# The Public Lab Blog

stories from the Public Lab community

# Last Annual Barnraising -- looking to the future

by stevie | over 3 years ago | 0 | 2

Big news coming from Public Lab: after many years of fun, creative, and successful Annual Barnraisings, this year’s event (November 3rd-5th!) will be the last of its kind -- at least for the time being -- as we shift focus to Regional Barnraisings.

### Why we’re changing:

While all involved have enjoyed the Annual Barnraising, we’ve been watching trends and listening to takeaways. Over the last few years, we’ve noticed how difficult it is for people to travel all the way out to the wetlands of Louisiana, and once there, there’s not much time to work on local environmental issues. Meanwhile, we've seen a lot of growth and excitement at the Regional Barnraisings. There is a lot of passion in place-based projects, and we’re eager to put more power behind that movement.

### After this year what we’ll be doing instead:

Starting in 2018, the Gulf Coast event will be reframed as a Regional Barnraising focused on local issues and with local partners. In addition, a second Regional Barnraising will happen somewhere else in the United States every year.

### What are Regional Barnraisings, and how are they different?:

The first Regional Barnraising event was hosted in 2014 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Since then we’ve held them across the US in Chicago, Illinois; Val Verde, California; and this year in Morgantown, West Virginia (June 24th and 25th). We have found the Regional Barnraising event style really successful and are committing energies to growing it out.

Like all Public Lab events, the Regional events are open to anyone interested in attending. It features a specific local issue and always is hosted in partnership with at least one local partner who is on the frontlines of that issue. The event allows for people to stay local, share skill-sets, build networks of locally involved and invested partners, and tends to bring out many first timers to Public Lab. This emphasis has surged attention into specific environmental concerns and projects, made space for creative collaboration, and bolstered the ability of people to bring in fresh ideas and synergy for their projects.

### What we’re committed to keeping, testing out, and integrating:

In years to come, we are committed to hosting a Regional Barnraising in the Gulf Coast annually. It is the founding location of Public Lab, and there is so much here to do! We also anticipate that the Gulf Coast event could be hosted in different states across the region.

We recognize that a shift away from one collective annual event potentially reduces people’s cross-regional collaboration. Taking that into account, we will make a targeted effort to fundraise for travel stipends for individuals who would travel to attend the regional events. As always, we encourage folks from all regions to attend all Barnraisings, regardless of where their “home base” is.

We are also committed to posting materials on Public Lab about how to host Regional Barnraisings. In our current capacity, the non-profit is able to host two Regional Barnraising events each year, but we also see room for growth in our ability to support Public Labbers in other areas around the world to host their own Regional Barnraising events, and we are committed to supporting groups who wish to do so! Also in the pipeline, we’re brainstorming for a larger environmental monitoring and community science gathering in the next couple of years.

There are a lot of ideas, and we’d love to hear yours. We’re committed to listening to feedback on this, and over time, reevaluating event styles and shifts. Don’t hesitate to write in, and we’ll also host an Open Call Tuesday, June 6th at 3pm ET (7pm GMT) on this topic. In the meantime--

# Save the Date! The Annual Barnraising will be November 3rd-5th in Cocodrie Louisiana!

### Annual Barnraisings through the years...

#### 2016:

events cocodrie barnraising event

# When is it OK to work with non-open components in open source work?

by warren with liz | over 3 years ago | 0 | 3

At Public Lab, perhaps more so than in other open hardware oriented communities, we're often remixing and re- or even mis-using off-the-shelf parts, like the point and shoot cameras in our Balloon Mapping techniques. Sometimes, parts that aren't open source themselves! (Above image: open source kites, cameras?)

But really, almost any open source tools or techniques use /some/ components that aren't open source, even if it's just duct tape or, say, a resistor. This is not to say we don't need to think about these things, or work towards more open components -- and the Open Hardware Certification by OSHWA gets at this nicely (full disclosure, I'm vice president of the OSHWA board):

Ensure all parts within the creator's control are open source. Use best efforts to distinguish any third-party proprietary components. Third-party components such as chips [ed: here they mean microchips] must have fully accessible and shareable datasheets for hardware to be considered open source.

They go on in their "Creator Contribution" Requirement:

As noted above, in order to be certified under this program all parts, designs, code, and rights under the control of the creator must be made open according to the open source hardware definition hosted by OSHWA. However, that does not necessarily mean that the entire project must or will be open source. If the creators used third party closed components outside of their control, they are unable -- and are therefore not required -- to open souce those components. While it is strongly prefered to use open components when possible, OSHWA recognizes the reality that this is not always possible. The "creator contribution" requirement is an intentionally flexible one, designed to be applicable to individuals working alone and multinational corporations.

So among other things, it's extra important to clearly state what is and what is not open source!

### Outside the box

At Public Lab, we think a lot about this because some methods don't currently have open hardware equivalents, and although we're interested in those, we think of open hardware more broadly than just what's inside a particular device or object. We're committed to open sourcing the practices that put an object to use -- the instructions, the setup, the experimental design, and the social practices that people use to put these things to work, learn and teach one another, and transform tools through reimagining their use.

With that in mind, and with an eye towards helping people investigate environmental problems, we use some of the following questions as a guideline:

#### Agency Decision-Making / Petitioning for Judicial Review

Participating in agency decision-making (e.g. writing or vocalizing a public comment) is often one of the easiest and most cost-effective entry points for individuals. The Environmental Protection Agency, as well as most state environmental agencies, are required to solicit public comment whenever considering action (or inaction) that might have an effect on the environment [7]. For example, when New York's Governor Cuomo was considering whether or not to allow fracking, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation received a record 200,000 public comments [8]. The Governor ultimately decided not to permit fracking in New York.

It is also possible to sue an agency or official for certain actions or inactions (petitioning for judicial review). While the rules are different in every state, an individual can challenge the decision of an agency to, for example, grant or deny a permit, amend rules, or issue a determination. However, the person(s) challenging the action generally have to show that the action was 'arbitrary and capricious,' meaning it did not follow logic and was made 'on a whim,' which is a pretty high bar to meet. Thus, if the agency/official can offer any reasonable explanation, the court will commonly defer to that explanation.

#### Citizen Suits

Some environmental legislation, notably the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, have so-called 'citizen suit' provisions, which allow private citizens to sue alleged violators of those laws. For example, the community group EJ For All decides to activate the 'citizen suit' provision of the Clean Water Act to stop Shady Business LLC from dumping waste into the river [9]. It provides the required notice of intent to sue to Shady Business as well as the state environmental agency. It also provides the agency with the photographs it took and water data it collected.

#### Public Nuisances

Public nuisance lawsuits are helpful for when there are no specific regulations prohibiting the conduct. In these suits, a judge can determine that the action is so unreasonable, the interference so substantial, and the relative 'utility' or worth of the conduct insufficient to merit the continuation of the action. However, for public nuisance suits, the plaintiffs have to show not only that the action is causing harm to the general public, but that they have suffered a unique harm. For example, if a factory spills toxic waste into a local public field -- that is harm to the general public, but only people who have been actually harmed -- their child became ill -- would have the 'standing' to sue. Public nuisance suits can be for money, but the goal is often to get the polluter/nuisance-maker to stop with the nuisance.

#### Toxic Torts

The final category -- toxic torts and similar litigation -- is the most expensive and time-consuming, which is why it is also, unsurprisingly, the least common. In these types of litigation, plaintiffs who have suffered harm because of the pollution sue the company responsible. Part 2 of this series will examine why these kinds of cases are especially unfriendly for community-sourced data.

In our case, the state environmental agency considers the evidence submitted by EJ For All, and determines the company did violate effluent limitations. It issues a penalty to Shady Business LLC. Hit where it hurts, the CEO Ronald Drumpf [10] orders the company to stop dumping in the river. The water quality returns to normal, kids are allowed to swim again, and all is well.

### General Conclusions

That's how it's supposed to work. But community activists know all too well how often it doesn't happen that way. How often there's not enough time or money to do the research, to access the proper tools, to get people to listen, to afford attorneys, or how to influence the media, the government, the legal system. The next section gives an overview of obstacles that groups often face when trying to address an environmental issue in their community.

#### End Notes

1. https://ccsinventory.wilsoncenter.org
2. There is no one agreed-upon definition of 'citizen science.' Cornell's Orinthology Lab uses the working definition of projects in which volunteers partner with scientists to answer real-world questions. The White House, in its 2015 Memorandum on Citizen Science describes it as actions where "the public participates voluntarily in the scientific process, addressing real-world problems in ways that may include formulating research questions, conducting scientific experiments, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, making new discoveries, developing technologies and applications, and solving complex problems."
3. Dosemagen, S, and G. Gehrke. 2016. "Civic Technology and Community Science: A New Model for Public Participation in Environmental Decisions." In Confronting the Challenges of Public Participation: Issues in Environmental, Planning and Health Decision-Making (Proceedings of the Iowa State University Summer Symposia on Science Communication). Edited by J. Goodwin. Ames, IA: Science Communication Project.
5. Rest 2d. Torts § 821B (1979).
6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxic_tort
7. https://www.epa.gov/nepa/how-citizens-can-comment-and-participate-national-environmental-policy-act-process
9. Under 33 U.S.C. 1365 of the Clean Water Act.
10. No relation, of course.

evidence blog legal evidence-project

# Environmental Protection Belongs to the Public: A report for EPA on the role of citizen science

by Shannon | almost 4 years ago | 3 | 4

Cross-posted from the Citizen Science Association blog co-written by Shannon Dosemagen (Public Lab) and Alison Parker (ORISE Fellow hosted by EPA).

In 2015 EPA charged the National Advisory Council on Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT), an EPA advisory council, with developing a set of recommendations about the transformational opportunities of citizen science, including strong links and partnerships with citizen and community citizen science organizations. The Council’s 28 members, representing academia, business and industry, nongovernmental organizations, and all levels of government, have been working for the last year to provide EPA with advice and recommendations on how to integrate citizen science into the full range of work of EPA. After exploring a diverse range of citizen science approaches, the advisory council concluded enthusiastically that citizen science is an invaluable opportunity for environmental protection and the best way for EPA to connect with the public.

On December 13th, the council transmitted a report to EPA titled Environmental Protection Belongs to the Public: A Vision for Citizen Science at EPA outlining thirteen specific recommendations for EPA.

Four top level recommendations guide the report; these recommendations encourage EPA to 1) embrace citizen science as a core tenet of environmental protection, 2) invest in citizen science for communities, partners and the Agency, 3) enable the use of citizen science data at the Agency and 4) integrate citizen science into the full range of work of EPA. Within these categories, NACEPT recommends that EPA commit to providing feedback to community citizen science organizations, lower technological barriers, identify data uses for the whole spectrum of citizen science work, and take a collaborative approach to enhance ongoing work by the citizen science community. These recommendations provide a model for how local, state, and federal government can support and integrate citizen science fully and proactively.

As co-editors of this report, we’re excited about the conclusion - from the diverse perspectives that make up the NACEPT council - that citizen science is a strong future direction for environmental protection and can enhance the full spectrum of Agency activities. The Council encourages EPA to become more engaged with citizen science activities and projects happening outside of the Agency and we view the Citizen Science Association as a great resource in understanding the landscape of important work. There are many opportunities for EPA to embrace the conclusions of the report and support citizen science for environmental protection. We look forward to increased engagement by the EPA in the broad landscape of citizen science.

If you have responses and/or comments on the NACEPT report, please direct them to citizenscience@epa.gov and Green.Eugene@epa.gov.

blog report