This is the fourth post of a series of profiles on GOSH community members who were featured in the GOSH Community Events Framework. You can access the framework, along with this profile in its original format, on the GOSH website at https://openhardware.science/gosh-community-events-framework/.
By Marcela Basch, independent journalist, Argentina. Twitter: @marbasch
Profile on Marina de Freitas, a physical engineer who works at CTA, Centro de Tecnologia Acadêmica (Center of Academic Technology), an open science hardware lab at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil.
“What’s so strong about GOSH is that it’s focused on conversations, and in those conversations every person is important”, says Marina de Freitas. “We are used to being just an audience. In a regular conference, if you are lucky, you can ask a question. Nowadays a round table is usually a collection of short talks; people discuss less and less. Not in GOSH: all the people in the gathering can propose and make things, everyone is heard. And the more diverse the groups are, the more constructive the conversations”.
Marina has been part of the GOSH Community since 2017, and since 2019 she is on the organising committee of reGOSH, a residence programme for Latin America.
“While I studied for my degree, I couldn’t see how my profession could contribute to social transformation. Then I learnt about the free and open source movement, and I thought it could be a way to use my studies for something more than my economic benefit”, she says. At CTA she met Rafael Pezzi, an open science hardware pioneer. He was part of the first GOSH meeting, at CERN, in 2016. Back in Brazil, he encouraged Marina to attend the second gathering, in Santiago de Chile, in 2017.
A more diverse team to reach a diverse audience
“That meeting changed my life”, she recalls. “I saw a lot of things for the first time: a very wide, real diversity. I interacted with people that I don’t usually meet in academic spaces, such as activists and artists. Also, there was a significant number of trans people, I had never seen trans people at scientific events. They were there because they knew they could talk and that they would be heard”, she remarks. “And I found a diversity of approaches: academia and first-line science and innovation, but also start-ups and community science people. Very cool.”
“Before GOSH, in open hardware events I contribute to organise, usually there was only one trans person, one LGBT+ person, one black woman… I was the only woman and the only LGBT+ person in the organising team, so ensuring diversity was on me. It was very hard to get representation. You need a more diverse organising team to reach a diverse audience and meeting. For instance, you must think about things like neutral gender toilets… if you only have one person with an eye on diversity, it is very hard to keep all the aspects in mind. It takes the whole team to make it right”.
The reGOSH residences have the purpose of building, strengthening and connecting the seven nodes of Latin America OSH community: Porto Alegre (Brazil), Buenos Aires and Mendoza (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Lima (Perú), Quito (Ecuador) and Bogotá (Colombia). Each node selects two people to attend the residence. For two or three weeks each year, they all work together on open science hardware projects, in a different city. The programme started in 2019, in the CTA, where Marina was the main local organiser.
The first reGOSH was very challenging. “The goal was to get people physically together to develop technologies. Nothing was pre-defined, so some people wouldn’t come because they didn’t know what they would do. The projects were decided on the first days. We had to look for the materials on the go, and we only had financial resources for travel expenses, not for stuff. We learnt that for the development of technology, this improvisation wasn’t ideal”, explains Marina.
Working on a volunteer base is also an art. “Sometimes people don’t answer because they don’t have the time. So, it’s good to design a system to be able to hear everyone’s words, but also to make decisions in smaller groups, or even individually, when the rest of the group can’t do it”, says Marina. “In reGOSH we had a lot of logistic decisions to make. It’s good to clarify the process, to know who has the autonomy to move the work forward”.
These challenges were solved with a great amount of goodwill. “We all wanted to hear and collaborate”, remembers Marina. “The participants felt that reGOSH wasn’t about the organisation giving them something; everyone could make decisions, change the space, take what they need. I guess that happened because we were open, sincere. And also because we showed them that they could act, we gave them possibilities”. The first activity was learning to use Git through an imaginary project, with playdough and broken electric components. “We made groups of three people from different nodes, who had never met before, and asked them to work on a dream project: no worries about reality”, explains Marina. “It was very good, and important, I think”. By the end of the residence, the open hardware projects could not be delivered, but instead, there were other results. “It’s hard to make nice open hardware in such a short time. But the main goal was to build community. Some nodes were really strengthened: a lab was created in Buenos Aires, and two people from Porto Alegre traveled to help consolidate it.”
The next residence was meant to be in Lima in March 2020, but it had to be cancelled because of COVID-19. “We needed digital infrastructure”, says Marina. “A website, a file repository. We worked on that”. Also, monthly online events on OSH projects called Circuito reGOSH were organised in Latin America.
Reflecting on the experience, she says: “The challenge of organising a GOSH event is to find a balance between ensuring something cool and letting things be. You have to trust the people and accept that maybe it’s not going to be what you imagined. Doing with others is a very organic thing: if you try to structure and control things very much it gets harder, and, on the other hand, if it’s too unorganised, the event could simply never happen. You have to find that magic balance”.