Just a response to the Air Quality manuals asking researchers to pick "one question," and problems raised during the "What's in your Air-ea" Public Lab session.
In the US Gulf Coast, the agencies are actively opposed to air monitoring. Communities are usually concerned with the costs to their health --sick kids, cancer treatments, etc., and want a government agency to protect them. There generally is no such agency or representative that will act. The primary audience must be the courts, because evidence can be presented to a court, evidence that, normally, the agency can willfully obstruct. But this is a frustrating thing for communities, who won't like to hear that a small problem will take 6 years to litigate--and even then, the executive branch, even under a judge's order, can delay and obstruct any decision.
So much of this has nothing to do with the air monitoring project, but I think people should realize that communities will usually or always want to use scientific tools to answer many questions. What people seek is dignity, and political representation. Science is but one tool toward this end.
The philanthropic community is, generally, not equipped to fund citizen science projects to the needs of communities in the USA who lack representation. So, it is important to pick one question, for the grantmaker. The lack of scientific capacity is quite predictable, since often the government is actively ignoring the observations of citizens, but it's very difficult to prove, to a funder, who is of a different social class, and often lives in a place with a different kind of government, the lack of work that the government is engaged in.
The government has the legal authority to answer community problems, but it is a agent against such investigations. The government could find the capacity to investigate the array of issues, but this is seen as against institutional norms--to hire more investigators to enforce rules and regulations. We saw this in Louisiana, where the oil spill investigation department increased staff for the BP Disaster, but laid off 50% of employees once the settlement with BP came in.
In this kind of situation, where communities seek answers to many questions, but organizations are limited to one aspect of one investigation by the philanthropic community, what happens is that non-profit organizations conducting community science inevitably become more political advocacy organizations, and drop the science, or stop communicating it. Witness LA Bucket Brigade and Air Alliance Houston--organizations that do conduct intensive community science projects, but, over time, turn to political advocacy organizations. As Broderick Bagert, of Together Louisiana, has said, "Until you can cause political pain, 2+2 can equal 5. The science does not matter."
If you are a scientist on the Gulf Coast, doing independent research or acting in concert with an advocacy group, you will likely be asked to solve an immense political problem. Community Air Quality manuals are written to ensure that a particular scientific endeavor has a clear objective, and you will continually hear what you learned in undergrad, that a specific question must have a specific study design.
However, in sacrificed communities, where people are actively dying of air pollution, the community will ask you to provide many answers to many questions. There is a fundamental tension between what you hear from the authors of air quality manuals, who are not situated in the Gulf Coast, and Gulf Coast community requests for actionable information. We shouldn't get too disappointed that we cannot perform as each and all expect, but must do all that what we can.
Additionally, if you are in Houston, Texas, or St James Parish, Louisiana, and you begin to find that the air is actually quite harmful, and there's nothing to be done about it, you are then faced with the question of how to help, how to mitigate the impact, even if you are part of an organization that is opposed to said impact. It is immensely difficult, even nauseating, to find pollution, then tell a community, "we cannot help you."
But the non-profit model of working from siloed grants is set up to lead to this situation. The agency who can help has already been targeted to avoid these very observations. This is why other organizations, like Louisiana Environmental Action Network, who begin community science projects later turn into direct-relief organizations, rather than continue with a citizen science endeavor. The philanthropic community in the USA is currently uniquely terrible at sustaining non-profit, independent community science in the face of observations that will, predictably, change the nature of the most urgent questions.