated FAQ grid to any wiki page by using this code:
## Frequently Asked Questions
the button where people can ask a new question:
<a class="btn btn-primary" href="/post?tags=question:spectrometry&template=question">Ask a question about spectrometry</a>
the grid itself:
As @mathew reported back from Write The Docs, pruning an automated system of FAQs is superior to curating a manual one. Further, linking product support directly to documentation is so important that the Kits Initiative will move their knowledge base onto the Q&A, and will interact with customers using Q&A.
Early adopters on method specific mailing lists might consider subscribing to the relavant
question:foo tag on the website. (pssst this is the start of a medium term plan to move all mailing list interactions onto the website). For instance, spectrometry list members might want to subscribe here: https://publiclab.org/tag/question:spectrometry
Please write in with ideas and new suggestions! What do you think?
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The sheer number of posts on publiclab.org by contributors from all over the world about 1) how to build tools better, and 2) how to use them for making environmental observations is breathtaking, and at times, boggling. As Public Lab has grown, so much content has been generated that it has become unnecessarily difficult to know what the "latest and greatest" version is, what the next development challenges are, or simply where newcomers should begin.
In the past couple weeks, staff have begun "gardening" on PublicLab.org and writing some new web features.
People on the spectroscopy and near-infrared lists have been discussing how to better present the overall research areas to make it easier to get involved. For each of those two research areas, we made a new top-level page. See them at spectrometry and multispectral-imaging. On those new pages, we constructed a couple tables -- the main table organizes relevant research notes into a "ladder" of activities others can replicate. There are columns to describe what type of activity it is, the status of its documentation, and how many people have replicated it.
We made a "Request A Guide" button to capture ideas about what people would like to do but don't see listed yet:
We also drafted two other kinds of tables, one to track upgrades (additions, modifications) that people have made to particular tools (for instance, the desktop spectrometer):
...and another to hold questions related to a particular research area (for instance, spectrometry):
Check out this much easier, automated way to organize content into grids:
After creating the first grids manually, WebWorkingGroup quickly created an automated way to make the grids. We created a power tag to add an Activity Grid to your wiki page with just a few characters, like this:
This automated Activity Grid fills itself in with all research notes tagged with the key word you used. Consider the keyword "spectrometry": a grid on a wiki page created with the powertag
[activities:spectrometry] will pull in all content (notes/questions) tagged with the powertag
activity:spectrometry. Check it out on https://publiclab.org/wiki/sandbox, look at the tables, then click "edit" to see how the tables were generated. The tables have various columns, such as "difficulty" (like easy, moderate, or hard), which can be filled out by adding more tags on the research notes. We're working on a tagging interface to make tagging less mysterious:
These draft "Activity Grids" are ready for you to test drive! How?
...and to pipe content into the grid, go back to your original notes and add the powertag
activity:spectrometry. To fill out the columns for each activity, use the tagging interface to add additional powertags or directly type:
If you want any assistance, email email@example.com and we'll help you get it going!
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We've had some tremendous work on Public Lab software this past summer through our Google-supported Google Summer of Code program, where five students and several mentors have spent innumerable hours cooking up new features and abilities both on the PublicLab website and in the independent #webjack project.
Even just in the past month, we've seen (via Github Pulse):
Excluding merges, 9 authors have pushed 368 commits to master. 321 files have changed and there have been 7,047 additions and 1,217 deletions.
The program wraps up this week with many of the features having gone live over the past few weeks. Our five students have written up their work in a series of notes, which I'll link to here:
Thanks to all of our mentors for their ongoing input and support, with special thanks to the Community Development team, @liz and @stevie. I'd also like to shout out to @david-days, as well, who put an enormous amount of work into the Advanced Search project, and in particular, whose work was just merged for the first time last week in an epic rebase of hundreds of files and thousands of lines of code.
These projects, from including more languages on PublicLab.org to making it easier to find people and resources near you, all have helped to make Public Lab's collaborative model stronger, and we're eager to see how the new features promote the growth of our community.
All of our students this year were extremely productive, and we had our best-ever GSoC program, beyond all doubt. The fast pace of merging (twice weekly) was exciting and really ensured that student work tracked the master branch closely, and that new changes (with corresponding tests) were quickly and consistently integrated into production code instead of drifting off and resulting in larger, more difficult merges later. Thanks to all of our students for keeping up with this fast pace (and occasionally going faster than I could!). It was great to have students who knew how to do pull requests, write and run tests, and rebase their changes to make things efficient, so we could focus on doing great work.
One of the things which really made the difference this year was the way our #new-contributors work helped to ease students' entrance into the codebase, and we've asked the students to, in turn, produce some `help-wanted` and `first-timers-only` issues to draw yet more contributors into the project:
Amazingly, this has worked very well, and two new contributors (carolineh101 and ykl7) have committed code in the past two weeks, directly resulting from these outreach efforts. With so many well-documented and welcoming issues, we hope this is just the beginning. See the screenshot below for just a portion of our
So, all in all, a fantastic summer, and thanks to all who helped out!
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Hello everyone -- Jeff Warren and Gretchen Gehrke here, Public Lab's Research Director and Data Quality and Advocacy Manager, respectively. Over the next few months, we're hoping to share a series of posts covering different aspects of the concept of evidence. What is it evidence, what factors contribute to the importance of evidence, and how does all that relate to environment sensing?
We spend a lot of time thinking about different kinds of data and how to collect it. Well, imagine you've got some data. How does it compare to other kinds of data? How's it been used for action? How was it analyzed, stored, sent, presented?
We have a lot of questions and we'll be talking to a number of different people, from environmental lawyers to formal scientists, regulators and activists who've gone through this and have experience with the ins and outs of evidence. We're also looking to co-author blog posts and research notes with other individuals or groups, so if you're interested, please reach out! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In particular, we're going to look at some specific types of data we're interested in, related to the use of photography as evidence: for example, timelapses of turbidity events in water, or photographs of microscopic silica. We want to research how such data has been used in the past, but also document and discuss best practices for storing, transporting, and presenting it, with an eye toward environmental outcomes.
Broadly, we're thinking of doing posts on some of the following topics:
Before we kick this off, we'd like to share some of the questions that have motivated us, and ask you to chip in with your own questions -- and resources! We've already had a great opportunity to chat with Chris Nidel, who participated in an OpenHour on "proof" a few months ago, and we're eager to talk with a broad range of folks. In the comments, please list out some of the things you want to know about how environmental data can become evidence, and if possible, share a bit of background to help situate your questions.
These are just a few of our many questions, but please add your own below!
We'll also be adding some of our questions into the new Q&A system which was recently added to this site. As people add questions on the topic of
evidence, they'll appear here:
|How do you merge GPS logger data into photographs?||@warren||over 2 years ago||1||11|
|Who can vouch for, or interpret, evidence in court, and how is it weighed?||@warren||over 3 years ago||1||2|
|What are the limits to what can be interpreted from a photograph without an expert witness?||@warren||over 3 years ago||0||0|
|What are ways to strengthen photographic evidence in court?||@warren||over 3 years ago||1||0|
|What's the best way to archive/store a timelapse video?||@warren||over 3 years ago||1||3|
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It has been a month since Public Lab has left Val Verde, and a month since a very intensive Barnraising in which we literally met in a barn with incredibly interesting, creative and dedicated people. Sharing the event with the greater Public Lab community was foremost in our minds, until we got distracted with recent events – apologies for the late report.
Before I start, and because I plan to share this with my community, I want to answer the question that a lot of neighbors asked me: What is Public Lab and what do they do?
Okay, so. Public Lab is a lot of things: they focus on low-cost approaches to fill data deficits; they provide a crucial platform for interested parties and stakeholders to share ideas; they communicate with communities and help to uncover and research areas of human health and industry that are not being addressed. They help to provide tools and support to enable researchers to map the world's urban population who live in unauthorized settlements, for instance.
But what is Public Lab really do -- Without all of the language -- What do they do? In my opinion, I believe that Public Lab’s mission, the most important thing that they do, is spread this gospel:
The most efficient way to solve a problem is to communicate.
As a newcomer to the Public Lab community, Public Lab truly is an altruistic group of people who have a method and way of organization that works to solve problems. The regional barnraising event is another tool for Public Lab to share their innovative approach with other regions. We were very fortunate to have been able to host the event and want to thank Public Lab for the opportunity to be influenced by PL's way of thinking.
Public Lab does something different in that they do not place primary value on the outcome, but rather the work and the process. This is a refreshing point of view when you are locked in a battle as my community is with a local polluter. The focus is always the outcome.
If I can be allowed to be sentimental, since the Olympics are underway, successful athletes think this way. They focus on process, the moment and also employ innovation in finding ways to make their hard work take them further.
On a less local level, if each of us learns to communicate and collaborate with others to solve very real, pressing, human issues – such as biodegradability of ocean plastics – we have a chance to make change that we desire and leave the world not only in a better place. We can also leave the world a better place not only because pollution has decreased, we can leave the world a better place because we have learned to communicate and value each other -- a foundation for global peace and understanding.
Enough of that.
(Stay tuned for more pictures and events from the July Regional Barnraising in Val Verde).
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