Building community for OHI and beyond

by Erin O'Reilly

Recently, OHI team member Julie Stewart Lowndes was awarded a fellowship with Mozilla – yes, the same Mozilla that created the Firefox browser. That might seem like a leap from her duties on the OHI team but the aim of Mozilla Fellowships is to keep the internet a force for good, which includes making scientific research more open.

During her fellowship, Julie will focus on empowering scientists in the environmental and ecological communities with open data science. She hopes to increase the visibility and value of open practices by engaging and exciting people about open science, guiding them to appropriate existing resources, and amplifying ongoing discussions about open science in the environmental science community.

So how did we get to the point where we are training people how to conduct better science in less time and creating communities around these principles?

As early adopters of open data science practices in ocean science and management, being a part of communities helped us learn how to collaboratively code and set up workflows. Throughout the process of making OHI more transparent and reproducible, we soon came to realize the value of collaborative learning. Since then, we have wanted to help others build their own communities and data science support teams.

With community building being increasingly highlighted by rOpenSci and RStudio’s Hadley Wickham, we thought we would take this post to focus on the OHI team’s involvement with different communities. Throughout the years, we have helped co-found communities for different scales, audiences, and purposes by leveraging everything we have accomplished with OHI and sharing it with a broader community.

From building our OHI community…

Our first community started out small with just our core team and specific weekly meetings to discuss file naming, folder structure, and coding techniques. But this soon expanded as we engaged with external partners and countries interested in conducting their own independent OHI+ assessments. With a focus on learning and sharing best practices, the OHI community is specifically focused on supporting others in their OHI endeavors, whether it be conceptual, technical, or communication focused.

Training is a large component of this community and a way for our core team to engage with members of our OHI+ teams. When training these groups on OHI methodology and our Toolbox, we soon recognized the groups needed to first learn how to code and use collaborative tools before trying to conduct their own independent OHI+ assessment.

This, along with becoming a Carpentries instructor, sparked Julie’s creation of our Intro to data science and OHI Toolbox training books, which provide hands-on learning opportunities with step-by-step instructions. These books serve as great resources for the teams trained and also help improve our teaching skills.

… to expanding our horizons to the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB)

While developing the Intro to data science book, we realized it was a resource that could be useful to more than just OHI teams. To reach a broader audience, we co-founded Eco-Data-Science, a Mozilla study group at UCSB. The goal of the group is to create a collective learning space for skill sharing as well as co-working and community building.

For this community, participant feedback says it all. From “EcoDataSci is a wonderful resource and it is so nice to see that an active coding community has been built. It’s a rare thing!” to “I’m so thankful EcoDataSci exists! It makes coding so much less scary” and “it was a great way to learn new skills or get code that I can use for my own projects.”

Eco-Data-Science is designed as 1.5 hour sessions with topics ranging from Intro to R to visualization and text mining. These sessions welcome all skill levels and are open to all UCSB students and faculty. See the current schedule here and follow them on Twitter.

… to engaging with our local community

As academics, our community is usually composed of other academics. But we fully recognize people other than academics use data science in their daily work. To reach out beyond campus, we co-founded a Santa Barbara RLadies chapter along with UCSB’s statistics professor Allison Horst.

As members of a team composed of majority women, the core mission of RLadies – increasing gender diversity in the programming community – is something we fully support. Since RLadies is a global community network, we wanted to explicitly join it and have presence in Santa Barbara.

“What drew me most to the RLadies organization were the major themes of inclusivity and creating a welcoming learning environment,” says Julie. “We wanted to branch outside of academia to see who in our local community might want to learn R or are already using R.”

By diversifying who we interact with in the coding world, we hope to broaden our horizons and learn from this new community. Keep up to date with the Santa Barbara RLadies chapter on Twitter, MeetUp, and GitHub.

… to amplifying our message globally

During her work as a Mozilla Fellow, Julie will continue to bring practices developed for the OHI+ program to wider audiences and co-lead the OHI Fellows program.

“I am excited to amplify all of the work accomplished with OHI and get more scientists engaged with open data science,” says Julie. “I was drawn to Mozilla because their projects seem very community-driven and people-driven, which is the way I work and the way I think science should work at larger scales.”

Stay tuned to learn more about her fellowship experience and the development of her program Openscapes.

Major takeaway: Communities are important!

For us, collaborative learning is highly valued, so building community has been an extremely worthwhile and rewarding part of our jobs. Community was a big part of choosing to use R for us, and as Hadley Wickham said in a recent interview, “so why R today? When you talk about choosing programming languages, I always say you shouldn’t pick them based on technical merits, but rather pick them based on the community.”