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"Research area reviews" are periods of time when we work together to grow and organize shared knowledge on a particular environmental topic at Public Lab. Every three months, we cycle among the larger topics of air, water, land/soil, and organizing and advocacy. During that three month period, we pick a research area to focus on within the larger topic and collaboratively review it by asking and answering questions—what knowledge exists on Public Lab and beyond? What gaps are there? What accessible methods and tools can be used to research this topic? What next step challenges are there in tool development? What questions and projects are communities addressing? We do this together through calls and posts on PublicLab.org.

By the end of the review period, the goal is to have gathered and synthesized resources on the research area so that they are as current as possible and useful to members of the Public Lab community. People visiting the website will have an idea of how to get started with community science in the topic area, and will also know where to fill in gaps with specific skills, knowledge, and lived experiences.

Featured environmental topics on Public Lab are listed here. On a topic’s wiki page, you’ll find information on how to get started in research, tool development, and advocacy for that topic, and some next step challenges that remain. You’ll also find many ways to share your ideas, questions, and findings with the Public Lab community.

Visit the research area review tag page to see the latest review-related posts on Public Lab, and get updates on reviews by following the #research-area-review tag:

Follow Research Area Review

Current research area review

From July through September 2021, we’ll be reviewing the topic of wastewater. Check here for more details!

And see this post about events we’ll be holding as the review wraps up at the end of September.

If you’re interested in upcoming calls on other topics, check out the monthly calendar of planned community calls on air, land/soil, and organizing and advocacy led by our Research Curation Fellows.

Past research area review events and summaries

A key part of a research area review is getting together to talk and connect with each other on a topic and relevant tools! Below, you’ll find recordings from the most recent public events for a research area review, plus links to resources shared on the call and links to any summary posts.

June 30, 2021: Mapping for organizing & advocacy research area review

We wrapped up our most recent collaborative topic review with a whole bunch of events on mapping for community organizing and advocacy! Here’s a summary of the new and updated resources for this topic on Public Lab.

Presentation on research area review work

We started the day by presenting the highlight reel from the last three months of collective work and conversations on this topic. There are new getting-started activities on using maps for advocacy, examples of how maps can be used—for storytelling, understanding a place, as evidence—and more general resources on methods for community organizing and advocacy. Following the presentation, @julia_e_masters facilitated an open discussion where people on the call shared how they’re using mapping in their place-based research and advocacy on environmental health issues.

Resources shared on the call:

Live build

And then! @a1ahna from the Kits Team led us through a live build of a camera mount for balloon mapping! 📷 🎈We learned about the history of balloon mapping kits at Public Lab, the materials needed for a camera rig and how to build one, and Alahna’s balloon mapping tips and tricks. You can find balloon mapping kits in the Public Lab store here! Here’s a recording of the live build:

Resources shared during the live build:

Guest speakers

Community members working on mapping projects joined us for a guest speaker panel. This session brought together people from incredible, expansive projects that could have each presented in a dedicated event, so we chose to switch up the usual presentation format and instead do rounds of answering a series of prompts enabling us to see across projects. Visit the summary of this session to learn more about each panelist and the questions they answered.

Spanish language panel:

English language panel:

Research area review archive

Click here for an archive of the research area reviews listed below, including video recordings and all links shared on the call.

March 31, 2021: Soil contamination research area review

Click here to see this review in the archive

December 16, 2020: Air quality research area review

Click here to see this review in the archive

September 23, 2020: Microplastics research area review

Click here to see this review in the archive

Who does research area reviews?

Anyone can help with a research area review! As the research coordinator at Public Lab, @bhamster organizes and runs a regular cycle of reviews to make sure we’re keeping our topic areas up-to-date. If you’re interested in helping out or offering ideas, please get in touch by leaving a comment on this post.

What happens during a review?

Currently, research area reviews involve:

  • Choosing a topic to review.
  • People with interest in or experience with the topic contributing and shaping the review by:
    • Posting or answering questions
    • Sharing knowledge in research notes
    • Relating experiences and stories in conversations and community calls
    • Documenting methods and tools and their uses
  • Digging deeper into leads from conversations by gathering information and resources from beyond Public Lab.
  • Organizing and synthesizing materials from Public Lab and beyond, covering methods and tool development; community stories and projects; relevant regulations, policy, and advocacy; next step challenges.
  • Updating the topic’s wiki page and creating new wikis and research notes.
  • Hosting an open online event to share highlights from the review, exchange stories and questions, and to welcome all to get involved with the topic whether they are newcomers or seasoned researchers.
  • Writing up summaries of events and the review.

Another approach:

The review process outlined above built upon previous thinking on research area reviews (here and here), which can also be broken down into more distinct phases and distributed tasks in the following way:

Phase 1: Information Gathering

In Phase 1, the goal is to sift through and update all the existing resources on PublicLab.org related to a topic. This could include checking in on other projects' updates as well, and if there's been a previous review, that's also a great place to start.

Phase 2: Convening

Phase 2 involves hosting an Open Call to bring folks together, to go through the collected materials from Phase 1, identify gaps and plan next steps.

Phase 3: Synthesizing

In Phase 3, the notes from the call and the newly collected materials, shared goals, and tasks are organized and shared on PublicLab.org, tying the review together in a single post.

This table gives more details on the tasks and can serve as a template to organize the phases of a more distributed research area review:

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
1 Facilitate Anyone Hard Invite, listen to, and record new stories related to the topic 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

Want to talk about a topic outside a research area review?


Join us for an Open Call, hosted every Tuesday at 12 pm PT / 3 pm ET. These informal calls are a great way to connect with Public Lab community members on projects, ideas, and questions. You can find more info on Open Call and how to join here.

Come to a call specifically on the topic of water, air, land/soil, or organizing and advocacy. These community calls are hosted throughout the year by Research Curation Fellows. Check here for a monthly calendar of planned calls.

And you can learn more about other kinds of Public Lab events and check out our events calendar here: publiclab.org/events