Meet a scientific community manager: Elana Kimbrell

This month, we’re asking all community engagement professionals within science to complete our state of scientific community management survey. The survey’s intended to determine the variety of community-building roles that exist within science, and is the first activity of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows program. We’ll be sharing a report of the survey results once we’ve analyzed them.

But just who are the scientific community engagement professionals? To help answer that question we’re running a series of Q&As with people in existing community-building roles. If any of these stories resonate, please do take 12 minutes to complete the survey! The more input we have to the survey, the more detailed our view of the overall landscape will be.

Today we’re featuring Elana Kimbrell:

Elana Kimbrell is a Communication Program Officer at AAAS. She develops program material and supports the initiatives of the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, particularly building connections between research and practice. Kimbrell also contributes to the AAAS Annual Meeting by coordinating review of symposia proposals and editing the program book.
Elana Kimbrell is a Communication Program Officer at AAAS. She develops program material and supports the initiatives of the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, particularly building connections between research and practice. Kimbrell also contributes to the AAAS Annual Meeting by coordinating review of symposia proposals and editing the program book.

Thank you for agreeing to speak with us about your work as a scientific community engagement manager! Could you introduce yourself to our readers? Tell us a little bit about yourself and the community you manage.

Thanks for this opportunity! As part of my work as a Communication Program Officer at the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology (I also work on the AAAS Annual Meeting), I help run the Public Engagement with Science Group on Trellis. I took on this role in January 2015, about a year and a half ago, when I started at AAAS. Our group was one of the first pilot groups on Trellis, so had been around for just a few weeks before I came onboard.

The Public Engagement with Science Group is a community of practice and a forum for discussion of public engagement with science – which AAAS defines as intentional, meaningful interactions that provide opportunities for mutual learning between scientists and members of the public.  Many of our members are actively interested in the science of science communication, which guides best practices in public engagement.

Our group members include scientists interested in engaging public audiences, researchers who study communication and public engagement, and practitioners who support and facilitate public engagement. The group brings together these people, who might not otherwise have a chance to interact, so they can share their experience and expertise, build new collaborations, be inspired, and improve skills related to public engagement with science. The group now has almost 750 members and is home to more than 130 discussions.

 

What was your path to community management? Were you trained as a scientist or did you come by another route?

I would say I’ve taken a fairly circuitous path. After getting a Masters in International Relations and Environmental Policy, I worked for six years at a facilitation and strategic communications consulting firm in DC that focused on stakeholder collaboration and public involvement in environmental projects. I really enjoyed getting to work with scientists on some of my projects, and decided I wanted to specialize in science communication. So, prior to Trellis, I managed groups that met by phone and in-person periodically, but this is my first experience with ongoing online community management that is not focused on and incentivized by a very specific goal/project.

 

Can you describe the key responsibilities of your role? What does an average week look like for you at the moment?

My key responsibilities are:

– On-boarding new members to the group

– Writing a weekly announcement highlighting the past week’s activity and upcoming discussions

– Planning for and coordinating ideas, content, and leaders for discussions (we host live chats by hacking the group discussion feature, and also have asynchronous discussions); updating an editorial calendar

– Writing occasional summaries of relevant articles to post in the group library, usually in conjunction with discussions

– Evaluating whether the group is meeting its goals and the needs of its members

On a weekly basis, I am typically fielding requests to join the group, finalizing content for and/or coordinating with a group member about an upcoming discussion, and thinking about what discussions to schedule a few weeks out (we’ve recently started trying to focus these around an overarching monthly theme). Currently I am also trying to move forward with evaluating our group by assessing the feedback we received through a small number of informal phone interviews, and putting together a survey we can post in our group to gather additional information about what is working and what isn’t.

 

Do you share the task of managing your community with anyone else – and do you belong to a team or wider group working on the project?

Yes, I work closely with Jeanne Braha, the Project Director of the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology. We also coordinate with Tiffany Lohwater, Director of Meetings and Public Engagement at AAAS, and Mary Catherine Longshore, the Center’s Public Engagement Associate.

 

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a scientific community manager? Are there ways in which your role could be made easier – such as professional development opportunities or something else?

Challenges include finding creative ways for group members to engage at varying levels of time and intensity, and finding content/topics of sufficiently broad significance and interest that people will participate. We want to add value and contribute to people’s ability to conduct effective public engagement.

It can also be challenging to try to meet so many different people’s needs and preferences for what they want from the group and how they want it. Our group bridges both theory and practice, and connects across a number of different sectors, so the diversity of perspectives is incredible (which is part of the point!), but helping everyone see a role for themselves and find interest in each discussion can be difficult.

It might be helpful to have access to suggestions and resources for different types of conversations that could be held and ways to assess what group members are interested in.

 

And zooming out a little, why do you think community engagement important to science? How have you seen active management improve your community?

Community engagement is important for helping the scientific community work across its silos. Active management of our community has in some cases led to much higher levels of participation in live chats (e.g., reaching out to individuals who we know may be interested in a topic to invite them to join the conversation).

 

Find all of the interviews in this series by clicking the “community engagement Q&As” tag at the top of any blog post. If you’d like to share your role as part of the series, drop us an email over the next week: info@trelliscience.com.

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