Public Lab Research note


Idea for Research Area Reviews

by stevie | May 24, 2019 20:21 | 95 views | 10 comments | #19516 | 95 views | 10 comments | #19516 24 May 20:21

Read more: publiclab.org/n/19516


Based on my last post (found here) asking for ideas on how to run Research Area Reviews, I'd like to share two different model ideas, one in which the Review is done by someone who spearheads the project and work, and another where the tasks are broken down and can be done by anyone.

In the first idea, someone would "claim" an area to review. This person would then manage the process which could include activities such as:

Gardening and updating the wiki:

  • Going through posts on areas
  • Doing keyword searches through the website and email groups to find stray content
  • Doing an internet search to round up related work not in Public Lab

Suming-up and hosting real-time convening:

  • Writing a provisional synthesis to present at a meeting (like open call?)
  • Inviting all contributors to come to a meeting and host, (synchronous meet-up)
  • Writing a post up about the outcome of the meeting (which becomes somehow the top of the wiki or tag page for that research area?)

Identifying and sharing the latest challenges:

  • Finding and boost community questions
  • Highlighting gaps and challenges
  • Planning/scheduling next steps - when could next check-in happen?

The advantages of this could be that the Review has someone who leads it and takes it through the process. The drawbacks I see are that there are fewer moments for collaboration and involving others. It also is a lot of work, and probably something we'd need to think through supporting someone to do which could be a lot because, well we have a lot of topic areas, and we'd probably need to run sort of schedule to regularly do them.


In this second model, the Research Area Review could be done by a distributed group. For example, we could break the process down into three phases:

  • Phase 1: Information Gathering
  • Phase 2: Conveining
  • Phase 3: Synthesizing

Each phase has tasks people could "sign up" to do. It could look something like this:

Phase Task Type Who can do this Difficulty Task I'll do this!
1 Garden Anyone Easy Go through posts in the area and make sure they are properly tagged LINK
1 Share Anyone Easy Post questions on the topic area you have, or that you’re not able to find answers to on Public Lab. LINK
1 Garden One person Medium Make sure the wiki page has clear format LINK
1 Research Anyone Hard Help find answers to unanswered questions LINK
2 Share Anyone Easy Attend the open topic call and collaborate LINK
2 Facilitate One person Medium Host the public online meeting for group to collaborate to: Highlighting findings, ID gaps in available resources, highlight challenges in this research area LINK
3 Synthesize Anyone Hard Review existing material and call summary and write an update post on it with materials gathered LINK
3 Research One person Hard Follow up on gaps identified from the group and post materials to help support information around those gaps. LINK

I see the advantages of a process like this are that obviously, a lot of people can be involved. This could also be a challenge. I think we would still need to have someone make sure the processes are moving along, and things are getting done.

What do you think??


9 Comments

This is great, thanks for posting @stevie! I pinged in on the chatroom to hear from some of the folks who've been involved in facilitating the Weekly Check-Ins in our code community; although it's not the same thing as a weekly check-in, the process for inviting and supporting people to do the check-in could be a relevant point of reference for getting this process started --

Here's this week's check-in: https://github.com/publiclab/image-sequencer/issues/1065

Here's the doc @sashadev-sky posted a while back to help people make their first Check-In: https://github.com/publiclab/plots2/blob/master/doc/CHECKINS.md

@sashadev-sky @gauravano @aashnaaashna (who posted this week's) -- what are some of the things that make our Check-In process work or not work, that could be relevant to some of Stevie's ideas and questions above?

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@warren @stevie This is definitely interesting to think about!

With our check-in process, what has worked is: 1) Imposing a schedule (ex. sundays we open check-ins) 2) Having someone overseeing is pretty essential, mostly because of distributed responsibility & priority - anyone can take on the task of making sure check-ins are opened every week and go according to plan, and if @gauravano, @sidharth, etc. and I stopped overseeing it it's definitely possible someone would take over and oversee that the next check-in is opened. But without that responsibility being assigned to a smaller group of people, there is no way to ensure consistency with that. There have been instances where it was past the deadline and nobody offered and we intervened.

I think that the models can be combined! One (maybe two) people will spearhead. People can volunteer for the tasks still and sign up (capped to an appropriate # that the person spearheading decides) and can help with any aspect, but ultimately it will be the responsibility of the person who spearheaded to make sure things keep moving and pick up any lacking areas.


Hi, great post @stevie!

Here are some things which make check-ins successful:

  1. Announcing in chatroom after opening check-in -- Sometimes, the contributor who open check-in forget to announce about the check-in the chatroom, which limits its reach, but as Sasha mentioned, we take care of that.

  2. Theme matters

  3. Interactivity measure - After check-in is opened, it shouldn't be like a silent thread where people just write their goals but it should be a discussion about those goals/achievements. Whenever I get time, I reply to the questions on check-in or check out the links posted there. Many other members also support this.
  4. Mentioning right people - We mention many contributors on check-in but it's about -- Did we mention all the new contributors, because, we want those new contributors to feel comfortable and welcoming and also to give them a feel of a community.

Ok, I got carried away with the community check-in part :P.

I think the second model is great as it follows the modular approach. Breaking down a complex task makes it easier to solve. We encourage and practice modularity wherever possible. But, at the same time, having someone as a leader/mentor who could analyze the combined efforts or ensure that collaboration is working out well, is necessary.

So, yeah, it's somewhat similar to Sasha's proposal. And, if we want to improve the first model, then I would say having two people on a topic would be more appropriate as that way all the aspects like convening, trying all the related terms, etc. can be easily handled as collaboration makes the task easier and fast due to engagement, discussions, idea brainstorming.

Following the note and will chime-in when more ideas strike me 😃. Thanks!


Hi @gauravano this is great!

on 3: This is a really helpful idea. I hadn't thought of a place where people could carry on updates and conversations as the review is going on. Maybe the talk pad for the review area would be a spot to do this, but it's not something you'd be notified about if someone updated it, so I think it could be a little lonely to follow there. @warren do you have ideas on where the conversations could happen on this in a similar sort of thread? Maybe with each Review we post an "updates" research note people can just reply to and comment in on (much like this?!)

4- Mentioning the right people is good advice too. Right now I don't know how we would track when people did the different steps. Maybe there's a "Done" moment or an "I did this" opportunity we could capture in some way. That way we would know who has done what and who we could credit with helping out!

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@sashadev-sky I agree, some combination of the two could be best! I also really like the "regular schedule" idea. Maybe an active review on a monthly cycle or something like that could make sense.


I like the idea of an "update post" which kind of provides a working/coordination/discussion space while it's happening. This also leaves a nice trail which provides a model for months later when people would want to do a new review.


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@organizers -- thoughts on this?

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So far I'm also favoring a combo method. I think most people like the idea of small tasks they can work on since this is a volunteer community. The tough part will be accountability. So @Stevie, what you said about a regular check-in makes sense. I know for GOSH someone is in charge of sending out reminders, which so far seems to be working.

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