OpenCon 2017: Reflections from a GOSHer

Julieta Arancio Open Science Hardware News Leave a Comment

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OpenCon 2017 has taken place in Berlin, Germany, and so many things happened in those three days that reflection is almost mandatory. I’ll write mostly about my own impressions, as it was my first time attending OpenCon and actual facts can be found online here -these guys really know everything about documentation-.

First of all: We’re a lot. There’s so many people working on Open Access, Open Data and generally speaking, Open Science, that it kinda shocked me. There were approximately 200 attendees in the stunning Max Planck Society venue willing to share their experiences and projects, besides people around the world joining remotely. There were representatives from all around the globe, different backgrounds, lots of young researchers. The kind of people I tend to find interesting: They don’t fit anywhere properly. A mixture of scientists, activists, part-time developers and other bunch of things, so passionate for what they do everyday.  A diverse community.

Hosting such a diverse group of people all together for a couple of days may have also been challenging, especially when it comes to ensure a safe place for everyone. Besides the mandatory code of conduct and the efforts of the organizing committee to enforce it, the topic got quite a special place at this OpenCon edition. The ‘Diversity, equity and inclusion’ panel that took place during the 2nd day of the conference was -at least for me- the star of the event. Being able to stay critical -as Denisse Albornoz (OCSDnet) pointed out in a brilliant presentation- may become one of the community’s greatest assets, as we face the so unfortunately common issues of openness co-option. The panel was completed with the interventions of Thomas Mboa (APSOHA) who focused on how we may reproduce neocolonialism if we keep using old mindsets with new tools, Siko Bouterse (Whose Knowledge?) who addressed the still existent asymmetry in open knowledge initiatives and Tara Robertson (Mozilla), who shed light on the missing voices in open education projects. It was the time for leaving the comfort zone, emotionally moving and urgently calling for reflection & action in different fronts.

After heavy discussion on different aspects of the Open movement -such as ‘Regional Models for Open Research and Education’, another highlight-, there was a significant time for hands-on with the Regional Workshops and the Do-A-Thon, a well-played move from the organizing committee. I had the chance of co-facilitating the LatAm workshop, where the atmosphere immediately made us feel back home while making some key advances in the chosen topic: ‘How to raise awareness on the values we want to see behind openness in Latin America?’

The third day of the event was fully dedicated to the Do-A-Thon, a hands-on approach where anyone could either propose a project to work on or collaborate with other participant’s ideas. Initiatives included project translations, new tools for facilitating open source work or even artistic projects -mainly led by Alexis Johnson-. The outcomes of the Do-A-Thon -and of all the un/conference sessions- were uploaded to GitHub, a practice that also works as a reminder of how open our daily activities at work are -stay critical!-.

Coming from the last GOSH conference in Santiago, Chile, and having checked OpenCon 2017 schedule, the challenge was to spread the word: Open science can’t happen without open source hardware. The Unconference sessions were the natural habitat for the open hardware discussion, in which, together with Thomas Mboa, we shared the experience of the GOSH movement, the collaborative building of the roadmap and invited everyone to join into the forum. To say the truth, with so many -and attractive- ongoing unconference sessions, I had little hopes of gathering many people for ours. To my surprise we got a bunch of enthusiasts who wanted to learn more about this weird ‘open hardware’ term, and who asked questions about the differences between software and hardware production processes, quality and safety standards, and accuracy of scientific instruments.

There’s still much to be done and communicated to the scientific community regarding what’s going on in the Open Hardware field. Each day, more scientists and institutions around the globe get involved in Open Science practices, though –as seen at OpenCon- only few of them are aware of the existence and benefits of using/developing open source hardware. How do we engage with this diverse group? Which voices are we missing?

One of the outcomes of OpenCon 2017 is the decision to host OpenCon Latin America 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Some of the questions that arose at the discussion were about how to build bridges between communities, how to foster a culture of collaboration in our regions, besides meetings and events. How do we start opening the frightening black box of science hardware and get more people into the discussion?

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