What do we do in the foundational training week of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program? Part one: the core curriculum.

Posted by Lou Woodley, CSCCE Center Director.

Last week we hosted the initial training week for this year’s AAAS Community Engagement Fellows. It’s an intense week with plenty of time spent together in the classroom and outside of it, and where we aim to do three things:

  • Equip the fellows with a shared understanding of some core community management principles – from how we think about scientific community managers to the role of strategy, programming and culture in the work that we do.
  • Surface the expertise that the Fellows already have – through lightning talks, small group discussions and the conversations that arise during the breaks and evening social events.
  • Nurture a sense of community between the Fellows so that together we create a trust-based cohort in which they can learn and support one another over the course of the year – and beyond.

So what materials do we cover during this foundational week? The curriculum builds each day to help fellows move from describing themselves and their own communities to appraising the strategies and tactics that they’re using – and how they might update them. By the end of the week they have plenty of tools and ideas to take back to their own organizations, as well as an understanding of the role that a community playbook or collaboration guide could play in their own work.

In this post we’ll give an overview of the core curriculum and in a second post we’ll outline the community playbook activities.

It's all about the teamwork! Image credit: Lou Woodley
It’s all about the teamwork! Image credit: Lou Woodley

The CEFP core curriculum

Through a mixture of talks, workshop activities, individual reflections and group discussions we lead Fellows through a different community management core theme each day.

Day 1 – An overview of community engagement within science.

Key questions about scientific communities: What do we mean by community? How does dissemination of content look different from learning together? What role does trust play in information sharing? How might we describe different types of scientific communities?

Key questions about community managers: Why are we needed? What skills do we have? What are the backgrounds of scientific community managers?

Community is a term that’s been over-extended to refer to many things including users, customers or groups where members are not meaningfully connected to one another. On day one of the training we focused on thinking about what community does (and doesn’t!) mean and the four different types of communities that we’ve observed in science. We heard examples of what it’s like to work with each type from some of the CEFP2017 Fellows and crafted our own community overview statements to think about how our communities fit into the landscape.

Next, we considered the role of community managers and their specific skillsets, thanks to work done by the C3 project team from the 2017 CEFP cohort. We also discussed what we’ve learned about scientific community engagement managers from our 2016 survey.

Day 2 – Strategy

Key questions about community strategy: What’s the purpose of our communities? What value do they create? Which personas are we working with? Where in the lifecycle are our communities? 

Identifying the value that is generated when community members come together is a key part of putting together a community strategy. Developing an understanding of members’ needs through interviews, surveys or focus groups enables us to construct member personas. These personas reveal member goals and therefore the key behaviors different members might engage in within the community – which in turn helps us to identify what metrics to measure.

We heard from Rachel Happe of the Community Roundtable about their frameworks for working with business communities and later as a cohort we discussed how they might be adapted to scientific communities. In our afternoon activities, we explored one example of a lifecycle model through which communities can evolve and why the role of the community manager changes with the different lifecycle stages.

Day 3 – Programming and content

Key questions about programming: How can we work with content and programming to nurture community? What do we already have? How might we schedule those activities more strategically?

Once you have a clear understanding of the unique value that is created when your community members come together, and the stage of the lifecycle that your community is at, you can start constructing a series of activities to help the community members to work together. For online communities, this typically involves creating a content strategy. For research collaborations, “programming” can mean auditing the meetings and regular communications that are shared with team members to check that they are serving the overall goals of the project and needs of its members.

Day 4 – Engagement

Key questions about engagement: How do we plan for successful collaboration? What knowledge would we like our community members or colleagues to have? What’s the role of community playbooks and collaboration guides?

As we moved on to thinking about engagement, we heard from Dr. Kara Hall, Director of the Science of Team Science, who discussed collaboration readiness in interdisciplinary collaborations and the role of collaboration pre-nups.

From this we transitioned to an exercise to engineer community playbooks or collaboration guides. This specific type of documentation ensures that the communities and teams that we work with are as effective as possible by sharing information that team members need to know in a format that’s usable and helpful. Fellows will each build a playbook for their organization or community in 2019.

Day 5- Culture

Key questions about culture: How do we create a healthy, welcoming environment for ourselves and our community members? What’s the role of self-care? How do we start the DEI conversation?

Culture change and organizational structures are discussed in more detail at the mid-year training in June. In January we cover two foundational topics – the role of self-care in avoiding burnout as a community manager and the importance of thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion in the communities that you work with. We crowd-sourced challenges that we encounter in our roles – including fuzzy definitions of our work and our remit, and managing our energy levels while coordinating multiple projects or activities at once. We sourced solutions for avoiding burnout that ranged from not accessing work email on your phone to blocking out time to do deeper strategic work without interruptions.

In thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion, we heard from Dr Marsha Lucas from the 2017 CEFP cohort, who shared her work leading a mentoring program for under-represented students in developmental biology, and her CEFP2017 project team work on building DEI resources for community managers.

 Day 6 – Bringing it all together – and planning ahead

Key questions when looking ahead: What do I already have documentation about? Do I need to repackage, rewrite or do some other synthesis? What actions do I want to take based on what I’ve learned – this month, and beyond?

On the final day, we wrapped up our overview of community playbooks by helping Fellows to begin auditing the documentation that they already have and planning for what they want to create.

We also helped fellows to take what they learned over the course of the previous 5 days and turn it into a plan of things to implement and resources to gather once they returned to their day jobs.

 

The CEFP foundational training week covers a lot of ground – and is also a joy to convene. Many thanks to this year’s fellows for their whole-hearted participation and to the other members of the CSCCE team, Rebecca Aicher and Elizabeth Garbee, for helping to make it happen.

CEFP2019 is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.