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"Research area reviews" are ways we work to grow and organize our shared information on a topic area on Public Lab. The goal is to synthesize and refresh resources on a topic (a.k.a. a research area) so that they are as current as possible and useful to the community. On a topic’s wiki page, you’ll find information on how to get started in research, tool development, and advocacy for a 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.

Featured topics on Public Lab are listed here. Visit the research area review tag page to see the latest review-related posts on Public Lab, and get updates on reviews by subscribing:

Subscribe to Research Area Review

Research area review events

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 event for a research area review, plus links to resources shared on the call.

December 16, 2020: Air quality research area review

Wrapping up Public Lab’s latest research area review on air quality, we held a virtual get-together on community air monitoring. We saw highlights of updated air quality resources on the Public Lab website, talked about local air monitoring projects across the US, and shared goals, questions, and tips with each other.

Joining us to share their ongoing projects and experiences in community air monitoring:

  • @MsSema and @mashalawais, responding to the ITC fire in the Houston, TX area, by developing lower-cost, real-time monitors and a mobile alert system for benzene and other emissions from petrochemical facilities.
  • Deborah Mills, Wendy Brawer, Veronica Olivotto, and Mary Jo Burke of LES Breathe: developing a community-run air monitoring, reporting, and remediation network in the Lower East Side of New York City.
  • Gustavo Aguirre Jr., Kern County Director at the Central California Environmental Justice Network, with experience in Bucket Brigades, driving changes in air quality policy in California, and engaging youth in air quality monitoring.
  • @eustatic of Healthy Gulf, focusing on particulate matter monitoring and interested in ways to prevent community burnout in the face of chronic issues, plus immediate remediation as part of FEMA responses.
  • @kgradow1, @jjcreedon, and Ethan McMahon of the US EPA, also joined the call to share questions and ideas.

Check out a summary of the research area review on air quality here, including highlights of some of the ongoing questions and challenges discussed on the call.

Resources shared:

Past research area reviews

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

September 23, 2020: Microplastics research area review

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 research notes.
  • Hosting an open online event to share stories, questions and answers, highlights from the review, and to welcome all to research the topic whether they are newcomers or seasoned researchers.
  • Posting 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 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, 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?

Anytime! We want to hear from you. 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.

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