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Guide to open source research with Appropedia

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Open Source Research

This is a guide - primarily meant for academics -- on how to utilize Appropedia as both a research tool and a means of disseminating your findings on appropriate technology and sustainability-related research to the broadest possible audience.--Joshua 04:35, 20 May 2011 (PDT)

For a detailed explanation of how effective this method is see: Joshua M. Pearce, “Open Source Research in Sustainability”, Sustainability: the Journal of Record, 5(4), pp. 238-243, 2012. DOI free and open access

Why Use Appropedia for Research?[edit]

There are a number of reasons to use Appropedia for research related to it being an open wiki:

  1. Wikis are easy to edit after you know what you are doing (for a primer see Help). This allows multiple members of your research team to edit a document at the same time. The collaborative advantages to this should be intuitively obvious.
  2. In addition, its open nature encourages others to assist you in your research. Examples I have observed in my own work include Appropedia users not affiliated with my work: i) giving helpful comments on my research on the discussion tab, ii) making grammar and spelling corrections, iii) adding to literature reviews members of my group have started, iv) adding categories and hyperlinking either to or within work we have made that adds to the value of the work.
  3. Appropedia is currently the largest wiki dedicated to appropriate technology and sustainability, which gives your research widespread readership and accessibility. An example of this includes one of my research projects on the Effects of snow on photovoltaic performance receiving the top hit in Google searches for "snow and photovoltaic". The advantages to any researcher wanting to disseminate their research is clear. Putting summaries of your work on Appropedia with DOI links to the original article and ideally to an open access version will help increase the number of people to read your article. I think it is safe to also presume that if your work is any good this simple access will also raise your citation rate and h-index. Depending on where you are employed this may give you a critical advantage for going up for tenure. There is also the obvious gratification of seeing your work scaled and actually help people live more sustainable and abundant lives.

How to Use Appropedia to Enhance Your Research[edit]

If you are on a tenure track as a professor it is important that you publish in the highest ranked journals your work for which your work will be accepted. Unfortunately (and perhaps for not much longer) this often means you must sign away your copyright to be published. Thus actually publishing your work on the internet before you submit to the journal would be career suicide. There are several ways to utilize Appropedia while avoiding this risk. I use Appropedia for 1) literature reviews, 2) protocols, and 3) summarizing the results of research for greater dissemination.

Literature Reviews[edit]

Encourage all of your group members to publish their literature reviews on Appropedia. This makes it easy for you to keep track of what they are doing during that first semester or year that a student is getting up to speed. Enables multiple members of your group to collaborate. Most remarkably it also potentially has other Appropedians assist your research! This is extremely effective for passing on knowledge to the next generation of students, finding references you have read when writing a paper, and keeping track of your background research.

The guidelines I use for my group member are as follows:

  • Create Lit. Review page for your topic.
  • Keep records of all your searches.(e.g. Google Scholar for "Solar energy").
  • Make a Citation List for all the articles you find relevant to your topic. Arrange in chronological order.
  • Unless you have a particular target journal citations should be arranged like this: Author, “Title”, Journal, Vol(No), page range, year.
  • Hyperlink your citation to the available electronic file or at least the abstract. Ideally link to the DOI and include a link to an open access version if it exists.
  • Include the lit. review topic page in a category for your research group so that it is easy to find for you in addition to adding it to appropriate topical categories (e.g. Category:Photovoltaics)

For example:

  • J. M Pearce, C. Morris Blair, K. J. Laciak, R. Andrews, A. Nosrat and I. Zelenika-Zovko, “3-D Printing of Open Source Appropriate Technologies for Self-Directed Sustainable Development”, Journal of Sustainable Development 3(4), pp. 17-29 (2010). Full text: [1]

We do it this way because:

  • Different journals have different requirements for the formats of citations. However, it makes it much easier to write your own articles in the future if you have all the possible information they could want in your citation list.
  • Ideally store all articles electronically in a folder. Print, photocopy, or save pdfs of all relevant articles. If we do not have access here order through interlibrary loan.
  • Arrange in chronological order by grouping into research group or concept.


Normally the experimental section of journal articles is the shortest and most opaque section. In addition, most experimental protocols that are standards are not open access and many require obscene fees to even read. In my opinion this is absurd and actually hinders the progression of science and technology. In the work that Appropedia focuses on - I believe it is unethical not to provide this information. If your work is submitted for peer review it should be written in such a way as to enable others to repeat it. This is the whole idea of modern science. Today there is pressure to avoid having others 'scoop' you, to commercialize your work by protecting it from replication, etc. Thus in my group we publish our protocols in extreme detail on Appropedia so that others may use it, replicate it, improve it etc. If you are not sure confident that your protocol is correct then you should not be submitting it for peer review. In our group the protocols are:

  1. Clear enough to allow anyone to replicate the work - particulary future students within the group - but also anyone else that has access to the same hardware or software.
  2. Including details of the experimental apparatus and general protocols so we can cut and paste summaries directly into papers.
  3. Including details of software that are linked to the sources on the web (we try to utilize open source software whenever possible) and develop strategies to use open source software for others (again to make our work more easily to replicate and scale). See for example: A transition from ArcGIS to open source GIS softwares
  4. Categorized both in a separate category for the group and for appropriate content topics.

Summarizing Results[edit]

Finally when our work is completed and our article has been accepted in a great journal we summarize our work on Appropredia in a completed project page. This pages again are held in a category for the group and placed in appropriate content categories. The group completed projects provides:

  • a summary of the project and key findings,
  • related literature reviews,
  • related protocols,
  • an open access version of the paper published in a peer reviewed journal
  • enhanced figures. We often will include figures in color when the journal is black and white, embed Youtube videos on how to do things or a brief summary.

It is a good idea to have your summary page have the full citation for your paper with a link both to the article at the journal via DOI and a link to your preprint. I have found that the Appropedia page may be how many people are finding out about my work and I want to make sure they can get to the full information.

You should also hyperlink all keywords within Appropedia using double square brackets around the key words.

Depending on your institution they may have an open access repository or you can use one of the many at other institutions.

Finally you should also think about putting a status tag on your work. The status of a particular appropriate technology (AT) can be shown easily by adding the following tags to the top of an AT project page: e.g. {{status-design}}. The hierarchy of deployment runs from design, modeled, prototyped, verified, and deployed. The coloring scheme is meant to denote the amount of risk with ATs that have only been designed in red - those modeled in orange, prototyped in yellow, verified in light green and deployed in dark green. As often an AT will have several tags associated with it - they are best kept together in a Status Box.

Overcoming Fears[edit]

One of the primary fears I think any academic would have in putting their work on an open wiki that anyone can edit - is that it would be vandalized either maliciously or simply corrupted by well-intentioned users that change the meaning of your writing. There are several ways around this.

  1. First spam and vandalism on Appropedia are normally irradicated by a vigilant team of Appropedians almost as soon as it happens. Several of my group's pages have been vandalized over the years but are corrected usually within a few minutes. This should not be a major fear.
  2. Add the page to your watchlist so that you can choose to be notified if it is edited. Or assign someone in your group to keep track (e.g. everyone watches their own work).
  3. Contact an adminstrator on Appropedia to "semi-protect" your page, to only allow edits by established users (no anonymous editors or brand-new users). The page can be completely locked after you have completed it (allowing only site admins to edit. This works really well if you want to put completely original work on Appropedia - to use it as the publishing medium. There can still be an editable derivative made and people can still comment on the discussion tab. In general, I have found this level of security to be unnecessary. It also hinders people adding to and improving your work.