Public Lab: Community-Based Approaches to Urban and Environmental Health and Justice


This paper explores three cases of Do-It-Yourself, open-source technologies developed within the diverse array of topics and themes in the communities around the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab). These cases focus on aerial mapping, water quality monitoring and civic science practices. The techniques discussed have in common the use of accessible, community-built technologies for acquiring data. They are also concerned with embedding collaborative and open source principles into the objects, tools, social formations and data sharing practices that emerge from these inquiries. The focus is on developing processes of collaborative design and experimentation through material engagement with technology and issues of concern. Problem-solving, here, is a tactic, while the strategy is an ongoing engagement with the problem of participation in its technological, social and political dimensions especially considering the increasing centralization and specialization of scientific and technological expertise. The authors also discuss and reflect on the Public Lab’s approach to civic science in light of ideas and practices of citizen/civic veillance, or “sousveillance”, by emphasizing people before data, and by investigating the new ways of seeing and doing that this shift in perspective might provide.

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  1. 1.

  2. 2.

    The term Israel/Palestine is chosen here to refer to the contested status of sovereignty in East Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories (see also footnotes 28, 29 and 37).

  3. 3.

  4. 4.

  5. 5.

    Public Lab's co-founders are Liz Barry, Shannon Dosemagen, Adam Griffith, Mathew Lippincott, Stewart Long, Jeff Warren and Sara Wylie.

  6. 6.

    Jeff Warren, Oliver Yeh, Stewart Long, Shannon Dosemagen and Kris Ansin were the organizing team.

  7. 7.

  8. 8.

  9. 9.

  10. 10.

    Local chapters are groups organized around Public Lab tools and methods in local areas around the world for the purpose of investigating environmental, social, and political concerns. They interconnect the knowledge of various affected communities as well as that of relevant experts and share toolkits.

  11. 11.

    More information about the Basurama association can be found at

  12. 12.

    "7,000,000,000" exhibition was curated by David Arlandis and Javier Marroquí. More info at

  13. 13.

    We had explored this option when we mapped the Saugus Ash Landfill for the Trans Trash exhibition organized at MIT. More info at

  14. 14.

    All the information related to this project “Defend the territory from the sky” can be accessed at

  15. 15.

    The open call was published in Basurama’s website

  16. 16.

    We provided a web-based collaborative real-time editor to collect all the locationsóndesdeelaire.

  17. 17.

    The map can be accesed at

  18. 18.

  19. 19.

    Check the email thread with the doubts and responses/solutions in the Grassroots Mapping list!topic/grassrootsmapping/wjQd2Twq_pY.

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  21. 21.

    Associació Juvenil Amics de la Casa de la Demanà

  22. 22.

    Although there were some problems with the tool crashing while trying to export all of the maps at the same time, quick help arrived through the Grassroots Mapping email list!topic/grassrootsmapping/OXpnqxgBmgk.

  23. 23.

    Information about the project and feedback can be found atón-and-building-community#c8248.

  24. 24.

    The "Ecologistes en Acció from La Vall d'Uixó" used the image for the posters for an event that they organized. The "Associació Juvenil Amics de la Casa de la Demanà" in El Saler used the photos for an advocacy campaign.

  25. 25.

    Documentation about the evolution of Els Clots, a natural region in La Valldigna (Valencia) and a documentation of the outskirts and empty plots of Castellón de la Plana by Agustón Serisuelo

  26. 26.

    The “Laboratorio Publico” email list, in Spanish, can be publicly accessed at!forum/laboratoriopublico. More information about the Spanish chapter can be found at

  27. 27.

    This case study is based on ethnographic work with a Palestinian community in Silwan, East Jerusalem and reflects the perspectives of the author, as well as the youth and activists with whom we have worked. See also:

  28. 28.

    Preserving a ‘demographic balance’ of 28–72% has been an official government policy since the 1990s that shapes the master plans prepared for the city’s development, and is mainly enforced by a strict control over the allocation of housing (Felner 1995; Weizman 2007). See b' regarding policies in East Jerusalem and on the Jerusalem Master Plan 2000.

  29. 29.

    For more details on the housing crisis and the scope of Palestinian building without permits see the report by Bimkom, a non-governmental organization (NGO) of architects for human and planning rights: in English:

  30. 30.

    Also, constant surveillance raises concern about violations of privacy. See: (accessed 11, December 2017).

  31. 31.

    For a more detailed account of these activities see

  32. 32.

    A new version of the open-source software Mapknitter has been released and provides instructions and a video to help independent installation of the tool. They can be accessed at

  33. 33.

    The poster is available here: (accessed 11, December 2017).

  34. 34.

    See more in ‘Whither high-resolution satellite imagery of Israel?’ and the Public Law (1996) ‘Sec. 1064. Prohibition on collection and release of detailed satellite imagery relating to Israel.

  35. 35.

    Though each state has its own regulation.

  36. 36.

    The majority of Palestinian residents in eastern Jerusalem are non-citizens, holding a vulnerable status of “permanent residents” of Jerusalem. As Danielle C. Jefferis (2012) writes, a Palestinian’s permanent residency in East Jerusalem is an intermediate legal status between citizenship and its revocation. Increasing this inherent instability, Israel has been instituting various measures and policies that institutionalize and legalize statelessness among Palestinian Jerusalemites (2012, pp. 9–10).

  37. 37.

  38. 38.

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  44. 44.

  45. 45.

    A similar point is made by Mordechai Haklay in regard to the democratizing potentials of Volunteer Geographic Information (VGI) and Neogeography in general (Haklay 2013).


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Special thanks to Dr. Heidi Ballard, Liz Barry, Shai Efrati, Jeff Warren and Cindy Regalado. The aerial mapping workshop in Castellón was possible thanks to the invitation of David Arlandis and Javier Marroquí and to the Espai d’art contemporani de Castelló and the collaboration of the organizations Avinença, Ecologistes en Acció del País Valencià, Molts Mons, Amics de Palanques, Casal Popular de Castelló; documentation by Lot and Lucia; and the co-organization of Rubén Lorenzo Montero from Basurama. The aerial mapping and workshops in Silwan, East Jerusalem, were supported by the Education Lab in “Mamuta, Art and Media Center” (

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Correspondence to Hagit Keysar.

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Rey-Mazón, P., Keysar, H., Dosemagen, S. et al. Public Lab: Community-Based Approaches to Urban and Environmental Health and Justice. Sci Eng Ethics 24, 971–997 (2018).

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  • Aerial mapping
  • Water quality
  • Civic science
  • Sousveillance
  • Participatory design
  • Open source
  • Community engagement
  • Open hardware
  • Do-It-Yourself