Category Archives: Online Communities

Part 3 – The Community Manager’s Survival Guide: Transcending Disciplinary and Thought Boundaries with “Project Commons”

In December, we wrapped up the first year of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The first cohort of Fellows was made up of 17 scientific community managers working with a diverse range of scientific communities. We’ll be recruiting for Cohort Two later this year for a start date of January 2019.

Meanwhile, we’re continuing to share reflections from the 2017 Fellows on the Trellis blog. In today’s post, Andy Leidolf wraps up his four part series, “The Community Manager’s Survival Guide: Building Social Capital in Large, Heterogeneous, Geographically Dispersed Research Networks.” You can catch up on all posts by the Fellows here.

Posted by Andy Leidolf, Coordinator, Honors Program, Utah State University, and Executive Director, Society for Freshwater Science. Leidolf served as iUTAH Assistant Director and Project Administrator from 2014-2018.

If you have been following my series of blog posts (thank you!), I have probably succeeded by now in convincing you that iUTAH was a large, complex, and diverse project that would pose any number of challenges for even the best-trained and most well-resourced community manager. Having already shared my thoughts on how to deal with geographic dispersion and institutional diversity, I want to end by considering a third and final challenge: transcending boundaries imposed by collaborators’ differences in disciplinary background.

Jargon, Jargon, Everywhere!

From the very beginning, iUTAH was conceived as an interdisciplinary project spanning research, training, education, and outreach; and involving academic and non-academic partners, their stakeholders and the general public.  It is this set-up that made the project unique in our state and has allowed it to develop deeply impactful and societally relevant research over time.

But, for this to happen, we first had to build a space where professionals from disciplines as diverse and distinct as hydrology, biology, aquatic ecology, civil engineering, sociology, applied economics, geology, geography, urban planning, landscape architecture, atmospheric science, and communication science could all come together to collaborate to address and (hopefully) solve real-world problems. The Science of Team Science tells us that interdisciplinary teams produce more impactful research. But team science is also a high payoff-high risk proposition and many teams fail. This is because the very characteristics of teams that make them such powerful tools to address critical issues also make them susceptible to failure:

  • Practitioners trained in different disciplines each have their own unique jargon—the language and vocabulary they use when communicating with their peers that frequently means little or nothing to people from different disciplines
  • Methodologies used by different disciplines and areas of investigation can vary dramatically, as can the way in which they are perceived and evaluated—or judged—by others
  • Foundational approaches and philosophies can seem quite different—even incompatible—among disciplines

I learned that the hard way, when—one day—I found myself in the middle of a heated conference call that attempted to reconcile the meaning of “data” among a group of physical and social scientists. Who knew that smart, reasonable people could disagree on so much so vehemently? Clearly, this needed to be addressed before we could move forward as a team.

The iUTAH Data Policy—A First Step towards “Project Commons”

The iUTAH Data Policy was conceived quite early in our project, even before I joined. Its main purpose was to outline a common vision for and commitment to open access and public sharing of all iUTAH data. Mandated by the National Science Foundation, who funded our project, it quickly became a core value for our project and its participants.

Of course, as with many things, the devil proved to be in the details. Over the years, we realized that living up to both letter and spirit of this guiding document was frequently hindered by lack of a common language: what constitutes data, metadata, and derivative data products; what qualifies as an investigator-created resource; what is intellectual property; what are reasonable timelines to relax or completely surrender control over one’s data and research products? As it turns out, social scientists, modelers, and physical scientists all gave very different answers to these questions. Hence that conference call.

And so we modified the policy, incrementally at first, but more significantly as time went by. Designing a policy broad enough to make sure that iUTAH’s published data would be useful to everybody, but narrow and specific enough to address the unique needs of various disciplines (such as anonymization and disambiguation of human subjects data, or the treatment of model inputs, outputs, and simulation runs) forced us to align our goals, recognize and acknowledge our individual methodologies and approaches, and re-draw our mental maps to develop common ground: not just an amalgamation of individual disciplinary perspectives, policies, and special considerations, but a single, comprehensive expression of norms and values managed for the collective benefit of all—our first project “commons.”

Uniquely iUTAH

Of course, disciplinary background is not the only factor that makes our participants different from one another. We also had to contend with different professional backgrounds, different career stages, different professional affiliations and work sectors. And so, over time, other “commons” developed in the iUTAH project. Some came in the form of written documents and policies; others were more informal, such as in how we held meetings or interacted and conversed with one another; how we thought or talked about diversity, inclusion, and broader impacts; what we assumed about the person across from us, their motivations, aspirations, goals and challenges. But all were manifestations of a shared vision and purpose expressed in a common language that was universal, inclusive, and uniquely iUTAH. Collectively, they ensured that each and every one of our participants felt valued and understood. And I would argue that—across a project of over 800 participants—that is no small feat.

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Image provided by Andy Leidolf.

Part 2 – The Community Manager’s Survival Guide: Addressing Institutional Diversity and Power Imbalance by Promoting Community Equity, Tolerance, and Fairness

In December, we wrapped up the first year of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The first cohort of Fellows was made up of 17 scientific community managers working with a diverse range of scientific communities. We’ll be recruiting for Cohort Two later this year for a start date of January 2019.

Meanwhile, we’re continuing to share reflections from the 2017 Fellows on the Trellis blog. In today’s post, Andy Leidolf continues his four part series, “The Community Manager’s Survival Guide: Building Social Capital in Large, Heterogeneous, Geographically Dispersed Research Networks.” You can catch up on all posts by the Fellows here.

Posted by Andy Leidolf, Coordinator, Honors Program, Utah State University, and Executive Director, Society for Freshwater Science. Leidolf served as iUTAH Assistant Director and Project Administrator from 2014-2018.

iUTAH—A Textbook Case for Institutional Diversity

Like most other states, Utah has a large number of institutions of higher learning: in addition to three research universities granting doctoral degrees, there are eight primarily undergraduate-serving institutions (PUIs), both 2- and 4-year. Although Utah is generally perceived as a fairly homogeneous state, there is a surprising amount of diversity even among peer institutions. For example, our research universities include both public and private universities (Brigham Young University is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, aka. the LDS or Mormon Church) and are situated in settings that span the rural-suburban-urban gradient. Not unexpectedly, these universities attract very different student and faculty populations.

Continue reading Part 2 – The Community Manager’s Survival Guide: Addressing Institutional Diversity and Power Imbalance by Promoting Community Equity, Tolerance, and Fairness

Part 1 – The Community Manager’s Survival Guide: Emphasizing “Inreach” to Overcome Geographic Dispersion

In December, we wrapped up the first year of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The first cohort of Fellows was made up of 17 scientific community managers working with a diverse range of scientific communities. We’ll be recruiting for Cohort Two later this year for a start date of January 2019.

Meanwhile, we’re continuing to share reflections from the 2017 Fellows on the Trellis blog. In today’s post, Andy Leidolf continues his four part series, “The Community Manager’s Survival Guide: Building Social Capital in Large, Heterogeneous, Geographically Dispersed Research Networks.” You can catch up on all posts by the Fellows here.

Posted by Andy Leidolf, Coordinator, Honors Program, Utah State University, and Executive Director, Society for Freshwater Science. Leidolf served as iUTAH Assistant Director and Project Administrator from 2014-2018.

The Challenge

When I began my tenure as Assistant Director of the iUTAH EPSCoR project in October 2014, the fact that the members of my research collaboration were not co-located, but dispersed among eleven institutions of higher learning spread all over the state of Utah, as well as 100 state, national, and—in some cases—international partner organizations, made settling into my position, frankly, a scary prospect. We were funded by a five year, $20M grant from the National Science Foundation to enhance Utah’s water resources through research, training, and education. This included studying the state’s water system, as well as working to understand how factors like population growth, climate variability, changes in land use, and human behavior impacted the sustainability of our state’s water resources. No small feat. How was I ever going to learn who all these people were, what role they played in and for our community, and—most importantly—how to communicate and engage with them?

Continue reading Part 1 – The Community Manager’s Survival Guide: Emphasizing “Inreach” to Overcome Geographic Dispersion

Introduction – The Community Manager’s Survival Guide: Building Social Capital in Large, Heterogeneous, Geographically Dispersed Research Networks

In December, we wrapped up the first year of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The first cohort of Fellows was made up of 17 scientific community managers working with a diverse range of scientific communities. We’ll be recruiting for Cohort Two later this year for a start date of January 2019.

Meanwhile, we’re continuing to share reflections from the 2017 Fellows on the Trellis blog. In today’s post, Andy Leidolf introduces his four part series, “The Community Manager’s Survival Guide: Building Social Capital in Large, Heterogeneous, Geographically Dispersed Research Networks.” You can catch up on all posts by the Fellows here.

Posted by Andy Leidolf, Coordinator, Honors Program, Utah State University, and Executive Director, Society for Freshwater Science. Leidolf served as iUTAH Assistant Director and Project Administrator from 2014-2018.

It’s Monday morning, 9 am. I am fresh off a two-week trip that seemed like a great idea when it was conceived three months ago. Confronted with the stark reality of my overflowing e-mail inbox, endless to-do lists spread across no less than three project management software applications, and the surly looks with which I am greeted by my co-workers, that axiom clearly no longer holds. In exactly four weeks, iUTAH EPSCoR will hold its last Annual Symposium and Summer All-hands Meeting, to cap off a successful 5-year run of advancing water science, training, education and outreach for the citizens of the state of Utah. And I am way behind.

I need to recruit people to introduce five invited talks of participants sharing their personal journeys with our project. I need to confirm 39 oral presentations spread among seven concurrent sessions. I need seven session chairs and one panel moderator. I need to sweet-talk/coerce/beg contacts at ten state institutions of higher education into convincing their top-level administrators to record a short video message congratulating iUTAH on its successes. I need to breathe. I need help. Fast.

Broader Impacts forum and workshops on March 31 in Salt Lake City UT. Credit: UU Office of Undergraduate Research
Broader Impacts forum and workshops on March 31 in Salt Lake City UT. Credit: UU Office of Undergraduate Research

Continue reading Introduction – The Community Manager’s Survival Guide: Building Social Capital in Large, Heterogeneous, Geographically Dispersed Research Networks

Empowering a community with the Google Summer of Code

We’re now mid-way through the first year of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The first cohort of Fellows is made up of 17 scientific community managers working with a diverse range of scientific communities. As they continue to develop their community engagement skills and apply some of the ideas and strategies from their training, the Fellows will report back on the Trellis blog, sharing their challenges, discoveries, and insights. Today, Fellow Malin Sandström describes how a new project made a difference in her community.

Posted by Malin Sandström, Community Engagement Officer at INCF (International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility) 

The author (Malin Sandström, right) with a colleague (Chris Fitzpatrick, middle) and a 2016 student (Devin Bayly, left) in the Google Summer of Code program.
The author (Malin Sandström, right) with a colleague (Chris Fitzpatrick, middle) and a 2016 student (Devin Bayly, left) in the Google Summer of Code program. Photo by Ylva Lillberg, INCF.

This summer, just above 1300 students have spent their time writing open source code for projects from over 200 mentoring organizations, within a program called “Google Summer of Code” that is run and sponsored by Google. I work for one of those 200 organizations. I have been involved in recruiting mentors and projects for us since 2013, and in charge of managing our participation since 2015. This is a fantastic program that has been of much value to us as an organization, and very enjoyable to work with for me personally.

Continue reading Empowering a community with the Google Summer of Code

What is the role of an online community during a crisis?

We’re now mid-way through the first year of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The first cohort of Fellows is made up of 17 scientific community managers working with a diverse range of scientific communities. As they continue to develop their community engagement skills and apply some of the ideas and strategies from their training, the Fellows will report back on the Trellis blog, sharing their challenges, discoveries, and insights. Over the last several days, Fellow Elisha Wood-Charlson has reflected on the role of a community manager during a national emergency.

Posted by Elisha Wood-Charlson, Data/Research Communications Program Manager for the Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology

"#AntarcticLog 13, August 31, 2017" by Karen Romano on Instagram
#AntarcticLog 13, August 31, 2017” by Karen Romano Young, Instagram: @antarcticlog

28 August 2017

As the devastation of Hurricane Harvey continues to cripple the metropolis of Houston, Texas, I feel helpless, but also grateful. Grateful that a community – networked online – allows a person to quickly report they are safe with a single tweet saying they have found sanctuary outside the flood zone.

As a fledging scientific community manager working to find solutions to our community’s research challenges in the age of big data, I was not prepared for the feeling of helplessness that came when Hurricane Harvey hit the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) where Professor Brett Baker and his lab call home. While I have a personal connection to the Baker lab, after hosting several Baker lab members for a community workshop just last summer, I realized I had lost connection to the physical places behind the online community.

Now, those people very same people are unsure if they have homes or a science lab left. A press release from UT News on 27 August confirmed that several buildings experienced roof failures. Brett’s twitter update – “I just hope the plastic we put over it [lab equipment] all stay[ed] in place!”

But what happens next? What is the role of an online community during a crisis?

Continue reading What is the role of an online community during a crisis?

Choose Development! chooses Trellis: starting a new online community

We’re now mid-way through the first year of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The first cohort of Fellows is made up of 17 scientific community managers working with a diverse range of scientific communities. As they continue to develop their community engagement skills and apply some of the ideas and strategies from their training, the Fellows will report back on the Trellis blog, sharing their challenges, discoveries, and insights. Today, Fellow Marsha Lucas describes the process of creating a new online community with Trellis.

Posted by Marsha Lucas, Publications and Communications Coordinator at the Society for Developmental Biology

Blue egg shell on the ground
Hatched” by Kaarina Dillabough under CC BY-SA 2.0

This year the Society for Developmental Biology (SDB) decided to create an online community for their Choose Development! summer research program. Choose Development! matches undergraduate students from underrepresented groups to labs of SDB members for 10 weeks of summer research. Fellows are spread out in labs across the country and only meet in person at the SDB annual meeting the following summer.

A Trellis group offered a way for fellows to connect with each other well before the SDB annual meeting. It also provided a platform to fulfill one of the program’s major goals: to provide long-term mentoring of fellows and help them navigate a path towards graduate school.

The AAAS Community Engagement Fellowship provided so many tools to make this Trellis group a success. Below are a few key points I’ve picked up that were critical in getting our online community off the ground.

Continue reading Choose Development! chooses Trellis: starting a new online community

The Value of #Welcome

We’re now mid-way through the first year of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The first cohort of Fellows is made up of 17 scientific community managers working with a diverse range of scientific communities. As they continue to develop their community engagement skills and apply some of the ideas and strategies from their training, the Fellows will report back on the Trellis blog, sharing their challenges, discoveries, and insights. Today, Fellow Stefanie Butland shares her experience welcoming new members to her community.

Posted by Stefanie Butland, Community Manager at rOpenSci, – Open Tools for Open Research

Hanging wooden sign that reads "Welcome"
“Welcome” by Nathan under CC BY-SA 2.0

In my training as a AAAS Community Engagement Fellow, I hear repeatedly about the value of extending a personal welcome to your community members. This seems intuitive, but last week I put this to the test. Let me tell you about my experience creating and maintaining a #welcome channel in a community Slack group.

Continue reading The Value of #Welcome

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Considering switching platforms in an early stage community

We’re now mid-way through the first year of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The first cohort of Fellows is made up of 17 scientific community managers working with a diverse range of scientific communities. As they continue to develop their community engagement skills and apply some of the ideas and strategies from their training, the Fellows will report back on the Trellis blog, sharing their challenges, discoveries, and insights. Today, Fellow Melissa Varga looks at the challenges of switching community platforms.

Posted by Melissa Varga, Outreach Associate and Online Community Manager at Union of Concerned Scientists 

A stack of cardboard boxes
Moving Day by Nicolas Huk under CC BY 2.0

There’s one piece of advice I’ve heard from multiple experienced community managers about switching platforms: don’t do it. Switching platforms is painful; it means uprooting your community and potentially losing some members (or losing their trust), disrupting the flow and familiarity you’ve been working hard to build among members and between you and your members, not to mention creating a ton of work for the community manager on the back-end.

However, these same experienced community managers cautioned that if you absolutely must switch platforms, it’s best to do it in the earliest stages of the community. Without getting into too much detail, that is the situation I find myself in now with the community of scientists that I am managing. And while hindsight is 20/20, here are a few things I wish I had known last summer, when I was getting ready to launch our new online group.

Continue reading Should I Stay or Should I Go? Considering switching platforms in an early stage community

Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy on Trellis

Source: http://science-engage.org/
Source: http://science-engage.org/

Here at Trellis, one topic that has become particularly popular is science policy. One of our most active and growing science policy groups is the Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy (ESEP) group, which is a coalition of organizations and individuals working to empower the scientific and engineering community to effectively engage in the policymaking process at all levels of government.

Continue reading Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy on Trellis