Minutes of the CSL Board of Directors Meeting, 05 April 2012

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Meeting held on 05 April 2012, San Antonio, Texas.

In attendance:

Fritz Faulhaber, Ph.D.
Sheldon Greaves, Ph.D.
Forrest M. Mims, III

Mission and Purpose
The meeting began with an overview of several working amateur science projects. We then discussed where CSL has made progress, along with insights gained over time about our mission and how best to meet those mission objectives. The comment was raised that CSL is an “enabling” organization; we hope to enable citizen and amateur science by making it easier. We want to put those who want to do amateur science at whatever level with those people and other resources needed to facilitate that desire. We discussed making the motto of CSL, “Enabling curiosity.”

As an adjunct to that discussion, we see that the role of CSL in a practical sense comprises the following elements:

  • Providing resources and support
  • Motivation
  • Information
  • Networking and community-building

“Providing resources and support” was discussed in very general terms with the caveat that some SAS folk felt misled when no resources and support were made available to them. So it might be best to add a qualifier, e.g., “Explore methods  to provide resources and support.” This way we’re not making any promise we cannot fulfill.

A critical part of this is the need to generate emotional energy and enthusiasm for what people are doing and for the practice of avocational science in general.

One measure of success will be how many people actually do amateur science as a result of our efforts.  That said, the Board also recognized that the amateur science community consists of many different kinds of enthusiasts. Some “armchair amateurs” just like to read about it. Others have children doing science fair projects, or are those children doing projects. Still others are just interested in science generally and like to keep an eye on science at the amateur level. Then there are those who spend hours in the garage or basement, out in the field, or in the library actually doing science. CSL’s mission obliges us to serve the entire community, not just a select few.

This led to a discussion of how to find those science enthusiasts we want to serve. Several possibilities came up, one of which was getting a booth at one or more upcoming Maker Faire or similar venue. The booth would feature hands-on activities and the opportunities to join active project networks, all centered on a simple, compelling, easily understood message. All such events would require individual follow-up.

Another means for support discussed was the possibility of developing an internship program by which amateurs could not only work alongside professionals, but alongside other amateurs. An amateur scientist who is doing an ambitious project might appreciate the opportunity to have help from an intern, who in turn would like the opportunity to learn from someone more experienced and knowledgeable.

This is just one of several ways in which mentoring could take place.  The Board is in agreement that developing communities of teachers and learners is critical to the future of CSL.

We agreed that an important element of what we do must involved science conducted at the local level. At present this would probably be best done through local institutions and groups, but uncertainty remains about how best to support them.

Next Meeting
As part of our quest to develop CSL and incorporate the best thinking into this venture, it was decided that we should hold another meeting sometime in the Fall, at a time and place to be determined, with a small, select group of people, also to be determined.

The question of funding for projects arose. We discussed micro-grants and community projects, perhaps taking advantage of the new trend in crowd-sourced projects to direct funds to amateurs.  No specific initiatives resulted, but it will be a topic for additional discussion.

The Board also decided to start looking for additional major donors to support CSL.  CSL will start collecting dues for memberships once we agree on both a price and a set of benefits to members. This remained an open item.

Current thinking is that the CSL blog, etc.  will remain free with dues payers receiving special access and benefits to other CSL functions. Also, during this discussion Fritz suggested  an “open project list.” This would be a list of challenges to the amateur science community.  He also mentioned contests.

Support and Promotion
We discussed the possibility of running contests and challenges to promote CSL and to present some projects that would bring out some innovation and energy. We will be following up on this. This was followed by a discussion of the robotics movement and the high degree of enthusiasm exhibited by competitors and their supporters during public competitions.

Another proposed idea that was well-received was to create an “open project” list with actual problems that amateurs could attempt to solve. Many potential amateurs are stymied because they want to work on a real problem, but have no idea where to direct their efforts. CSL would maintain this list and note information about work by CSL members on any of those projects.

Internet Presence
On the subject of web content, we elected to start providing profiles of amateur scientists, both past and present, including where possible members of our own community. The web site will undergo a significant facelift and update, including new information on the “About” page reflecting our new NPO status, and posting such items as Board Meeting minutes to satisfy the appropriate demands for transparency.

Discussion then turned to an initiative to set up an online Science Fair Project Archive, where science fair participants can upload and display their projects in a searchable format. The idea here is to provide an idea pool that others could use in developing science fair projects. Up to now we have been coordinating with the Society for Science and the Public, which has conducted many major science fairs for many years. It was decided to continue to press ahead with this project and start cultivating additional partners to help provide content.

Undoing Laws That Inhibit Amateur Science
One complaint we hear often from amateurs is the restrictive nature of laws that keep them from getting the supplies and resources they need to do their work. One approach to this problem would be to start a public campaign to get the laws changed. However NPO charters draw a clear distinction between “educational” organizations such as CSL and those that engage in political advocacy. However, we do still have access to the judicial process. Efforts to use the court system by filing court actions, requests for injunctions, etc. to loosen unreasonable restrictions are more likely to give us a better outcome anyway. There was also mention of asking whether the ACLU might want to get involved. To that end, CSL leadership will begin mobilizing some pro bono legal help to explore the feasibility of proceeding in this area.

CSL Publishing
CSL is in a position to offer various publications that can assist amateurs at all levels of expertise. We discussed several possible titles and venues for offering them. This will probably end up being a significant area of activity for CSL and perhaps even a way to fund some of our operations. Several proposed titles are now under consideration.

Administrative Items
It was resolved that the CSL Board will develop a policy allowing CSL to pay a Director (currently Dr. Sheldon Greaves) for running CSL.

The meeting generated a substantial “to do” list for all in attendance. This will be consolidated and sent to the Board Members.

End of Minutes, taken by Sheldon Greaves with additional notes by Forrest Mims.

Approved on:  10 April 2012

Editor’s Note: we invite readers to share their thoughts on these minutes below in the comment section.

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