In this document are some of the most asked questions about Public Lab (written in April 2011).
PLOTS FAQ The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science email@example.com
These questions were generated in discussion with members of the public who are somewhat familiar with the PLOTS organization.
PLOTS Basic Organization Information
What is PLOTS?
The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) develops inexpensive DIY techniques to change how people see the world in environmental, social, and political terms. We support individuals and groups whose unique local knowledge of places and conditions can identify problems and suggest methods towards achieving local environmental, social justice, and political goals. In partnership with communities, PLOTS creates and researches tools for environmental monitoring, maintains an open source, web-based location for collaboration, provides training, education and support for communities and assistance in creating outcomes in response to goals communities themselves set for each project.
Who is involved in PLOTS?
Community organizations, local residents, tech geeks, hobbyists, hackers, academics, geographers, artists, and activists are all involved in PLOTS. PLOTS has two overlapping entities: The PLOTS community and PLOTS staff. PLOTS staff is made up of a core group of founders who piloted tool, community development, and sought funding for the project in 2010. The staff is responsible for maintaining the organization, supporting specific initiatives, beginning and supporting research on new tools, organizing events and programs, and maintaining central infrastructure such as archives, web tools, and equipment. The broader PLOTS community is a diverse coalition, developed in the spirit of many open source software projects, though joint projects, collaborations, co-authored works, and skill sharing. For more information on the PLOTS core staff, please visit: http://publiclaboratory.org/about
Jeffrey Warren - Research Director Center for Future Civic Media Fellow, 2008-10; Partner & co-founder, Vestal Design; B.A. Yale; M.S. MIT, 2010
Liz Barry - Director of Urban Environments Director of TreeKIT; Faculty at Parsons, Pratt, Columbia. Urban designer and landscape architect, SOM 2007-09
Shannon Dosemagan - Director of Community Engagement, Education and Outreach Oil Spill Response Coordinator, Louisiana Bucket Brigade 2009-11; Grassroots Mapping Gulf Coast Coordinator; M.S. Anthropology 2009
Adam Griffith - Director of Science and Coastal Environments Director of Beachcare.org through the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, Teach for America, 1999-2001
Stewart Long - Director of Geography and Data GonzoEarth mapping services, Grassroots Mapping Gulf Coast map processing & publication lead
Mathew Lippincott - Director of Production and Production in Education Artist and Designer; Co-Founder of Cloacina; Partner, Biluna Birotunda Design; B.A. Oberlin College
Sara Wylie - Director of Toxics and Health Research Co-Director MIT Center for Future Civic Media ExtrAct Project, ABD MIT History Anthropology Science Technology and Society, Part-time faculty RISD Digital+Media Department, B.A. University of Chicago, Research-Intern Environmental Working Group.
How did PLOTS start?
The Grassroots Mapping community was founded in 2009 by Jeffrey Warren, then a graduate student at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media. The project began in Lima, Peru where Jeff worked with communities and activists to produce maps to support land tenure claims. In May 2010, members of the already growing Grassroots Mapping community joined with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to begin environmental monitoring of the BP Oil Spill with the balloon mapping kit. In collaboration with Shannon Dosemagen, Adam Griffith, and others, the Gulf Coast branch of the project has grown to over a hundred volunteers and activists who have produced dozens of data sets since the spill.
As activists and educators from around the world began joining the Grassroots Mapping community, we decided to formalize Grassroots Mapping in Fall 2010 as part of a broader organization, Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS). This has resulted in a new generation of tools which we are now testing at sites across the US and beyond. Our online tools for analysis, open-source research documentation, and collaboration, as well as our strong emphasis on face-to-face workshops has helped us to work with a variety of new communities, in West Virginia, Boston, New York, and Peru.
Other members have launched projects and initiatives in new sites; Portland-based Mathew Lippincott organized workshops to assemble balloon kits and ship them to Gulf Coast volunteers, and Liz Barry collaborated with Brooklyn-based activists to begin a monitoring of the Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup. Sara Wylie, whose work with communities, scientists, lawyers and activists developing web-tools for collective monitoring of gas and oil extraction is a natural match for PLOTS, co-leads the Environmental Justice research cluster at the Rhode Island School of Design with Jeff Warren, working with students to prototype PLOTS tools.
What will full time PLOTS staff do? Isn't this a volunteer initiative?
Full-time PLOTS staff are facilitators of data gathering by community volunteers, developers of new research tools, and institutionally responsible for maintaining and growing the PLOTS community. PLOTS staff guide communities through the process of determining what type of data would be most beneficial to have, gathering and analyzing that data, and affecting change once the community is armed with information. PLOTS staff train community volunteers on research, develop new hardware/software tools, and support the community by maintaining the server and software that activists in the field use to process and analyze their DIY-collected data. Staff also act as translators between PLOTS volunteers and professional communities of scientific practice, bridging data and adapting techniques to volunteer practices.
What kinds of paid relationships will you engage in with your partner communities? How will you distinguish between employees and community members?
PLOTS is trying to bridge the distance between DIY Maker culture, open-source software communities, environmental sciences and communities managing environmental health issues. Presently, only PLOTS staff members are paid in order to support their work traveling to communities, training communities, developing tools, and supporting communities’ data analysis. As a project progresses, PLOTS staff transfer knowledge to the local group, identify which community members could become project leaders, provide on-site support to these leaders and then shift to remote technical assistance, all over the course of several months. The goal is to set up communities in new areas that can continue activities after the initial engagement with PLOTS staff. Advocacy support (for instance, adding the Public Laboratory brand behind a compatible initiative that is seeking to partner with us) is something we have proposed billing for -- as in the case of an upcoming contract to assist a Great Salt Lake wildlife documentary project.
In some cases, a community group may seek funding through PLOTS or other organizations to establish and ensure a sustained relationship with PLOTS staff and community, for instance for continuing workshops and tool customization; in this case the groups will combine qualifications to submit a grant or approach donors to fund the community group to sub-contract to PLOTS. As a community member becomes increasingly active in core PLOTS “foundation” activities (hardware development, software development, initiating and funding new project sites and community contacts), the individual may be approached to join PLOTS as an employee.
How can I become part of PLOTS? How do I find projects in my area?
The first step for many members has been to join the mailing list and contribute solutions from their area of expertise while learning from others. To see if there is a project in your area, visit the “Places” page on the Public Laboratory website or send an email over the listserv to connect with people in your area.
We will soon be expanding this part of our website with a “Start a Chapter” page that draws on examples from Meetup.com, as well as the decentralized models used by OpenStreetMap and the Dorkbot electronics meet-up groups. We currently offer a “Place” web page for any organization or group that wishes to host a PLOTS chapter, and free hosting for open source data. We are working on providing tips and supporting materials for how to reach out to your neighbors and provide basic steps on how to get started using PLOTS tools. We will also attempt to match “sister” sites between areas facing similar environmental challenges, kick-starting efforts and promoting the sharing of research, techniques, and tips.
What can I do if I’m not able to be involved in the data collection part of a project?
A lot! We are always looking for people that are interested in contributing to discussions on tool research and design, people who can work on map production, individuals that can help with research, people interested in policy and outcomes of data collections, and others that want to work with the media, help fundraise, or work on administrative tasks. See our Contribute page at http://publiclaboratory.org/contribute to learn about specific ways you can chip in. One very easy way is to assist in sorting imagery from ballooning missions -- by visiting our online sorting tool at Mapmill.org. Whoever you are, there is a place for you at PLOTS!
How can I give feedback?
Join the Public Laboratory mailing list! The link is located on the home page of publiclaboratory.org in the “Ongoing Discussions” box. Email one of the PLOTS staff members: our email addresses are our first firstname.lastname@example.org. A list of staff and their focus within the organization can be found on the “About” page of the Public Laboratory website.
PLOTS Programs and Model
How are new PLOTS sites identified and begun; how does it scale?
New PLOTS sites are typically created by an individual bringing PLOTS tools and methods to support an ongoing local concern or effort by place-based groups, communities, or organizations. Because our tools are fairly simple to construct and do not require large financial or time investments, projects can be initiated quickly and with little funding. Projects develop as communities contribute data back to PLOTS and become engaged in the process of interpretation.
Projects scale horizontally -- many of our volunteers became involved because they had a social connection to a current participant and an interest in some aspect of the PLOTS process.
Currently we have projects and partners in the Gulf Coast region, North Carolina, West Virginia, California, Oregon, New York, Boston, Providence and Lima, Peru. Our work with community groups in these regions provides a connection point to a larger web of NGOs and an existing network of grassroots participants. We are already working with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Coal River Mountain Watch, Esceulab.org, Saberes Nomadas, Boston Climate Action Network, and OpenMapsCaucasus. We intend to strengthen our organizational ties to Oil and Gas Accountability Project, Environmental Working Group, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, and National Affordable Housing Network as we pursue our toxics work further. In the last two months we have additionally been invited to lead mapping programs in Salt Lake, Utah; Butte, Montana; Lome, Togo; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Nairobi, Kenya.
What outcomes will result from PLOTS data? What uses does data collected by PLOTS tools have for communities?
Although data (such as maps at high spatial and temporal resolution, rainbow-like spectra indicating unique chemical compounds) are one of the most tangible outcomes, the entire process from organizing a fun, hands-on workshop to using the data in advocacy campaigns has its own value. The workshops garner the participation of multiple people and thus the use of PLOTS tools can help in capacity building around an issue, foster local conversation around topics of concern, serve as a mechanism for strengthening community bonds and trust and further engage individuals in the process of collaboration while identifying and working on ways to solve community problems. The process that PLOTS engages in at each site works to build and legitimize local expertise, leveraging local knowledge into high-quality data resources that inform the public debate, as well as collectively identify health hazards, policy hold-ups, and legal issues.
The collection of data by communities provides a way for locals to more directly interact with the constituents that make decisions. Locals can supply media outlets with authoritative locally-produced data that categorically differs from the typical heartfelt story that the media turns to locals to supply. For instance, when BP effectively initiated Temporary Flight Restrictions, which kept media from flying below 4,000 ft in the Breton National Wildlife Refuge area during the first weeks of May, mappers were able to capture images of the Chandeleur Islands with a balloon launched 1,500ft up, as oil began to wash ashore. Throughout the mapping of the BP oil spill, the imagery and data collected have been used by journalists and others documenting the oil's effects, from the New York Times to Wikipedia, and our images have served to depict the disaster in greater depth and detail than many traditional sources. We have also supported local news in reporting on nearby environmental crises, such as the Brooklyn Eagle's reporting on the Gowanus Canal cleanup monitoring. Through data that they have collected, locals can also engage with scientists and researchers that might be looking for, or trying to collect, similar data sets that people from the community already have. Data that is collected may also be used in the legal defense of community resources (such as fisheries in the Gulf Coast), but we also envision working with communities beyond litigation in helping to restructure policy and environmental regulations in the communities where our tools are put to use.
Some of this data that people collect can be sensitive in nature. What precautions or training will be provided to ensure that this information is handled in a way that doesn't compromise the safety of people that utilize the tools you develop?
We are actively and continuously attempting to identify risks to ourselves and the PLOTS community. We think of ourselves as a community of engaged participants rather than as producers and users. Here are some risk issue areas we have identified and are actively developing policies to manage and balance:
1) Protecting PLOTS community members Identities and ensuring communities can determine how they use and share their data, while fostering transparency in data collection procedures.
PLOTS staff, having worked in polarized environmental health fields such as toxics and oil and gas accountability, have experience working with issues and communities where data, and identifying information, can be extremely sensitive. Shannon Dosemagen, Director of Community Engagement, Education and Outreach, has worked in communities throughout the Louisiana Chemical Corridor where structural imbalances between communities and companies create challenges for community-based research and a need for sensitivity in releasing data and identifying information. Sara Wylie, Director of Toxics and Health Research, has experience developing websites for monitoring the oil and gas industry in which the identity of users as well as their data needs to be protected. We will work to protect PLOTS community members by not requiring that they provide identifying information if they do not wish to, and by allowing individual PLOTS communities to restrict access to their data and personnel. While all of PLOTS tools will be open source, we do not require all of our community members publish data produced with PLOTS tools. PLOTS staff will work with individual communities to determine publication and information sharing strategies that make sense for them and their organizations. We are already practicing this model: In Peru, maps were never rectified or made into standard formats, and we often look to the text “Practical Ethics for Participatory GIS Practitioners”, published by Giacomo Rambaldi et al. We are also developing a working ethical framework for structuring partnerships around grassroots data authoring, which we plan to publish for public use.
2) Organizational Capture: The risk of PLOTS tools and data being put to uses counter to PLOTS mission to work in the public interest to ameliorate and identify environmental health risks to communities:
PLOTS staff does reserve the right to opt out of working with communities or organizations who we believe are misusing the PLOTS tools, for instance, to work against public interest, to undermine citizen organizations or to turn the larger PLOTS community away from our civic science roots. The details of this policy are being developed in our ethical framework for structuring partnerships. We will be evaluating the strength of this framework through our project working with the World Bank, Red Cross and Plan Togo to map near Lome, Togo. We are concerned that this contract may draw us away from our grassroots science model, but we are pursuing this contract to field test our internal policies and evaluate our ability to ensure that PLOTS tools are used in the interest of the communities gathering the data and civic science.
3) Risks to PLOTS community members in development and use of the tools.
We are aware that PLOTS tools, since they are home made and employed by non-experts, may be hazardous to people unfamiliar with their use. For instance, grassroots mappers should not launch balloons or kites near power lines. However, through our rigorous tool testing and usage, we do everything we can to reduce risk for end users. As we produce new tools, we document hazards and create simple warnings for users in our instructions and trainings. Unlike tools that you use out of the box without looking at instructions, PLOTS tools require reading instructions and warnings during the process of building the tools. Additionally, the rapid adoption of new tools by an active, on-line community allows for a faster learning curve and subsequent risk reduction.
PLOTS community members and staff may actually increase their exposure to environmental hazards by investigating contaminated sites and this has also been identified as a risk. PLOTS always informs volunteers of potential risks, appropriate precautions, and risk reduction strategies. PLOTS holds that it is equally important to foster a community of learning about what we are doing and the environmental issues we are addressing as it is to for use to be spreading and teaching new communities about how to use the tools. Specific recommendations will be made for each tool.
These seem like great tools to engage kids in their environment and technology. Will PLOTS develop education materials and curricula geared towards youth?
Yes; we have already worked extensively with youth and are developing open curricular materials. In addition to the extensive youth experience of PLOTS founders, we have several partners in youth education: Somerville, MA based Parts & Crafts, Cambridge, MA based NuVu Studio, and Lima, Peru based Manzanita “A”, with whom we are designing new programs around vegetation monitoring, spectrometry, and balloon mapping.
How do I submit a project proposal and how do I publicize it?
If you are interested in starting a project in your community using PLOTS tools and organizational support, the best way to propose your project is to first see if there are other projects addressing a similar issue of concern in your community. If so, we suggest contacting them to figure out potential collaborations or partnerships that can be developed with other local organizations that you have identified. Once you have an idea about the type of project you would like to engage in, send a message through the Public Laboratory listserv. Although PLOTS currently does not have the funding structure in place to support each proposed project, staff will assist in creating a “project-based fundraising” campaign and be able to provide organizational support- trainings, workshops, data interpretation, and outcome based assistance- that we have contributed with our other projects. In the next two years (by late 2012), we will have developed a formal process for project submissions and will have funding available to support community projects.
(also see Start a Chapter, above)
Are there any legal issues that I would need to address before undertaking a PLOTS project?
Each site can present different conditions for monitoring practices. Before undertaking a project, we encourage, and can assist communities in learning about the different issues of property, access, and regulation present in their area. Typically, rules (as opposed to formal laws and regulations) that might affect the use of each tool are localized. For instance, industrial facilities are often sensitive to people “trespassing” on land next to their facility. PLOTS provides general safety information that can be applied in different areas, and as a rule our processes are designed to monitor spaces with public access using unregulated tools and techniques.
For example, with Grassroots Mapping we’ve built kite and balloon safety into our curriculum, we write our names on equipment, and we stay five miles away from airports, well below the cloud line. We design all of our equipment to be non-hazardous and in accordance with FAA code 101.7. To avoid exposing our partners to unnecessary legal risks, our recommended kits are always designed to fly in an unregulated category. We keep all our recommended balloon kits at under 115 cubic feet, and use kites no larger than 6ft. In each of the kits that we distribute and sell, we will have legal codes for ballooning included as an insert with a prompt to visit the Public Laboratory website for the most up-to-date information on legal codes and flight hazards. PLOTS requires volunteers that are working with PLOTS staff to sign liability waivers before the start of each field session, and we provide a quick reference card to our rights and responsibilities while engaging in monitoring practices.
PLOTS and Communities
Who is your typical user?
We prefer to use the term colleague, collaborator, or partner instead of user as each of our projects in done in cooperation with communities. In our existing work, we see diverse interest from NGOs, technologists, governing bodies, kite enthusiasts, students, artists, and activists; however many are residents of the communities facing environmental issues, and we consider these residents-- especially in under-served communities-- to be our primary focus. Under-served communities facing environmental issues are often the subjects of scientific research by outsiders who cannot truly know the needs and interests of the community. With PLOTS tools, communities can become investigators of the subjects of concern to them, and through the process come to understand and own the results. At the outcomes, end “users” can range from the media to scientists and policy makers.
For example, on the Gulf Coast, community members from Dauphin Island and students from Mobile, Alabama, teamed up to use aerial mapping tools over the course of three months in documenting Dauphin Island. Once back in the classroom, the students worked on the process of creating maps, critically engaging with others from the Grassroots Mapping network- suggesting multiple ropes attached to balloons to help keep balloons from floating too far away, better ways to track the image path with data loggers, and having printed maps to annotate on-the-ground observations. In the end, students gave presentations of their final outcomes- describing both the successes and problems that they had in each step of the process and recommendations they had for future work.
From their experience with PLOTS, a student commented, “… it gives our communities a chance to fight back. We were basically able to make our own Google Earth. It made us realize that we don’t always have to rely on companies or what they say. This process gave us the confidence to do things that we might have thought were too complicated or troublesome - you can really do so much with relatively little.”
Why will people come to your site, or reach out to you to work together?
People find Public Laboratory by word of mouth or by reading about us in the news. We have extensive networks within the NGO, hacker, mapping, and design communities that we work with to develop further partnerships. Communities and NGOs reach out to work with us if they have a situation where they are trying to collect community-level data and think that our tools and methods can benefit the work that they are doing. People in the tech, mapping and design communities typically reach out to us to collaborate on projects that they are working on or tools that we are developing because of similarities between each project.
Why would community members choose to spend time with PLOTS tools and programs? In the Gulf Coast and Gowanus Canal sites, we have attracted interest and participation because our activities are fun but environmentally and socially engaged. In both sites, people have come together around a particular environmental concern, and, rather than simply appealing to scientific and political authorities, are actively engaged in innovating new ways to monitor and assess contamination and the health of their local ecologies.
How will you begin working in new communities where you have no contacts or presence? In the communities where we have worked before, we have found natural connections that guide the partnerships we create. For instance, during the first week of the oil spill, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) launched an instance of Ushahidi to map the oil spill. LABB was featured in a CNN article with Grassroots Mapping technology that Jeff Warren was hoping to utilize on the Gulf Coast. Jeff connected with LABB and after several trainings, handed over outreach and mapping to the organization. In communities that we have worked in, there are typically natural community leaders in place who know what is happening in their community and what their community needs are- the critical action is to find them. To lend our support, we identify potential connections within our extensive networks and then connect with people in the local area who are interested in using our tools in collaboration with projects they currently have in progress, or have had a long-term desire to start.
Will you have a physical presence in partner communities? What kind?
The geographic diversity in the PLOTS core staff allows us to have some PLOTS members working throughout the duration of each project in their own region such as on the Gulf Coast, New York, and in North Carolina. When we work in an area where there are no PLOTS staff, we first reach out to the larger PLOTS community to see if there are individuals located in that area. Between PLOTS staff and community members, there is at least one individual (and ideally 2-3) that works in the community to set-up the project, run workshops and training sessions and participate in at least 1-2 “field” sessions within the project area. PLOTS staff are also typically available to advise on other partnerships and collaborations that communities can create and to help develop a monitoring schedule appropriate to the area. Many times, there will be repeat visits from PLOTS staff to do further trainings or workshops, at the request of community members. PLOTS staff have also interacted with communities through teaching workshops over Skype.
How will PLOTS assist in interpretation, dissipation, advocacy and action after data collection?
The outcomes of projects are a critical part of the PLOTS mission and thus we view our partnership with each community as not ending at the conclusion of a mapping flight, the production and stitching of a map, or the return of data to communities. PLOTS will take the lead in ensuring that data is accurately interpreted, is returned, accessible and available. We will make expertise available to help communities respond to technical questions about their data, and develop plans for data use that meet communities’ shared goals. PLOTS will additionally act as advocates for the communities that we work in, but also engage as advisers in advocacy, policy, and legal work that communities decide to pursue based on the data that they have collected. PLOTS Technology and Research
How is this different from the Make and DIY movements?
DIY is a production method for technology to which PLOTS adds a process of inquiry. A central impulse of DIY is understanding and control through self-production with available materials, and PLOTS is an outgrowth of this ideal- we make tools by rapid prototyping with opportunistically repurposed materials. To make something is to have a sense of ownership of it, and we extend this sense to scientific data. PLOTS provides technical encouragement and how-tos like other DIY practitioners, but our focus is trustable data methodologies and reproducible results from experiments conducted by well-supported non-professional investigators. DIY aims to make technology something anyone can develop- PLOTS aims to make scientific research something anyone can do well.
How do you plan to get PLOTS data recognized in academia, in the media, by the public, by the government?
Aside from issues of calibration and technical data veracity addressed below, the subject of how our data can become authoritative is of clear importance to our project. First, we are developing chain of custody practices and other established scientific methods to assure that our data is clean and well-documented- and at some point, has the potential of being legally admissible. We hope to draw upon legal advice to determine if legal admissibility is possible and what steps we can take to make that happen. Our cautious optimism is based in part on the increased use of cell phone photography and video in legal decisions -- the idea that consumer-grade recording and photographic devices could affect legal outcomes must have sounded odd to the inventors and scientists who developed these photographic processes, but we feel that we are now approaching that phase in the development of DIY aerial imaging.
Of course, the range of formats in which we publish our work will go a long way toward broader acceptance of our data; we have already signed a contract with Google to have our data included in Google Earth and Google Maps; in addition we are corresponding with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to have it included in a public data archive of BP oil spill imagery. Both organizations have specific format and metadata requests which we are striving to meet. Presenting our work at scientific conferences and getting it published in peer-reviewed journals will also play a large role in its acceptance in the research community.
What quality control, calibration and verification measures will the project implement to facilitate good data collection?
We're producing white papers & academic papers to assess and situate our tools and data alongside their traditional counterparts, and constant comparison with existing technologies has already shown we have "competitive" precision. However, in most of our tools we make very different compromises than existing tools -- for example, our balloon kit emphasizes high resolution and small areas of coverage, low cost but high repeatability, ease of use but a low yield of good photos. This makes our map data orders of magnitude better than the nearest competitor, but also orders of magnitude lower coverage area. (for a breakdown on these costs, see Sustainability Plan, part 2(c))
For some tools, almost no degree of calibration or verification is likely to result in the data becoming legally admissible -- but a lower-grade instrument might help users refine their search for, say, contamination -- allowing them to identify pollution “hot spots” before paying for more expensive “official” testing.
Finally, we have already begun working with traditionally accredited experts in a variety of related fields to provide for rigorous review of our tools and procedures. With a cartographer, an ecologist and remote sensing specialist, and other experts already on our staff, we hope to leverage existing literature and research to build reliable, consistent and powerful tools whose data we can verify and trust.
Do i need my own equipment?
In larger community-based project sites such as the Gulf Coast and Gowanus canal, PLOTS is supplying the equipment for aerial mapping. If you are interested in testing out one of the PLOTS tools on your own, in the upcoming months you’ll be able to purchase an advanced or basic starter kit on the Public Laboratory website to give you a good start on trying out the mapping process. Similar kits will become available with other tools that are currently in development. Many times we find that people get excited by experimenting and creating new iterations of the kit and thus purchase more equipment to experiment with.
How does the information we report get to "the people that matter"? Who are the people that matter? i.e., the government (which government: state, county, parish, town, USA?); the offending company? companies? etc.
Our highest priority is to close the loop on data production and distribution -- unlike many “crowdsourcing” projects, we do our best to make sure the residents of an area, and those who created the data, are the primary “audience” once it has been processed -- in the case of maps, that means printing maps and publishing them online at http://grassrootsmapping.org/data, and making sure they’re legible.
However, among our longer-term goals is the distribution and acceptance of locally-produced data by government, industry, and the sciences. Towards that goal, we have begun planning an outreach program to contact and promote our independent datasets to scientists, policymakers, environmental lawyers, and even commercial map vendors such as Google. This work has already begun, and a major part of it is ensuring that our data is in compatible formats for a wide audience, from PDFs to GIS formats like GeoTiffs and TMS tilesets.
To ensure that the data is accessible and widely available in these diverse formats, we are in the midst of constructing a Data.gov-style data portal and archive, where our existing maps will be available for download or as printed maps. As we expand into new types of data -- for example, spectrometry databases and vegetation analysis, we will adapt the data portal to accommodate new formats.
How do we know what happens to the data? Do we get a report? Are there meetings?
Our approach to data outreach is two-pronged: as mentioned above, aside from making sure data finds its way back to participating local communities in hard copy, we are beginning a periodical map publication -- one side of which will be an archival quality map in full color, and the other side of which will include updates on community research, field notes and commentary by local experts, illustrated instructions on new techniques, and a means for residents of the depicted site to add additional notes and observations via mail and online, as part of an ongoing monitoring of the site in question. The distribution of each issue of this publication may also be accompanied by local events and public discussions.
The second initiative, mentioned in the previous Frequently Asked Question, is our upcoming online data portal and archive, a kind of inverse Data.gov, where locally-produced data will be presented in accessible, searchable formats for government, industry, and journalistic uses. This will provide a key point of access for those seeking to leverage our unique data, whether they are journalists looking to research a contaminated site, policymakers learning about important environmental issues, or lawyers establishing a legal case. The data portal will eventually expand to offer digital analysis tools, visualizations, and a usage guide with suggestions for how to get the most out of the rich data flowing from our partner communities. It will also include a request box for those looking to recruit grassroots assistance in documenting environmental issues.
Finally, we seek to engage a broader audience not only as consumers, but as producers and participants in data collection and analysis -- participants in every step of the data life cycle. Towards that end, we have a number of digital outreach/participation initiatives which invite people to help sort incoming imagery in preparation for map creation, to help analyze spectral readings, and even produce maps themselves, online. One particularly interesting example is the MapMill.org site, which turns the sometimes onerous task of sorting images from a balloon mission into a kind of Hot-or-Not game, and which serves as a “gateway” activity to turn our considerable online audience into actively contributing members of the community.
What will be your primary source of income, and your primary expense?
Our primary expenses are salaries in positions crucial to program development including outreach, education, research, design, and production for tools, techniques, and processes.
What kinds of relationships will you form with traditional commercial companies, especially around your technologies and tools?
Traditional companies may choose to sponsor Public Laboratory tools, workshops, publications, or the organization itself. Because we re-purpose common objects for new and innovative purposes -- often dramatically expanding their utility -- the manufacturers of those products are potential sponsors. For example, one tool in particular, the DIY aerial mapping kit, uses the Canon Hack Development Kit extensively, and has led people with connections to the company to encourage us to seek sponsorship from Canon -- specifically in relation to the tool’s use in documenting the BP oil spill. The design also uses 2-liter bottles as a camera housing, presenting an opportunity to cross-sponsor with a bottler, perhaps printing instructions and endorsements directly onto bottles. We have received a donation of an Android phone with onboard accelerometers, GPS, and data logging capabilities, and are seeking additional units.
To protect our community’s hardware development, we will be an early adopter of open source hardware licenses -- the product of a new movement which draws upon the examples and mechanisms of open-source software licensing to provide protections for the open use, adaptation, and distribution of hardware technologies. PLOTS members Bonnie Gregory, Cesar Harada, and Mathew Lippincott participated in drafting The Open Source Hardware (OSHW) Statement of Principles and Definition v1.0, which states that, “Open source hardware is hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design.” This is particularly important to our collaborations with many of the companies we have already begun to share advice, designs, and practices with -- including some developing hyperspectral scanning, spectrometry, and UAV technologies -- because the mutual use of such licensing can protect us from intellectual property claims and legal disputes, while protecting our mutual ability to improve our designs based on technology sharing.
How will this project be perpetuated beyond the grant period?
We have an organizational budget in place that details income and expenses for the first three years. This budget will be located on the Public Laboratory website under “Budget”. PLOTS has a diverse income plan which includes retail sales, project-based fundraisers, support from academic institutions, contract work, foundation grants, publication production and subscriptions, individual contributions, membership, contributions from corporations, and government grants. We anticipate that as we grow and mature, we will be better able to leverage income sources and reduce our reliance on grant income.