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Open Science 101 and my first Mozilla Science Global Sprint (#mozsprint)

This is a crosspost from offene-wissenschaft.de. You’re invited to join the discussion – please leave any comment under the original post (comments here are closed).

mozilla-research-fox My first Mozilla Science Global Sprint is over. It was not only the first one I participated in, but we also participated with our own project. It was quite intense, and two days of hard work, but it was a truly valuable experience. This post is meant to give you an impression of such an event and encourage you to participate in this or similar events.

But let’s start with a bit of history. As you might have recognized, especially if you’re following me on Twitter or listening to the Open Science Radio, there have been a couple of events and related activities I have been involved in. Among other events, we as the Open Science Radio, participated in the Barcamp Science 2.0 (and the related Science 2.0 Conference) and published a couple of episodes related to the events.

Barcamp Sparking the Idea

During this barcamp I participated in a session about „Teaching Open Science“, moderated by Andreas Leimbach1. This session had basically the same mix of people as the whole barcamp – people from different backgrounds – scientists from various disciplines, librarians, but also people from the industry. Many of them had quite different experience with teaching open science – as basics lessons to fellow colleagues, as introductory lessons to students (embedded in another course), or even more extended courses to students. It became quite clear that all of them had a slightly different angle and „method“ how to teach such a broad concept and motivate and encourage their trainees to actually really think about putting science into practice. Besides the undoubtedly important question of motivation and incentives, the question of (high-quality) teaching material was touched a couple of times, especially regarding which aspects of open science to include. Related to that question, Andreas mentioned the example of Software Carpentry (SWC) and their method of teaching computer programming to scientists (a quite narrow-focused and practically-oriented training program). The SWC, and other carpentries like the Data Carpentry, the Author Carpentry, or the Library Carpentry, work along the lines of providing training material via Github, which can be forked, adapted to the individual context (training within a certain discipline or institutional context), and finally pushed back to the initial repository so that over time quite a substantial collection of teaching resources is being developed. The difference of course is that the material is quite specific in its scope, which is to practically train scientists what they can to with programming. However, it was then that the idea was born that we could think about providing something similar – a collection of training and teaching material that can be used to train/teach the principles of open science to a variety of target groups. I suggested that within the monthly call of the AG Open Science, the German-speaking Open Science working group of the Open Knowledge Foundation. Throughout the short discussion in the call it became quite obvious that others thought along the same lines and thus I quickly found Andreas and Konrad as partners in crime to initiate this as a project and see where this was going.

Open Science 101

This is how the „Open Science 101“ project was born. We decided very early on that we wanted to work along the methods of initiatives such as the SWC (using e.g. Github as the basis for developing and providing the resources), however there are a couple of differences that were clear right from the beginning:
* In contrast to the carpentry initiatives we don’t want to focus on the practical use of tools enabling open science2. We aim for a more general scope and want to provide teaching resources explaining the basic principles underlying the many facets of open science.
* We want the material to be as open as possible and thus lower the barrier of using it or contributing to it. That is why we have chosen the Creative Commons CC0 license which essentially means that we publish any material under the public domain. However, this also means of course that it will raise the complexity of the development process of the material itself since it makes it more complicated to find material that we can directly use. Instead we will probably face the challenge to develop most of the material from scratch as original material within this project.

An initial project repository under the name of Open Science 101 (which is kind of preliminary) was quickly setup at Github and it didn’t take long to collect the first 20 something of what we wanted to do. Thanks to Andreas and Konrad for quickly jumping „on board“ with me and instantly putting energy into this matter! 😉

Within the above-mentioned monthly call of the AG Open Science, one of the participants (I think it was Daniel Mietchen) came up with the idea to try to use the upcoming Mozilla Science Global Sprint (roughly 2-3 weeks ahead at that point in time) to basically make this project public, find contributors and collect ideas. The submission of our project to Mozilla Science was quickly done and honestly, this was a great way of kickstarting a community-driven project like this.

Mozilla Science Global Sprint (#mozsprint)

I don’t know if any of you readers out there have ever participated in a hackathon or the Mozilla Science Global Sprint. This

„…event brings together researchers, coders, librarians and the public from around the globe to hack on open science and open data projects in their communities.“<

Even though Konrad and probably Andreas might have had some experiences with hackathons, it was the first time participating in the #mozsprint for each of us.

The #mozsprint runs for basically 2 days around the globe and Mozilla likes to have somebody from the project available at the main working times for questions of contributors, coordination etc. Many of the #mozsprint participants are probably around virtually, but there are usually quite a number of sites around where people meet in real-life and discuss/hack/work together. For Germany there was at least one local site for the #mozsprint in conjunction with the Open Science Meetup group in Berlin that was hosted at the ScienceOpen offices in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg. Thanks to Jon and Julien to organize this and to ScienceOpen to provide your space! Since Konrad, Andreas and me are also at very different locations within Germany we decide that I was going to Berlin and attend the #mozsprint there for the first day and Andreas and Konrad would meet in Würzburg (since Konrad is affiliated with the Würzburg University). Even though we could have done this whole sprint completely virtual it was actually a good idea to have local sites running since it helps to make this sprint more „graspable“ (I’m not entirely sure whether this is an actual word). It was also a very nice experience to meet the people at the sprint site in Berlin and see what they are working on, directly discuss ideas or get inspirations.

So, how does that work with the sprint? Since it was the first day with for me I was also curious and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. As I said, submission of a project to Mozilla is easy. If you want to become a featured project (don’t know if it is really called that way), there are a couple of criteria to meet, i.e. that you have to provide a couple of things in your repository such as a code of conduct, personas, a roadmap or issues you wanna work on, etc. In the days before the sprint (roughly 1,5 weeks) we’ve been working on these criteria and at the same time sorting issues into a sprint milestones that we wanted to achieve throughout the 2 days.

By the way, one can of course participate in the #mozsprint without submitting a project of your own. There usually is a list of projects for each sprint from which you can choose the project(s) you want to contribute to. Depending on the individual project there are a couple of issues outlining what kind of contributions the project is looking for and probably anybody will be able to find something to work on, independent from your own background. Despite the fact that the sprint method probably comes from the programming world and the #mozsprint is mainly organized using the social coding platform Github, you actually don’t need to be a programmer to participate and contribute. Of course, there are also a number of projects looking for programmers to contribute, but there are usually a number of projects looking for other types contributors. This year there have been e.g. design and curriculum strands where non-programmers where highly welcome to contribute.

Back to our own project. Since we wanted to meet the criteria Mozilla set, we’ve worked our way through developing the necessary resources. Mozilla is providing guidance on pretty much any of these points and for us as a project it was also quite helpful to think about things like a code of conduct, personas or the ways people can contribute to our projects. This way we’ve been (positively) forced to make up our own minds about these issues.

Once we’ve managed to provide all of the „required“ resources (though you can start a project without them too), the #mozsprint itself was already close. As I said, for the first day of it I travelled to Berlin to participate in the meetup/sprint site there. You can’t imagine what a sprint site is or looks like? Well it was the normal offices of ScienceOpen with a number of office tables and chairs to accommodate people and by the time I arrived there, many others have already been working.

First thing to do after arrival, accommodation and a bit of chatting with the people hanging around there, was to get into contact with our own „project team“ and start working. As I said Mozilla is mainly using Github to organize the #mozsprint, but they are also using various other tools for real-time communication such as the video conferencing tool Vidyo or the chat tool Gitter. Since the main Mozilla Community channel is quite populated over the sprint, we’ve decided to setup our own Gitter channel for the sprint and use Google hangouts to have meetings from time to time. It was actually quite useful to work along these lines – set smaller goals in hangout meetings, then work on them, clarify any questions via the chat, make contributions on Github via issues, comments, or commits and get together again via hangout to discuss ideas and set new goals. And I would say, that over the two days and with the help of all the contributors we’ve achieved quite a bit.

Speaking of contributors. This is one thing that I find absolutely fantastic about the #mozsprint. You can find support for your projects from people around the world, people you’ve probably never met, who are as equally enthusiastic about the topic as you are. And we’ve had quite a number of contributors, which I think is absolutely awesome. Thanks to all of them for their ideas, the fruitful discussions and their energy they’ve put into the project so far.

By the way, of course you’re not working 24h, so even a #mozsprint day will finally come to an end. Hm… actually, now that I think of it, it actually does not come to an end, since it takes place around the world and as soon as we end our day, the day on the west coast of the US (for example) starts. 😉 Anyway, of course #mozsprint is not only about working, it is also about networking, meeting people, exchanging ideas (apart from your project) and having fun. 😉

As I said in the beginning, I participated in the first day of #mozsprint in Berlin and Konrad, Andreas and Markus opened up a local site in Würzburg for the second day. Thanks to Konrad, Andreas and Markus for doing an awesome job organizing the work of the second day! Over the 2 days and with the help of all the people we’ve managed to progress quite a bit so that we can start working on the more detailed stuff now.

I have to admit, that this was quite an experience. As I said, it is awesome to see people from all over the world coming (virtually) together and working on various projects. It is equally awesome to see that you can participate in such events and do good no matter what your background is – it simply is not important whether you are a programmer, a scientist, or somebody from „outside“, nor is it important if you are used to something like hackathons or experience with working with something like Git(hub). There are things you can do, and there are people who can help and support you! If we hadn’t our own project, I could have easily found a project worth contributing. Since we had our own project to work on, I would say that this is truly a great way of kickstarting a project and look for ideas and contributors this way! But I also have to admit that it has been two intense days and working with these distributed tools and locations can also be exhausting. In this respect it is good that #mozsprint ends after two days and things are getting back to normal.

If you want to, you can also have a listen to a short round-up of #mozsprint that Konrad, Andreas and Markus recorded at the end of the second day and that you can find published as episode 53 of the Open Science Radio.

The road ahead

Question is, what remains? Where will Open Science 101 go from here?

Well, we will definitely continue, since this was just the beginning and the project is by nature rather long-term. We have a lot of things ahead that we need to think about. For the time being, we’ve managed to solve a couple of issues, first of all to boil down the vast field of possible topics and identify those ones we would like to start with (where we found also maintainers). For many other aspects of the project we still have many open questions and we will continue working on that – each at their time and hopefully together with many contributors.

We’re also not sure about the name of the project and whether to change it to something that „speaks more openly“ and refers better to what we have in mind. Let’s see how that goes.

If you wanna read up about the current progress of the project, have a look at the repository. And of course, if you wanna contribute you are happily invited!

Thanks

There are probably two recommended ways of coming to and end. Either you state something utterly clever to release the readers with something they can think about, or you give thanks. And even with the danger of repeating myself, the latter one is what I go for. So let me (again) take the chance to thank the people for this awesome experience:
* All of our contributors for sharing your ideas and helping us!
* Jon Tennant and Julien Colomb for organizing the Berlin site and welcoming people there!
* ScienceOpen for providing the space and cold beverages!
* Konrad and Andreas for being partners and crime and the amazing work over the 2 days, and the time before!
* And finally, Mozilla Science for putting up these awesome events, bringing people over the whole world together and investing so much energy into doing good!


  1. If you wanna have a closer look at the session, you will find a short summarizing interview of the Open Science Radio with Andreas Leimbach, as well as the session’s pad
  2. This is why we also refrained from the goal of providing a list or database of tools as this a) has already been done in other projects and initiatives and b) will be really hard to maintain over time.