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Issue Brief



This page is intended to help people post on Public Lab when they're just getting started exploring an issue or local concern. It includes step by step instructions on posting an Issue Brief, and examples of posts for you to reference.

What is an Issue Brief?

An Issue Brief is a post on Public Lab that includes basic information about an issue or a local 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.

Who should post an Issue Brief?

Posting an Issue Brief is a good place to start for anyone with an issue or concern who’s:

  • Trying to figure out where to start, or possible pathways forward.
  • Interested in sharing out with others or getting the word out.
  • Looking to bringing others in.
  • Looking for resources.

How do I post an Issue Brief?

To post an Issue Brief to Public Lab you need to first create Public Lab account (if you don’t already have one). You can create one here. This allows you to:

  • Post to Public Lab
  • Follow topics that are of interest to you
  • Comment on other people’s questions and posts.

Once you have created an account, you can use this basic template to post an Issue Brief. The template is flexible. You can add categories and things to it, you can also take things off of it.

It is ok if you don’t know much about your topic, Issue Briefs should be short posts that explain in basic terms what is known, while also articulating what is unknown. That way others can start to see where they can help share resources to build knowledge around the issue.

If you know a lot about the topic, try to keep you Issue Brief short and write in basic language about the issue so that others will be able to understand. You can always add, take away or move materials later.

What will posting an Issue Brief do?

When you post an Issue Brief it will be published to Public Lab for others to read and engage in.

Helpful Hint: Tagging the Issue Brief with key terms about the topic will help it become “searchable” on Public Lab. It will also alert people who “follow” those tags about the new post on Public Lab. More information on “tagging” can be found here.

Where will the Issue Brief be shared?

The issue brief will be shared on the Public Lab Dashboard. This is where all new posts show up on Public Lab. The Dashboard is where you are directed on Public Lab once you have a login. The Brief can also be shared on social media or on other Public Lab channels such as the Public Lab Lists and the blog.

How can people contribute to the Issue Brief once I post it?

The Issue Brief template allows people to comment on your post, share updates on it, post questions related to it, and provide answers. If you post using the template, you are the only one who can edit the Issue Brief (unless you create a co-author on the post - See Power Tags). Once your issue brief grows with contributions from others, you might find that you’d like to move the Issue Brief to a project page so that others can edit and update about the issue as well. The template for Project Pages allows you to share more and do more together. You can find the template for Project Pages here.

Help drafting or posting an Issue Brief:

There are a number of ways you can get assistance drafting an Issue Brief. You can join the weekly Live Call and talk to Public Lab staff and community members. You can also write an email to the Writing Working Group to get help drafting your post.

Anonymous Posting

If you’re concerned about posting the issue under your user name, here is some information about maintaining anonymity.


Example Issue Briefs:

Below you will find several example Issue Briefs. They here as example posts to help show how the Issue Brief template might be used. They are based off issues people have workshop in Public Lab, but were not written by community members.

Example Issue Brief : Pollution from dehydrated biosolids

Our community in Pennsylvania has been plagued with activities of a local slaughterhouse. The practices there have included turning their waste into a “solid” (powdery) material and selling it as an agricultural “co-product.” The ultrafine particles of these co-products blow off trucks during transport and during application to farms as fertilizer, causing respiratory and other human health issues.

Main concern:

Our main concerns is for human health impacts of these ultrafine particulates that are in the air. We’ve seen an increase in respiratory illness in our community.

What is known about how this issue is regulated?

Classifying waste as a “co-product that is beneficial to soil” is a way for industrial operations to avoid regulation. A co-product means the waste is not classified as waste, but instead as a fertilizer. The US EPA Office of Water (OW) regulates biosolids. The regulations, 40 CFR Part 503, are usually referred to as the 503s. Despite the agency’s claim to the contrary, OW also promotes land application.

Who is engaged in this concern?

My small community in PA (we wish to remain anonymous), but we’ve also heard of communities in rural North Carolina and in rural New York who have had similar issues.

Example Issue Brief : Petroleum Coke in Houston

For years petroleum coke (a byproduct of the oil refining process) has been stored in piles in Port Arthur, (Houston area). Air Alliance Houston has done some air sampling, and it showed that the ash that blows into the community regularly has petroleum coke in it. We’ve never been able to document this hazard fully outside of that one monitoring activity Air Alliance did. We’re interested in tracking it, and bringing some awareness to this issue.

Main concern:

The ash is a nuisance, but we’re also concerned about the health effects. We’re also wondering what happened to the piles during Hurricane Harvey.

What is known about how this issue is regulated?

We’re not really sure, but I would guess the Clean Air Act. I know there is an exemption for petcoke from classification as either a solid or hazardous waste.

Who is engaged in this concern?

My community is engaged in this locally. We know that petcoke that was originally stored in Chicago was moved out of the city with pressure from local environmental advocacy groups. We’ve also heard petcoke is an issue in Detroit as well, but we’re not connected.

Example Issue Brief : Landfill expansion

The Val Verde community in Los Angeles County has been plagued with a large landfill for many years. We have some evidence that the landfill is taking hazardous waste outside their permit, and are currently over their permitted capacity. Instead of closing like they promised, they are seeking a permit to expand the landfill which we’re strongly against. Our community is largely Spanish speaking, but we’re having a hard time getting information about the proposed expansion, let alone materials in Spanish.

Main concern:

We’ve had problems with odors, but our main concerns are about for our air and water quality.

What is known about how this issue is regulated?

Waste in California is regulated under the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). We also know that landfill permit material needs to go to the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Who is engaged in this concern?

The Val Verde community and SCOPE (Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment)


Issue Briefs posted to Public Lab:

Title Author Updated Likes
Host an Issue Brief workshop @stevie 7 days ago

Purpose Category Status Author Time Difficulty Replications
Host an Issue Brief workshop - - @stevie - - 0 replications: Try it »

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method community-organizing issue-brief