By Stefanie Butland

Stefanie is the Community Manager for rOpenSci. She is a biologist, bioinformatician, and compulsive people-connector and knowledge-sharer. Stefanie completed her MSc in Biology at York University in Toronto, doing fruit fly behavior genetics. In this piece, Stefanie talks about the value of training community leaders and her experience with the American Association for the Advancement of Science Community Engagement Fellows Program. Photo of the rOpenSci community at the rOpenSci Unconference in 2017 by Karthik Ram.

In my career I’ve gone from working as a research scientist who could never resist connecting people who have complementary skills and needs, to a community leader in an open source project. In 2017, I started my dream job as the first-ever Community Manager for The rOpenSci Project. rOpenSci builds open tools for open and reproducible research along with the social infrastructure needed to support and promote this mission. I’ve been a compulsive community builder since the early 2000’s, but until recently it was rarely part of my job description. The American Association for the Advancement of Science Community Engagement Fellows Program (AAAS-CEFP) came at the ideal time for me to learn among a cohort of 17 peers how to develop and implement a strategy that would maximize impact for effort in engaging with the rOpenSci community.

The one-year training program involved three face-to-face workshops throughout the year, monthly webinars, and a group project to dig deeper into a subject of interest. This program provided me with a framework and the theory behind the things that I had previously done based on a “gut feeling” and exposed me to approaches to community engagement that I could use to build on existing activities in rOpenSci. Beyond the training itself, it created a trust network of professionals that continue to communicate with and seek advice from each other. The cohort has published guidelines and how-to’s in the form of a Fellows blog series on topics like fostering diversity, how to make newcomers to your community feel like they can contribute, building community advocacy and ambassador programs, and many others.

The practice of community engagement plays such a key role in building a sustainable project in open scholarship, I think many projects should consider including a funded community manager role in their organization. I strongly recommend that people in these roles apply to participate in the AAAS-CEFP training program as it is currently the only one of its kind dedicated to people managing scientific communities.