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Reaching out to groups on tool development

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***The word “Group” on this page used as an umbrella word for any community group, non-profit or other assembly of people (i.e. classes, clubs, workshops).

This page is designed to help people who are interested in working with groups on environmental exploration and tool development identify which groups are appropriate to reach out to given the current state of the tool (i.e. what the tool can do, how accurate it is, how much time it takes).

Reaching out to Groups

Collecting data for a community science program can be a rewarding experience for tool developers and community groups.

Tool developers can learn:

  • how the tool could be used to answer more of the community’s questions as they relate to tools,
  • how the tool relates to actions the community can take, such as garnering attention or even getting a regulatory judgement,
  • what it’s like to use the tool for the first time,
  • where the sticking points are in people walking through tool use steps, and
  • how well documentation is done or where it could be furthered.

Community groups using a tool in exploring environmental questions can:

  • understand how tool development and monitoring work,
  • develop an understanding about a health concern and the discourse around it, deepen their ability to communicate about a problem,
  • contribute to tool development that could ultimately help them to answer environmental questions they have, and
  • learn about their environment through using the tool.

In order to integrate a data collection tool into a community process, the use-cases for data should be clearly outlined, and the outcomes participants can expect should be understood. In evaluating if a tool is a place where it is good to reach out to a group to work with it, you should consider the current state of your tool, what a user would need to do or have to work with it, and what questions your tool can answer. You should aim to find a group who is a good match for the project. The table below categorizes groups and their likeliness in working on the project. The activity below will walk you through identifying where a group might fall in these categories.

Urgent Not Urgent
Able Will work on the project and can use it in their community or work setting. Will work on the project for interests other than their specific environmental concerns.
Not Able Will not work on the project based on project limitations but has the most need for what the kit could do in the future. Will not work on the project. Could potentially use the kit, but does not have resources to dedicate to it or a direct need for the kit as it exists.

Activity :: Examining potential groups to work with

This activity is meant to help people who are working on tool development (or projects with tools) evaluate if a group should be reached out to based on the stage of development the tool is currently at. The activity will not always be accurate, and does not ensure that a group that is defined as a “good group to reach out to” will actually participate in the project. Rather it is meant to walk you through questions to ask yourself and alert you to barriers a group might have in working on the project.

As a project progresses, the status of the tool or circumstances of a community group changes, revisit this activity to reexamine who to reach out to. For example, it could be that while a group did not have enough time before, they now may have more time freed up, or the tool no longer takes as long to use.

As you consider who to reach out to on the project, walk through these questions with answering about each group you are considering. Section 1 will help you examine the level of urgency a group has in relationship to the environmental question the tool is addressing. Section 2 will walk through a group's potential ability to engage in the project. This activity does not take into account factors that could influence the risk in reaching out to a group on a project such as political sensitivity on the issue, undesired data outcomes and social sensitivity.

Section 1: Evaluating Urgency

A community group had a degree of urgency in a problem your tool explores if there was an imminent threat to their health or environment from something the tool addresses. For example, mercury is a known neurotoxin and exposure has a direct impact on human health. If the tool you are working on explores mercury levels in soil, a group would have a high degree of urgency on the problem if they live in an unremediated place that is designated a superfund site for mercury contamination.

If a group has a high degree of urgency in a problem, it can mean that a group’s interest in what the tool addresses is important to them and often personal. The questions below will help you evaluate a group’s level of urgency. Remember, even if a group has a high level of urgency, it does not necessarily mean they are a good group to reach out to at this point in the project. Section two will help you determine this.

1) Is there an imminent threat to the health of people in the group, or those they share relations with, from a pollutant the tool addresses?

YES: High Urgency. This group has a high level of urgency around this environmental health problem. They are most sensitive to the issue, and would most benefit from having a tool that helps them answer questions about the pollutant. They are most in need of a tool that helps them to influence change in their situation. However, they are also high risk in that they have the most to lose in terms of what the tool could or could not do for them. People’s ability to commit to the project (Section 2) should be heavily weighed in the prospect of moving forward in collaborating with this group on the tool. It should also be noted that these issues are probably personal to the group, and the issue can also have sensitive social, political and economic aspects. Continue to question 4

NO: Continue to question 2

2) Is there an imminent threat to the local environment from a pollutant the tool assesses?

YES: Medium Urgency. This group has a medium level of urgency around this pollutant. Their concerns and risks might not be health related, but the risk of a pollutant affecting their local environment can be a sensitive issue. The issue potentially has a strong effect on their way of life. People’s ability to commit to the project (Section 2) should be weighed when moving forward with collaboration on the tool. This issue can also have sensitive social, political and economic aspects. Continue to question 4

NO: Continue to question 3

3) Does the group have an interest in working with the tool on questions of well being related to their community?

YES: Lower Urgency. The group is not facing a known imminent threat to their health or environment on the topic. They could be interested in the tool if they suspect there might be pollution the tool addresses from a source in their community, or their interest could be purely about environmental exploration. Continue to question 4

NO: Continue to question 5

4) Does the tool, in its current state, address the question the group has about the pollutant?

YES: Continue to Section 2

NO: You should be really clear with the group about the project, what the tool does and does not currently do. Continue to Section 2

5) Does the group have an interest in working with the tool for reasons outside those mentioned above? ie: academic, technical, hobby?

YES: Not Urgent Continue to Section 2

NO: The group will most likely not engage on the project, but you can always approach to find out.

Section 2: Evaluating ability to work on the project

The second factor that tends to influence a group's involvement in a project is their ability to engage with it. Ability here is defined in terms of resources and outcomes. The group is able to work on the project if:

  • they have time to commit,
  • they have energy to learn, and
  • the desired outcome will be achieved if they learn or use the tool.

The questions below will help you determine a group’s ability to work on the project.

1) Does the group have time to commit to working on the project?

YES: Continue to question 2

NO: This group likely lacks the ability to commit to working on this project at the present time. While you can attempt to reach out to them about it, or help to accommodate, be conscious of what engaging them too much on it could cost. e.g. potential collaboration in the future or too many of their resources.

2) Many tools require that users need to overcome barriers in the experience of learning the tool, gathering data and analyzing results. It takes energy to accomplish what tools require. Does the group have the energy the tool required for them to use it in a meaningful way?

(Examples of barriers for tool use: participants must have access to private property to collect data, to process the data participants must be proficient at using computers, the tool costs money to use or analyze results, or participants need to know how to analyze graphs.)

YES: Continue to question 3

NO: This group likely lacks the ability to commit to working on this project at the present time. While you can attempt to reach out to them about it, or help to accommodate, be conscious of what engaging them too much on it could cost. ie: potential collaboration in the future, too many of their resources etc.

3) Will a desired outcome of the group be met from them working on the project?

(e.g.: they learn something they’ve been wanting to learn, they collect data they can take to their local government to put pressure on them or they gain the ability to monitor when there are changes in their environment.)

YES: This is a good group to reach out to on this project. You should always be clear about the tool, what it does, what it does not do, and what energies are required to work on the project. Remember working on a project with a group is a collaborative process. Make sure the expectations of everyone involved are clear from the outset. Be sure to share back what you’ve all done, worked on, explored and figured out!

NO: You should likely refrain from reaching out to this group. Relationships should always be mutually beneficial. If groups don’t benefit from the project and some of their resources are used in working on this project, your relationship could be strained. Also, you could risk their willingness to work with you in the future, even if the project develops to a place where they would benefit from it.