Over the weekend of November 2-4, Public Lab held the second annual barn raising in Cocodrie, La., at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium facility. The concept of an organization focused on science and technology holding a barn raising sounds strange. But we borrow the term to signify the collaborative spirit that’s at the core of these gatherings. Rather than come together as a community to raise a structure (as in a traditional barn raising), the Public Lab community comes together to collaboratively discuss, build and create Public Lab — the organizational infrastructure, the tools, the processes and methods that are important to the Public Lab approach to civic science.

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The Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) facility where the event was held.

In October 2011, we held the first barn raising in Asheville, N.C., focused on developing the near-infrared camera and testing out aerial-mapping techniques on the French Broad River and at a small-scale organic farm. However, Public Lab started as a large collaborative project on the Gulf Coast when locals and others from across the U.S. came together to collect aerial imagery, support local mappers with supplies, and create public domain maps available to those affected by the BP oil spill. Thus, we felt that returning to Louisiana to hold our yearly event was an appropriate place to bring the community together.

sharing citizen science, tools from around the world

Participants at the barn raising included Gulf Coast locals and representatives of several organizations — Gulf Restoration Network, Groundwork New Orleans and Social Agency Lab, as well as 20 or so people from across the globe who brought various interests and skills to the event. Cindy Regalado from University College London’s Extreme Citizen Science program led a session on the ethics of practice in citizen science; Scott Eustis of Gulf Restoration Network discussed photogrametry techniques for aerial mapping in wetlands; Chris Fastie and Pat Coyle tried out aerial-mapping techniques that they’ve been working to refine; Don Blair co-led a session on designing future directions for Public Lab air-monitoring tools such as the indoor air toxic mapping and Hydrogen Sulfide sensing.

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Pat Coyle’s rig.

There were also sessions on map stitching, spectrometry, and collaborative decision-making sessions such as formulating and writing a vision statement, discussing the potential for Public Lab charters and chapters, and integrating barnstars into the Public Lab rhetoric to acknowledge contributions that community members make. Sessions that lasted well into the nighttime hours, such as kite building and flame spectroscopy, also provided a chance to get people who normally interact via the Internet together in a face-to-face context helpful for creating, sharing and enacting ideas on the spot.

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Dan Beavers and Cindy Regalado working on building a Tyvek kite.

From this weekend, we’ve been able to develop working groups on topics such as education, create an alpha tester group for the new Public Lab website, and build stronger networks and collaborations with people who’ve been active in the Public Lab community over the last few years. Looking forward in the next year, we’re excited to develop a support structure for local mini-barn raisings where people can get together in their own community to work on tool and idea development.

For a more detailed account on the barn raising sessions, see this excellent post by Cindy Regalado on the UCL Extreme Citizen Science blog:

A co-founder of Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, Shannon is based in New Orleans as the Director of Community Engagement, Education and Outreach. Shannon has worked with Public Laboratory (formerly Grassroots Mapping) for the last year as the Gulf Coast project lead, organizing volunteers as they collected aerial images of the Gulf Coast. Shannon also works with the Anthropology and Geography Department at Louisiana State University as an Ethnographer and Community Researcher on a study about the social impacts of the spill in coastal Louisiana communities. Prior to working with Public Laboratory, she was the Oil Spill Response Coordinator at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, directing projects such as the first on-the-ground health and economic impact report in Louisiana post-oil spill. Shannon has an MS in Anthropology, a BFA in Photography and Anthropology and has worked with nonprofits for over 10 years.

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