University of Michigan Museum of Natural History Ann Arbor, Michigan
Public Interest Technology Community Innovation Fellowship
Jade Marks, trained as a biogeochemist, is the Science Communication Manager for the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History.
Through courses, workshops, and programming, Jade helps researchers use their stories to build scientific literacy and cultivate lifelong learning among public audiences. Her experience working at the intersection of science and society drives her passion for improving the accessibility of scientific research and environmental data.
Justin Schell is the Director of the Shapiro Design Lab, an engaged learning community in the University of Michigan Library.
He facilitates several community and citizen science projects, including the use of open-source hardware for environmental justice advocacy, online crowdsourcing, and projects that increase the availability and accessibility of environmental data.
This project aimed to identify ways that cultural institutions can support local environmental justice work and facilitate better access to environmental data.
This project was especially relevant in Michigan because of its large immigrant population, particularly egregious housing segregation, and high-profile environmental issues like the Flint water crisis.
In June 2020, the project team sent out a survey to get a first look at local environmental justice priorities. Results showed that water quality was a top community concern and that approximately 50% of respondents had, at some point, searched for environmental data and been unable to find it. The team then engaged eight scientific, community, and technical experts in a series of workshops to design a forum in a way that would produce actionable outcomes for environmental justice.
The forum was held asynchronously online and was flexible so that participants could focus on multiple issues. They also offered a mail-in postcard to reach individuals without reliable internet access. The project team ran into issues with low participation but were able to improve recruitment through a combination of incentives, synchronous engagement opportunities, online advertising, and community partners’ outreach, eventually reaching 39 participants.
The forum brought up many different ideas for how cultural institutions could support environmental justice, such as providing meeting space for environmental justice organizations, developing interactive exhibits, and developing online tools to help community members access environmental data. The data gathered was shared with participants and the cultural institutions and environmental justice groups that helped to design the forum.