# The Public Lab Blog

stories from the Public Lab community

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

by warren | 20 days ago | 0 | 2

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 evidence-project series:evidence-project

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

by Shannon | 4 months 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

# What fuels a movement?

by stevie | 5 months ago | 0 | 5

Lead image of protesters protesting the Pet Coke Piles on southeast side of Chicago. Image found on the Public Lab Chicago page.

### Passion alone is not enough - we need to be great organizers

Thanks to Olga Bautista for the title of this blog post, please read on for the transcript of my interview with her.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Public Lab’s relationships with community organizers and local grassroots environmental groups. Over the years, there have been a number of people and groups who have put “boots on the ground” and conducted local environmental research projects. Many of them have worked to create physical space and events in their community for Public Lab gatherings. Yet the stories of their work come back to the broader Public Lab community through word of mouth rather than through these activists directly engaging with online spaces. Ultimately, in my opinion, if we’re seeking Public Lab to become a space for people to collaborate on and publicize their environmental projects, these on-the-ground people are who we should be thinking of and creating both our in person and our online spaces for. I want to start learning more deliberately from some of these community organizers about what is working, what could be better, and how can we amplify the things that they want to be heard.

To kick off this exploration, I had a phone call with Olga Bautista. I’ve known Olga for about a two years. She is a rock star community organizer. She (and Benjamin Sugar) were the driving forces behind the second Regional Barnraising in Chicago. For years now, she and her group, Chicago Southeast Side Coalition To Ban Petcoke, have been working to fight the petroleum coke piles in their community that sit directly in their neighborhood and on the Calumet River. Due in large parts to their activism and efforts, these piles were just recently moved from their community.

It had been a while, so I wanted to catch up, hear what has been going on, how they’ve been doing, and see if I could explore some of the questions I’ve been having about the Public Lab space with her. Below is an excerpt of our conversation. Olga was kind enough not just to give me some advice about the questions I’ve been floating around, but to really give me a low-down on things that have been useful for her on an organizing level in the past year as well. Thanks Olga! Here’s the transcript:

Olga Bautista, of the Southeast Environmental Task Force and the Southeast Chicago Coalition to Ban Petcoke. (Photo by Terry Evans / Courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Photography)

How have things been going?

Things are changing for the better, but we need more people, and we need to be intentional about building more leaders who can take on more of the work. It’s important that we’re deliberate in who makes the decisions. We don't want the big greens or other advocacy groups to speak for us because we know exactly what would make our lives better.

What are some of the challenges you have been facing lately?

It’s complicated figuring out who are the other players on the playing field and plowing through anyway. It’s also hard to not get discouraged. There are a lot of groups who work on the issue, people who break off forming other groups, and we end up competing with others who are working on the same issue.

What are some of the things that have been important in your successes?

It’s really important to plan and evaluate everything. For example, before meetings we talk about what we want to achieve, after we talk about what has been decided and we check in with everyone about how they feel it went. We’ve been starting to use this methodology that really centers us and we have been doing things this way for about a year. It's organized, and it has helped us work hard and be really intentional about everything we do.

Some of the things we practice are that:

We make a point to sync up in the beginning and at the end of every meeting, to see how we feel about the work we did. We have a vibe watcher at our meetings, when you have that kind of order, it makes everyone feel comfortable that they're getting heard. We’re also really well prepared before meeting. Leaders will set the agenda ahead of time and send out materials. Everyone is expected to have reviewed everything prior to coming to the meeting.

It’s really professional. We’re grassroots organizers in a working class community, and we’re really figuring this out and it’s working.

What has been challenging for you?

Some of the things in my case that have been difficult, are things like managing time and calendars. We have so many different challenges, linking them up and planning time to reflect on the work that we're doing is tough. I'm not able to carve out enough time for this. It's easier for me to go to a meeting than carve out time in front of a computer. Because I’m a mom, I’ve got these other responsibilities and pressing things that take up my time.

Another challenging thing is that if you're an organizer that lives in an affected community, it’s different than if you live in a different neighborhood. If you live somewhere else you can separate out your life. I run into people just going to the grocery store, people who ask me questions about emails or who get mad and are violent to me about the work I do with the coalition, and I’m just trying to pick up a jug of milk!

How has your work and relationship been with Public Lab?

With Public Lab, I talk about you guys all the time. All your ears should be ringing, because it's part of the message. Public Lab is an extremely important part of the petcoke fight. Balloon mapping was absolutely important. To see everyday people get together and gather this extremely important data without having to get in a plane. We literally had an entourage following us sometimes.

As a community organizer, what are some things you need or look for when you start to work with other groups or organizations?

One group I’ve been working with lately that has helped a lot with some of these community trainings had stipends for me to do a week long organizer training. This made a huge difference. I’m looking for support in things like grant writing, and groups who collaborate with other agencies and foundations who might be able to help us fund the work.

What’s coming up for you in the near future?

In the next three weeks, we’re working to develop a door knocking campaign. It’s something we haven't done since we started, but we really want to do this again. We need to find new leaders. We need to figure out who is serious, have a plan for those people to go to training and learn about things like structural racism, and structural oppression. These are ideas that we know and feel their affects everyday. Some people just don't know there is a name for it.

What would tell others who are just getting into Environmental Justice issues and community organizing?

There are so many things to learn and practice:

1) Skills to be efficient and effective are not just common sense, you need co-conspirators in your group who are on the same page and you need to practice those skills.

2) Nobody told me that the work is based so much on relationships. You have to develop relationships with people. I’m doing a lot of one-on-ones now, which some of us get trained on. Things like: when you meet someone for the first time, you don't end the conversation with an ask. Those are some of the things we have been learning.

3) It’s slow process and can't be rushed. This is difficult for me. We have deadlines. We have comment periods coming up, having regular expectations of each other that we need to accomplish. I always have feelings like I’m not able to follow through or i’m not depending on other people enough.

4) Getting the people on the same page with you that's difficult, that's the relational part. People have to take on the work fully. Everyone I talk to, they have to do it for themselves, not for me.

5) People on the ground, we need to have exit plans for things that we are committed to that are not going anywhere and take things off our plate instead of put things on.

-- End transcript --

I learned so much from this conversation with Olga. I’ve been really inspired by the work she does and what the group has been able to accomplish. While I can start to see some future directions come out of this conversation on the questions I had, I don’t want to jump to conclusions until I have a few more conversations and things to draw from. I would l love to hear if you have ideas on this topic, or if you know anyone I should share this conversation with. Let me know who in the comments below or email me at stevie@publiclab.org. Looking forward to it!