Public Lab is a community and non-profit organization that is democratizing science to address environmental issues that affect people

Public Lab is a community where you can learn how to investigate environmental concerns. Using inexpensive DIY techniques, we seek to change how people see the world in environmental, social, and political terms.

Communities lack access to the tools and techniques needed to participate in decisions being made about their communities, especially when facing environmental hazards.

Public Lab is an open network of community organizers, educators, technologists and researchers working to create low cost solutions for monitoring air, water and land. Discover, collaborate on, and contribute to locally important matters with the support of a global community.

  • A community of tools contributors
  • A repository of experimental tools
  • A network of local groups
  • An open data archive
  • Free and open source software that can be use to deal with data collected
  • A platform to build collaborations and index projects

Why this is important

Public Lab believes that generating knowledge is a powerful thing. They aim to open research from the exclusive hands of scientific experts. By doing so, communities facing environmental justice issues are able to own the science and advocate for the changes they want to see. By promoting a hands-on, do-it-yourself ethos, we support each other’s exploration, which leads to technical development and real applications in our communities.

How it works

Public Lab is an open community that anyone can join. They work online through this interactive wiki where people can pose questions, post their research and reach out to others. Research questions are focused on addressing local issues, and are driven by on-the-ground community work. This makes us stronger community organizers, technologists, scientists and activists.

About the tools and data

The science, technology and data in Public Lab are community-created and open source. They utilize their open data to advocate for better environmental management, regulations and enforcement. These tools enable people to more easily generate knowledge and share data about community environmental health.

Public Lab focuses on tool development on creating tools that are:

  • low cost,
  • open source,
  • easy to use,
  • built through public participation and collaboration,
  • supported by a network of practitioners,
  • produce meaningful, understandable and high quality data.

How we got started:

Public Lab was founded in the wake of the 2010 BP oil disaster. During the spill, there was an information blackout for residents of the coastal region, as well as the rest of the world. No one was accurately tracking what was happening on the ground. In response a group of concerned residents, environmental advocates, designers, and social scientists lofted “community satellites,” made from balloons, kites and digital cameras, over the spill to collect real time data about its impact. Local citizens collected the images, and through a newly created open source platform, contributors stitch over 100,000 aerial images into maps of the coastline before, during, and after the oil spread. These high-resolution maps were featured by BBC and New York Times, among others, allowing residents to speak their truth about what was going on in the Gulf Coast.

The success of the grassroots mapping effort galvanized the group to found Public Lab as a new research and social space for the development of low-cost tools for community-based environmental monitoring and assessment.

The mission of Public Lab:

The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab) is a community — supported by a 501(c)3 non-profit — which develops and applies open-source tools to environmental exploration and investigation. By democratizing inexpensive and accessible Do-It-Yourself techniques, Public Lab creates a collaborative network of practitioners who actively re-imagine the human relationship with the environment.

The core Public Lab program is focused on “civic science” in which we research open source hardware and software tools and methods to generate knowledge and share data about community environmental health. Our goal is to increase the ability of underserved communities to identify, redress, remediate, and create awareness and accountability around environmental concerns. Public Lab achieves this by providing online and offline training, education and support, and by focusing on locally-relevant outcomes that emphasize human capacity and understanding.

How is it structured


The Public Lab Wiki (list)collaborative documentation by contributors 

At Public Lab, we all collaborate to invent and improve open source environmental science tools. Wiki pages are web pages that anyone can create or edit — we use them to collect information, documentation, and instructions on projects.


Useful Links



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