stories from the Public Lab community
I wanted to share some thoughts that became clearer to me now, a month or so after the barn raising gathering (Oct 2013), in which these issues were discussed by some of us. The bottom line of what I am about to share here is that I realized that the challenge I face now in order to make the work I've been pulling through in Jerusalem more significant for the communities I am working with, is dealing with the problem of design. To say it more clearly - community engagement ends right where the need for design begins.
The decoder is the insider
What I am talking about relates specifically to grassroots-mapping using DIY aerial photography tools, but I am sure this can be as true with other open tech and DIY tools and methods. The basic premise is that aerial photographs do not speak for themselves. And in particular those made by communities. Exactly like any other form of photography aerial images are ground for interpretation, rather than for objective decoding. The well established ideas and professional practice of “decoding” aerials is based on and perpetuates patterns of exclusion. S/he who's trained to decode is an insider by definition, a professional in the service of powerful interests. I know this is not knew for you, Jeff Warren and Public Lab did a lot for developing an annotation tool that can be quite useful for storytelling. But I think digital annotation is only one aspect of what we need to do for re-shaping the aerial for community storytelling and making it more accessible and engaging tool for triggering change.
above: east-providence-pond-view-map, mapknitter.org
The story of the Road
A friend of mine has been an aerial photography decoder for the Israeli army during her obligatory years of serving as a soldier (between the age of 18-20). She learnt the skills needed during her service, and she recalls that what she was supposed to produce for her commanders at the time, was to create what was called in military jargon “Sipur Derekh”, Hebrew for “the story of the road”. Her mission was to find the best way for soldiers to cross through a land they didn't know, mostly during night-time, for the purpose of take-over. Through the “Sipur Derekh” she constructed, the soldiers had to be able to know the area as good as a local person does. She used to hover, fly, above the aerial images, cross-examining the same place by using aerials taken at different times. It involved a great deal of imaginative work, juxtaposing clues on the natural features with traces of human activity and life in the place. She particularly mentions the huge gap between her imaginative flight above the area and the extreme reduction of the 'Sipur Derekh' she had to construct and pass on.
mapping the unseen
As I see it, what we, as grassroots-mappers, are looking to do is to invert this power to take-over – which is today being exercised in all sorts of ways (ranging from war and conflict through urban planning and the industries' environmental damages). The story of our road, contrary to reducing the meanings of an aerial image in the service of a narrow interest, is one that seeks to reveal social and environmental context through collaborative mapping. It is not only about an objective reality to be visualized and decoded, but about mapping and thus seeing the subjective story that is embedded in and is inseparable from the concrete features of geography.
above: Ala Salman who created an aerial map of a contested road that splits his neighborhood in two and damages its environmental and communal infrastructures, presents his DIY aerial image to MP's in the Israeli "Kneset".
stand by its side - give it voice and knowledge
The people I was working with had a story to tell on top of that aerial photograph they created. They re-appropriated 'the master's tool', the same tool that is being used in order to erase their presence and identity off the map, or to rationalize plans for destruction and regeneration in the city that ignores their local perspectives. They have created aerial photography in Silwan, Beit Safafa or in Ein Karem, but they had to stand, physically, right beside it to give it their voice and knowledge. The questions that arise once they leave the aerial by itself into the offline and online streams of information, is who will it reach, what story will it tell, or as Catherine D'ignazio phrased it nice and simply “where do our maps go?”.
growing a long tail for mapmaking
In our ethics and politics discussion during barn raising, Liz Barry was mentioning that we need to think of the long tail of community engagement in open-tech and support the local groups we are working with, towards meaningful change. As I said in the beginning, what became clear to me is that we have to work on developing this long tail, which I think raises problems of design in visualizing information. In Silwan we created this integrated poster map that included text and photos the children we worked with created, but we had to have a designer to do that cause the task of turning all this information into a coherent and attractive poster was too complex. Looking at the poster we produced one can see that we have a lot more to learn - and on that note - here is an excellent and inspiring guide for visualizing information for advocacy.
above: Annotated aerial map of Silwan created by children living in the village (East Jerusalem)
re-shaping the aerial
But why should open tech end when it gets to questions of design? Can we think of a workflow that would enable local groups to go beyond creating the object itself, the aerial photograph, to a process of re-shaping the aerial image? I imagine re-shaping its uses, meanings and appearances in everyday life both online and offline. Especially when talking about community engagement we want to create a movement between offline, analog activities to online and digitally-based engagements.
don't just stand by - step on it, jump on it, draw on in
I imagine it not only as a post-production activity but as a public event. Maybe we need to think about prototyping machines and sensors that allow to annotate in public space by anyone who passes-by, by stepping on the image, writing and drawing on it, and turning these bodily actions to digital input that can be later be ground for online engagement.
where do we go from here?
This is to share my thoughts with you at this point in time, hope to attract the interest of some of you to continue this further. I think that once we will be able to create a workflow for telling a story using DIY aerial photography, these community-based maps would be useful not only for advocacy and representation, but also in wider range of everyday uses. Namely, for navigating in the actual geography, in quite a different way than conventional maps allow us today, from the point of view of its inhabitants. Not taking-over that point of view, but embracing it.
above: click the photo for a close-up, to read a detail of children's annotations on the DIY Silwan aerial map.
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Some of us on the Gulf Coast got together to hang out on mapknitter and make maps from existing photography. a Nascent Public Lab Cartography Collective.
We started a process document here. We have a number of New Orleans Locations where we can meet over computers.
We are meeting and communicating over the Gulf Coast and Public Lab and Grassroots mappers lists, so sign up!
Soon, we will discuss GroundworkNOLA's photos of MacMain's schoolyard.
Scott will make a wiki page for all of the photography that is unmapped for the Gulf Coast here:
Wanna join? want to skype in? Scott will work on adding that capability. Scott is eustatic0 on Skype.
Contact Alex Stoicof on the gulf coast or barnraisers lists, and Alex or Scott can send you a Doodle Poll.
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Acting quickly in repsonse to a windfall of freshwater marsh plants, inspired staff of Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Sierra Club, Lower 9 CESD, Common Ground Relief: Wetlands, GroundworkNOLA, and Gulf Restoration Network planted accessible areas of the Bayou Bienvenue Wetlands Triangle by the Caffin Ave Platform. The planting strip is a linear feature off a recent road placed to maintain the steel I-wall that is part of the Orleans parish levee system.
This marks one of the first times that the Wetland Triangle has been planted with salt tolerant, but freshwater plants. The Wetland Triangle is historically freshwater Cypress Swamp, but saltwater impoundment, deep water, and saline soils have hampered restoration plantings in the past.
[ i'll put some of the facebook discussion up here]
Given the low winds predicted for the day, Scott Eustis (well, me) prepared a balloon for mapping of the abruptly planned planting event. the publiclab 9 ft delta kite was available in case of a change in wind.
weather was sunny, wind 0-5 from the north. dust flew from the southern scrap pile early in the day.
focus on the camera, Canon 1400 powershot, was descent. the rig was a squared juice bottle with UV proof rubber bands.
the balloon was re-used, with some of the same helium from months before, from the nature center flight. a leak in the balloon near the neck of the balloon was patched with black gaffer's tape, reinforced with cheap duct tape.
canoe was piloted out from the ROW to compensate for the wind, to safeguard against the string hitting powerlines. as the wind dropped, the balloon tracked too far north, and the canoe was piloted back toward the ROW, but there may be gaps in the map of the planting.
mapknitter work forthcoming.
selected images at https://www.flickr.com/photos/eustatic/sets/72157636993772393/
image showing volunteer bulrush clump at western end of I-wall / planting area:
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Image above: A group photo of 230+ of the mentors at the Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit in Building 43 at the GooglePlex. Three photos by Daniel Pocock (Daniel's originals are beautiful 36 MP photos).
Two mentors from each of the ca. 170 organizations participating in Google Summer of Code this year were invited to a meeting at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California. Some additional mentors were also invited as space became available. Public Lab was lucky enough to send all three of its mentors, two of which are in the group photo above.
Most mentors stayed at the Wild Palms Hotel in Sunnyvale where excellent dinners were served Friday and Saturday night around the pool. On Saturday night there was live music by an impromptu mentor band and an open bar. An Infragram NBG image.
The first morning was devoted to the "pump handle" during which we advanced along the line for two hours and introduced ourselves to several dozen of the mentors. Our name tags had QR codes, so if you made yourself out to be awesome, your new friend might scan you into his phone. Parsing the cacophonous audio for the voice of the person across from you is wearying, so I took a break for drinking and photography.
360° panorama of the pump handle in the main courtyard of the GooglePlex . I was doing a more careful job of capturing photos for a repeat panorama when a security guard asked me to stop because they don't allow people to take a lot of photos. They apparently make a distinction between a lot of people taking a few photos and one person taking a lot of photos.
Don, David, Ben, and I walked over to Vista Slope north of the Plex to do some kite photography, but after seeing this sign, then watching a small plane fly low over our heads, we decided to descend the hill to Charleston Park where there was insufficient wind. I just learned that on the other side of the Shoreline Amphitheatre is a park with a designated kite flying area.
Next up: SFO-ORD!
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Thanks to the generosity of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) has awarded an Innovation Grant to Public Lab, Ironbound Community Corporation and Phil Silva of Cornell Civic Ecology Lab for a project called Building a model for community garden management through innovative action, monitoring and evaluation.
The Environmental Leadership Program supports a network of over 500 emerging and established environmental leaders through a fellowship program based on visionary, action-oriented and diverse leadership. The innovation grant went to a collaborative partnership established between ELP Senior Fellows Phil Silva (Cornell), Ana Baptista, Cynthia Mellon (Ironbound) and current New England Regional Network Fellow Shannon Dosemagen (Public Lab).
This project will create a test case for adaptive co-management in an environmental justice community in Newark, New Jersey, using a suite of tools and methods for environmental monitoring developed by the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab). The result of this project will be to create a case study that will inform management practices at the Ironbound Community Corporation urban garden and will be replicable for other urban gardeners to use at their sites. Public Lab will incorporate the use of near-infrared imaging techniques, including pole photography and aerial mapping - where tethered kites or balloons with infrared and visible light cameras attached, are sent overhead to take images of garden plots. Near-infrared imaging will give community members and volunteers the ability to monitor plant health in the garden and make management decisions based on the data collected. By the end of the project, participants will be able to use online, open source, stitching software, MapKnitter.org, to create multiple image maps of the garden site. The outcomes of this participatory action research project - a detailed case study and a urban gardening toolkit - will be shared with a national audience, offering insight and inspiration for similar efforts to use adaptive co-management in urban environmental stewardship work.
About Project Partners
Ironbound Community Corporation Ironbound Community Corporation’s mission is to engage and empower individuals, families and groups in realizing their aspirations and, together, work to create a just, vibrant and sustainable community.
Cornell Civic Ecology Lab The Civic Ecology Lab is a dynamic hub for scholarship seeking to understand ways in which humans are reconnecting to nature under the most difficult of conditions, and in so doing are making meaningful and measurable change to their communities and the environment.
Environmental Leadership Program The mission of the Environmental Leadership Program is to support visionary, action-oriented, and diverse leadership for a just and sustainable future. ELP catalyzes change by providing talented individuals early in their careers with the support and guidance they need to launch new endeavors, achieve new successes, and rise to new leadership positions. Since 2000, we have created a dynamic network of over 500 of the country's top emerging environmental leaders. ELP engages leaders in a series of trainings increasing their ability to embrace diversity and lead across differences, develop a systems thinking perspective, build partnerships/collaborations, utilize strengths-based leadership, while furthering their knowledge of the environmental field.
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Cross-posted from PBS IdeaLab blog
Co-authored by Shannon Dosemagen, Jessi Breen and Liz Barry
This year’s Public Lab Barnraising brought 50 people together in Louisiana for our annual, retreat-style community gathering. This is the closest thing we have to a Public Lab conference — but with an emphasis on “doing stuff together” rather than just presenting/talking. In the spirit of bringing a community together to collectively raise a structure such as a barn, Public Lab comes together in-person to develop tools, toolkits, supporting materials such as guides and tutorials, test the tools, and develop new research directions and projects. Participants represent a wide range of interests, from technologists and designers to social scientists and community organizers. As we prepared for the 2013 barnraising, we all crossed our fingers that we’d be storm free between the East and Gulf Coasts, unlike last year when Hurricane Sandy disrupted many travelers. However, we weren’t so lucky!
On October 3, with community members already in the air en route to New Orleans, we received news from LUMCON (the research center on the Gulf Coast where we would be lodging, meeting, and conducting research) that they were facing a potential 2-3 foot storm surge from Tropical Storm Karen and would be shutting their entire facility down and canceling our conference. Panic ensued, but only briefly. With some quick work and kind hearts, within a couple of hours gracious hospitality was offered to us by University of New Orleans TRAC and Propeller co-working space who agreed to house and host barnraisers joining us from as far away as Jerusalem and London.
And so we convened. Following time-tested principles of Open Space Technology, the group gathered to explore this year’s theme of education. We proposed sessions that would enable us to arrive at the end of our time together with a workable plan for supporting education initiatives in the coming year. Some plenaries were agreed upon in advance — for instance, we reserved an entire morning to discuss our diverse community’s ethics of practice and to collaboratively write our value statement where we each contributed statements in the form of, “as a member of the Public Lab community I value …”
We also reserved afternoons for outdoor field trips, weather permitting, and the hands-on kite flying took advantage of the pre-tropical storm winds. Back indoors, breakout sessions ranged from mini-hacking sessions on ongoing projects like the thermal temperature bob (tested in a bathtub) and potentiostats, to discussions on structuring Public Lab tool workshops using dialogue education techniques.
Much progress was made by a dedicated group of teachers working to connect Public lab activities with U.S. federal standards for kindergarten-12th grade core curriculum. The diversity of sessions was representative of the diversity of individuals attending the barnraising — practitioners, NGO workers, journalists, activists, academics, designers, teachers.
Throughout the three-day conference, the rhythm pulsed between plenary sessions attended by all to small group breakouts for getting work done, which kept the group fresh and productive. The “Rule of Two Feet” governed; as stated by Harrison Owen, “If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.” The spirit of “Be Prepared to Be Surprised” infused our encounters with open mindedness. Each session had a note taker using the “Talk” page (etherpad) of the relevant Public Lab wiki page. All notes and photo/video documentation were gathered here.
We wrapped up our third and final day together by listing out the outcomes of all sessions and the commitments made by individuals and Working Groups. There is now a Writing Group, a Water Quality Group, and a revamped Education group specifically working towards adapting Public Lab tools to integrate with the U.S. science education standards and generate “hello world” type experiments for use in the classroom. New community members joined the Public Lab organizers, a group of nominated community leaders who meet weekly and guide the way our community collaborates and grows.
The Open Space Technology Experience
It is worth noting that contemporary unconferences in the tech world employ some but not all of the principles of open space technology. In an open space technology experience, people work towards solving a problem or answering a question in the context of complexity and diversity. This stands in contrast to standard tech world “birds of a feather” meetings, which emphasize homogeneity and breakout sessions featuring uni-directional presentations. In open space technology, everyone tackles issues that are part of the same overarching issue. Open space technology emphasizes not only setting the agenda, but within each session, collaborating on the shared goals that were established at outset. It’s about getting work done together.
We are already planning for next year’s barnraising. We are committed to gathering in the Gulf Coast, and have accepted the fact that once again we will likely have to call it a hurricane party!
The 2013 Barnraising was sponsored with generous support from Rackspace and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
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