Public Lab Research note

Save the Date Feb 22-24! Houston-Galveston Barnraising

by liz , stevie | January 02, 2019 22:15 02 Jan 22:15 | #18048 | #18048

Barnraisings are the closest thing we have to a Public Lab conference -- but with an emphasis on "doing stuff together." At a Barnraising, people from different backgrounds and different skill sets come together to develop environmental monitoring and advocacy approaches. This event is open to the public, and participation is guided by our Code of Conduct and Conduct Committee. We will form the schedule ourselves according to a facilitated process on the first morning. During the day, there are usually several activities happening at the same time, some are discussions, some are hands-on, and some go outside. If you wish to make a presentation, you can propose a 5 minute "lightning" talk on any topic on Saturday 5pm timeslot (just before dinner).

You are invited to the next Barnraising: February 22-24, in Texas!

Possible science trips to Houston bayous / Galveston beaches: Thursday the 21st!

Indicate your interest now!

Fill out this Expression of Interest form to stay connected as plans develop:


  • The event happens over three full days, with perhaps an advance field trip day on Thursday. Plan to arrive Wednesday evening or Thursday evening, and return home Sunday evening.
  • There will be rideshares from New Orleans to Texas, and between Houston and Galveston -- if you don't have a car, you can still attend!
  • If you are flying in, you will not need to rent a car, however you must coordinate your arrival time with group pickups.
  • There will be travel support to help people get here from other states, and perhaps other countries TBD. Stay tuned for a Travel Assistance Application!
  • As part of the registration fee (usually around $50 for three days, and no one will be turned away), three meals a day are provided.
  • Our days tend to run in 90 minute blocks with 15 minute breaks from 8 or 9am to 5pm, with an hour for Lightning Talks / Games before a 6pm dinner.
  • At time of registration, you can join committees like FunCom or CleanCom to help this event run smoothly.

We are co-organizing this event with Eduardo Luna, founder of "Dedicated & Committed Organization" which led community-level response to 2017's Hurricane Harvey flooding. Watch a video on Eduardo's work:

Our theme is "community science disaster response toolkit."

  • What environmental or human community factors would be useful to measure?
  • What existing low-cost tools (developed by Public Lab as well as others) might be best-suited to for collecting data on it?

We expect to cover topics ranging from health, safety, and communications to environmental data/sample collection methods and hardware. We'll consider applications and limitations of existing tools such as aerial mapping and the community microscope for pollution monitoring, pre- and post-disaster, and explore low-cost, community citizen science-based chemical monitoring techniques, soil testing approaches, and air quality monitoring methods. Specific ideas include:

  • Safety gear such as dust masks, gloves, eye protection, and exposure monitors.
  • Soil sampling kits that can be used to collect samples appropriate for lab analysis in accordance with EPA sampling guidelines.
  • Arduino, RaspberryPi, and other open source compatible water monitoring tools, such as conductivity or turbidity sensors that can help pinpoint sources of pollution.
  • Sample collection tools and containers with supporting instructions and guides (i.e, methods and materials that can be used to collect samples for lab analysis).
  • Tools for documentation and evidence collection, metadata, and validation (i.e. digital odor logs, logbooks, photographic chain of custody guides).
  • Guides for directing users to resources/mechanisms to quickly connect with outside support.
  • "Community RFP" concept, for communities to specify what formats of outside help is acceptable, and what is not.
  • Field test kits for quick on-the-spot analysis (i.e. colorimetric test badges for exposure and sensors providing quick information on contaminant presence).
  • Dataloggers and sensor combo packs to track progress of pollution events.

About the Barnraising

Barnraisings are the closest thing we have to a Public Lab conference -- but with an emphasis on "doing stuff together." At these events, people come together to exchange field-tested technical knowledge, compare advocacy tactics, and share stories in person. On the first morning of the event, we make our own schedule using an "Open Space Technology" approach; this ensures that the agenda speaks directly to the interests of the people present. Our Code of Conduct applies here as in all other Public Lab spaces. At a Barnraising, people may:

  • Connect with people from other regions who are working on similar issues
  • Exchange advocacy strategies
  • Build and modify tools for collecting data
  • Learn about local environmental health concerns, perhaps through a field trip
  • Improve social ties through in-person collaboration
  • Learn how to collaborate with the broader Public Lab community

Every Fall since 2012, Public Lab hosts a Gulf Coast Barnraising, also referred to as the Annual Barnraising. Additionally, since 2014, we host a Barnraising every summer through partnerships with local groups working on place-specific issues such as restoring wetlands on depleted farmland, monitoring the largest landfill in LA County, assessing petcoke pollution in Southeast Chicago, and timelapse imaging mountain top removal explosions in West Virginia.


@liz has marked @stevie as a co-author.

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Looking forward to this!!! I'm interested in perhaps doing a session on the "lifecycle" of a monitoring technique, from prototyping to community-building and testing, and identifying parts and writing guides, and developing a peer support network around them, as well as a place to share data. Could start with a rough diagram walking through a project like the Community Microscope and then brainstorm/discuss/expand out from there. Would that be of interest to folks?

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