Public Lab is a platform for community science practitioners working on environmental issues to document their work, share tools for environmental monitoring and advocacy, and connect with each other. Following the BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Public Lab was founded in 2010 to address an enormous gap in community knowledge about the impacts of the spill. Public Lab launched as an open source platform, collecting data and maps of the coastline over time to show the coast before, during, and after the spill. Today, tools and data on the groups website are created by the Public Lab community, open source, and typically inexpensive to use, thereby enabling collaboration and expansion of community knowledge about environmental issues. Public Labs 2020-2022 Strategic Plan outlines its overarching goal to support community science base-building and three objectives: 1) make it easier for communities to lead scientific investigations through peer networking, education, and open technology and data; 2) develop community leadership in science; and 3) build alliances with other organizations.
How to Use
A searchable projects archive offers a diversity of examples of community science projects across the globe. The Public Lab community is open and free for anyone to join, and Public Lab community members can add their own project page to document their methods and share expertise with others. Users can browse low-cost environmental monitoring tools for application areas such as air quality, land use, stormwater, and more. and advocacy methods, and action toolkits by science topics
During quarterly Research Area Reviews, Public Lab members collaboratively review a topic to synthesize and refresh relevant resources so they are usable to the community as a whole. Topics vary significantly, but generally fall under the major areas of water, soil, air, industry, climate, organizing, and monitoring. Community members can ask or answer questions and share knowledge or experiences. Then, through iterative processes, the Public Lab and community participants develop final materials and tools on the topic, such as updating topic wikis, designing and hosting online events to share highlights from the review, and summarizing the discussions.
Public Lab also hosts regular interactive seminars online and in person called OpenHour. Such presentations discuss environmental issues, presentations on research, and discuss advocacy methodology. Additional opportunities for the public to engage include Open Call, which are hosted weekly for people to connect virtually with the Public Lab community, and the Newcomers Welcome Call, which acquaints new visitors to Public Lab with the platform. In-person engagement opportunities include the annual Barnraising event, similar to a conference, which focuses on local research questions and brings together the community to develop resources to share.