Public Lab Research note

Workshop: Draft an Issue Brief with a group

by stevie | January 23, 2018 16:48 23 Jan 16:48 | #15591 | #15591

About this workshop:

This workshop is intended to help you and your group navigate the process of drafting materials to post an Issue Brief on Public Lab.

An Issue Brief is a post on Public Lab that includes basic information about a local issue or a concern. The Issue Brief is intended to be a basic way to share the "who, what, where, and why" of an issue, while leaving lots of room for articulating the: "I don't know” that always exists when we’re just starting out exploring an issue. By compiling these things together and posting them, you're able to bring others into your exploration and/or concern. This will help you to gathering information, questions, resources from others, and share out as you learn.

Working through this with others can help you both to talk about the issue, and to share in the process of posting up on Public Lab.

In Preparation

  • Gather your materials (list below)
  • Have one or two participants create a Public Lab login.
  • Read the Facilitator Event Guide (below) before the event.
  • Have designated note take - this person will be important for capturing the information shared at the event for the post on Public Lab. This person should not be the facilitator. Here is a helpful doc your notetakers can copy and use to follow along and fill in.

Materials to have on hand:

  • Print out 2 copies of this page for notes (there is one section where your group will divide into two, the other group will need a copy of this page).
  • Sticky notes
  • Pens
  • A computer (with internet)

If you have questions, or your group gets stuck:

Facilitator Event Guide

Activity 1: Who’s in the room?

Everyone says their name, and one thing that brought them into the room that day *** it can be good to document these

Introduction to the workshop:

Go over just the bold print tips with the group. If your group wants to explore more about the tips, you can use the supporting information below the headers.

Optional Facilitator Propt: In this workshop we will explore what is currently known about our local concern. It’s possible we already have binders of information about this issue, or that there is very little we know yet. Either way, it’s okay! Here are a few tips working through today to keep in mind:

Work to define the problem, be careful not to jump to solutions

When we frame issues based on possible solutions, we’re less able to see the full picture, and we can box ourselves into only seeing certain pathways forward. Laying out the issues and concerns without possible solutions can feel counterproductive, but keep in mind, the better we frame the issue the better we are able to see the nuances that could play as we explore pathways forward later.

  • Supporting information: (Article “Problem-Framing: A perspective on environmental problem-solving” Environmental Management, September 1991, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 603–612, Lisa V. Bardwell)

Keep it simple, keep it specific.

Environmental issues are, by nature, complicated, nuanced, and involve many layers. Rather than describing the system the issues lies in, work to define the bounds on the issue. For example, rather than defining climate change, bound your issue to your local geography and define the problem as it relates to your specific community. You can reference the broader issues, but but don’t get bogged down in them. You can keep track of where things grow and become more complicated, but you can note where your boundaries on issues are so that you and your reader understands them.

Keep it short.

If you have a lot of information, try to narrow it down to the most important pieces, for example what you would tell your senator about it if you had his ear for 1 minute, or what you would say to someone over the dinner table who knows nothing about it, just to wet their appetite for a longer conversation later. If you’re searching for what to say, and feel like you don’t know much about it at the moment, that’s great! You’re in the right place. The prompts below will help you tease out some of the important facts.

When we get there, post it, then edit it.

This post doesn't have to be perfect. It can be easy to get caught up in wordsmithing, or wanting to hold back on posting in favor more information. Holding back on posting won’t help you get to where you’re going faster. Keep in mind, people are more interested in learning about the issue than about perfectly wordsmithed issue briefs or ones that are fully flushed out. These posts are intended to spark questions, ideas and conversations. Remember you can always go back and edit your Issue Brief later once it has been posted.

Activity 2: Our community, Our concern

  • In this activity you will read questions aloud to the group one at a time, allowing time (3 or so minutes) for participants to answer on their own on sticky notes.
  • Once people have written their own responses, share the answers as a group as you go through the questions.
  • Encourage participants to keep bullets to one or two for each question. Have the notetaker type answers as they are read aloud. If there are repeating or similar answers, condense them.

Group questions:

Describing your community:

  • What is your community like? How would you describe it to your out of town friend?
  • What makes your community special, what are you most proud of? Describing the issue:

  • What does your community worry about?

  • What would you like to see different in 10 or 15 years?

Discussion/Decision: Now that issues have been raised, if more than one came up, try to work on wordsmithing them into one if they are on the same topic. If they are on different topics, chose one as a group to move forward with it together. You can always post a new issue brief on a different issue later. If you need to take a vote on which issue to move forward with that’s fine, just keep track of any that are not currently being discussed so you can return to them later.

Activity 3: The landscape of the issue

  • In this activity you will read questions aloud to the group one at a time, allowing time (3 or so minutes) for participants to answer on their own on sticky notes.
  • Once people have written their own responses, share the answers as a group as you go through the questions.
  • Encourage participants to keep bullets to one or two for each question. Have the notetaker type answers as they are read aloud. If there are repeating or similar answers, condense them.

Group questions: Describing the barriers and landscape for change:

  • What are obstacles in addressing the issues you identified above?
  • How is this issue regulated?

Describing who is engaged in the issue:

  • Who is in the room? Is there a group or individuals already organized on this issue?
  • Who else do you know of that is working on this issue (local, government, nonprofits, universities, other?)
  • Who in the community is typically left out of these conversations?


Now that we have the materials for our Issue Brief mostly sorted out, we will break into two groups to wrap up the Brief. The first group will work on editing and preparing the post, and the second group will continue to gather supporting material for the Brief. NOTE: Group 1 will need a print out of the directions listed below.

Group 1 Drafting: 1-2 people who can work on drafting. At least one of the people in this group should have a Public Lab log in.

Group 2 Supporting Materials: Everyone else, this group will need a facilitator and note taker.

Group 1: Drafting

Activity 1: Editing

At this point the notes document should have bullets or sentences under each subheading. Review that text for readability, and where necessary, clarify the text and delete duplicate information.

Activity 2: Preparing the post:

  1. The person who has the login for Public Lab should sign on, and go to and
  2. Click the button “Post an Issue Brief.” This will bring to you a new page with the Issue Brief template.
  3. Scroll down Section 3 with the text box. There you will see the text “###Introduction”
  4. Where it says “Replace this the text with some context for what you are sharing. For example, you can provide a brief introduction to your community, and give some context for the issue you're posting about.” Delete that text and replace it with your groups notes from activity 1: “Our Community, our concern”
  5. Under the section “###Our main concern” on the template, Replace the text under the heading with one or two sentences on the main concern.
  6. Do the same under the section “###Obstacles and supporting information:” and “### Who is engaged in this concern?” with the text from the questions from Activity 2.
  7. Leave that page open without editing anything further for now and loop in with Group 2 and join on where they are working. They have been working on the spaces we have left blank on the template.

Group 2: Preparing to share out

Optional Facilitator Prompt: Now that we’ve identified the materials we need for our issue brief, we will identify ways in which we hope to engage others on it. To do this, we will come up with key terms, a title and questions we have that other people might be able to help us answer on our issue.

Tags (search terms):

Optional Facilitator Prompt: We will be able to “tag” our Issue Brief with terms that will help others find it or be directed to it on Public Lab.
  • Brainstorm with the group a list of 5-10 tags that would be good to share with your Issue Brief.
  • Identify a unique project tag - the unique project tag will help you sort your information on Public Lab and distinguish it from things that share your other tags. This tag can be longer for example “Madison-Lake-Dredge,” “Pensacola-Soil-Testing,” “NOLA-Stormwater”

Notes on Tags: - Tags need to be either single words or words that are connected by hyphoning for example “water” and “water-quality.” - It’s good to include tags such as: location, your main topic, and sub-topics.

Title:Have the group brainstorm a title to the Issue Brief together. If nothing comes to mind right away, have people propose titles, and work to wordsmith it together. You can also look to your “tags” for inspiration. Identify a title and document it.


  • Have individuals brainstorm 1-2 questions each about the issue, and have them write them on sticky notes.
  • After people have their questions, go around in a circle and have people read them out.
  • Have the note take type the questions as they are read aloud. If there are repeating or similar answers, condense them.
What questions do you have that could help build more information around this issue brief? Think about things other people might know.

Final Posting - Group 1 and Group 2 coordinating

Notes for Group 1:

  1. Pull up the Issue Brief again.
  2. The "Tags" identified in the last activity by Group 2 will go under the template section 4 (NOTE: separate each tag with a “,”).
  3. The title from Group 2 will go under the template section 1.
  4. Under the section “### What are the initial questions?” delete the text down to “Madison-Lake-Dredge.”
  5. In the [ questions:tagname] text box, replace the word “tagname” with the unique project tag Group 2 identified. Be sure to hyphenate it, and not include space.
  6. Hit Publish (don’t worry you will be able to edit this post later). You will now see a draft of your post.
  7. Before you note anything you would like to change, scroll down to the blue “ask a question” button and click it.
  8. Now you can post the questions Group 2 started to identify in the last activity. Replace the text “how do I..” with one of the group’s questions then press “ask.”
  9. Repeat this process for each question.

Wrap up and Follow up!

You’ve now posted an issue brief! Here are a few follow up things you can do:

  • Go back and edit this issue brief at any time by pressing the Pencil button on the top of your post. image description

  • You can add an image on section 2 when you edit (Drag and Drop works).

  • If you drafted the Issue Brief with others who have Public Lab accounts, you can sharing editing ability with them on this brief by adding the tag “with:%%%” and replacing the %%% with their Public Lab username.
  • The editors of this post and questions will get email notifications as people respond or comment on it. Be sure to loop in with event participants as these start coming in.
  • Set a follow up meeting to discuss next steps. You might consider joining a Public Lab Live Call or working with your group on a follow up “goal setting” workshop.
  • Have others post questions on this Issue Brief.
  • Share out your page!

Questions from this workshop were written based off of the AGU: Thriving Earth Exchange Example questions from “getting to know a community”

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Here's a worksheet you can use on this as well! Issue_Brief_Worksheet_-1-.pdf

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This workshop is still the gold standard! Thank you

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