Public Mapping Mission


Aerial photography at the intersection of open science and public policy


The Public Mapping Mission is an online-offline hybrid course in open science and public policy.  Developed in collaboration with  The GovLab Academy, Public Lab, The Center for Urban

Science and Progress, and Peer-to-Peer University, the two-part course is composed first of an online seminar with a panel of speakers, followed by a hands-on activity mapping a local community using a balloon mapping kit.  This combination of both an online course and offline ‘put into practice’ activity provided a unique opportunity to not only talk and learn about a specific issue, but to also participate in that issue through a hands-on activity.

Part 1: Online Seminar

The first online session took place on November 22, 2013 and was comprised of three presentations surrounding the topics of open science and public policy.  Hosted on a “unhangout platform” built by our partners at P2PU and MIT Media Lab, these presentations were meant to provide context and understanding around the broader topic and offer participants an understanding of how these topics are taking shape in the world.   Following the presentations, participants had an opportunity to ask questions directly to the presenters.

The presenters included:

  • Beth Noveck who spoke about the impact citizen science has on public policy and the growing trends in this participation as well as the increasing acceptance of this participation by governing bodies.

  • Francois Grey who spoke about the evolution of science and the variety of opportunities for citizen involvement with the development of the internet and low-cost technologies.

  • Jeffrey Warren, co-founder of the Public Lab, spoke about the Public Lab and their experiences working within the scope of citizen science.  Jeffrey particularly spoke about the importance of community when pursuing citizen science as well as what makes the Public Lab approach to science so unique.

The video recording of the seminar is located here.  You can access the full transcription is here.

Part 2: Hands – On Practice

The second part of the course focused on the tools and techniques used by citizen scientists that could be put into practice.  The day began with a balloon mapping workshop conducted by Nicholas Johnson which was held online December 7th.  This workshop gave an in-depth explanation on how to prepare and execute balloon photography.  Immediately following the online workshop, participants were encouraged to travel into their communities to put into practice what was learned. The “how-cast” video is located here.

In New York City, a group was organized to map Newtown Creek, an industrial waterway between northern Brooklyn and southern Queens.  The event was also joined by members of the North Brooklyn Boating Club who offered canoes to allow an on-the-creek mapping opportunity.  The mapping of Newtown Creek offline event included ten participants who braved the frigid weather to participate in the event. Read more about the event on this link to the Public Lab research note written by Nicholas Johnson. Photos from the event are located here.  

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