This is the tenth 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 Jenny Molloy, a molecular biologist and Senior Research Associate in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge.
As part of the Open Knowledge Foundation, she co-organised the workshop Open Science for Development (South Africa, 2013), where she heard Rafael Pezzi and Denisa Kera on open tools for science. “I was a PhD student working on mosquito control. My colleagues in low and middle-income countries struggled to get what they needed for research. It just struck a chord. I was also highly aware of how expensive everything was in science”, she remembers. “I ended up managing programmes on open source tools for Open Plant, a synthetic biology research centre at Cambridge. Open data and open science were becoming more adopted: open science hardware was a slightly unexplored frontier”.
By 2015, she had met Greg Austic and François Gray at different conferences. “We’d all been thinking about a similar concept. Somebody said ‘we should have a meeting’. Shannon Dosemagen and Marc Dusseiller joined. The vibe came from a combination of our backgrounds: Shannon had experience in community organising and unconferences, François on hackathons and hands-on activities, I’m more academic, Greg had been part of the Open Tech space. We didn’t want a standard meeting, but to bring more people together. Later, in 2017, we were fortunate to have Max Liboiron as a co-organiser, thinking very deeply about how to design events with equity at their heart. We benefited from a fairly experienced group that wanted to go beyond the normal scientific meeting.”
Keep the vibe going
“I think GOSH’s vibe is a mixture of people that would never normally be in the same room — artists, scientists, educators, policymakers and more — together in a way that’s not demarcating them as one thing or another, bonding over something that they’re all passionate about: open hardware and science. Everybody’s trying to recognise what each other brings to the table, with equal value and respect. People usually say they would never have met these other people before, and that they feel they’re not in the room as the tokenistic social scientist or artist in a science meeting, but that everybody’s bringing themselves and their expertise to the party”, she says.
“This vibe needs the right level of structure: enough flexibility that people can make their own niches and activities and conversations happen organically, but enough structure that everybody feels empowered and comfortable to self-organise. At global GOSH the first day is more structured, the second is tightly timetabled, the third is more flexible, and typically the fourth is into the community. Finding the right balance is key to keep the vibe going so that people can engage at their own level. We’ve always tried to consider people’s energy levels and put in plenty of breaks to talk to each other and refresh. Evening entertainment is low-key and not compulsory”.
“In 2016 we ended up cooking together, people have repeatedly asked for that in later events. Having something to do with your hands while you talk allows people to productively chat in ways that forced corridor conversations at conferences don’t. It’s that idea of informality: there are activities going on, so it always feels like there’s a buzz of stuff happening, but it’s okay if you’re not there. From a planning perspective, you try to maintain the sense of togetherness through the entire event reasonably seamlessly and that requires some logistical planning. For example, how to move people for food in a way that they continue socialising?”
“We’ve usually split the roles: a group deals with logistics and another does the programming and brings it back to the larger group for feedback. We tried to be extremely thorough. I chronologically follow through the event in my mind. It takes lots of planning, lists, and considering how people will feel at different stages of the event, from first landing in a new city to leaving at the end: do they feel cared for, included and able to participate to the best of their ability? Having at least a couple of experienced people on the organising committee is really useful. To get representative views, the team always had people from different countries, backgrounds and perspectives.”
“If you are in charge of logistics, you spend 90 percent of your time running around, making sure that stuff is in the right place and dealing with issues. You try to talk to as many people as possible, to know everybody’s name and introduce them to others. It’s soaking it all in, keeping an eye on the vibe, trying to ensure that everybody feels comfortable and also behaves.
There’s a lot of pre and post-work each day. In the mornings, everything has to be in place, and in the evening you follow up on documentation. You’re always on duty, you can’t really switch off. It’s important to try to get some sleep.
If you’re organising a session, be clear about the audience and the goal when you put it on the unconference programme. One of the challenges with GOSH diversity is that in a group some could be experts and others inexperienced. For practical sessions, think hard about what stuff and time you need. ¡Planning planning! Usually, timing estimations are completely off. People from different backgrounds, chatting, take more time to build something than an engineer. Double the time, contextualise what you’re building, and make sure to explain everything at the start. Be kind, be welcoming and have fun. Even if the session doesn’t happen as planned, you’ll find people with similar goals, and the flexibility of GOSH allows them to continue later, shaping the event how they want to.”
“Fortunately, our fiscal sponsor Public Lab did most of the financial paperwork, and Shannon volunteered for evaluation. That’s important and the sooner you send the feedback form, the more likely people are to provide input. It should be ready to go immediately at the end of the event. Then it’s debriefing with the committee what you can improve on, and discuss the evaluation data and follow-ups, as the Manifesto and the Roadmap, where many community members got involved. There’s also reporting and documentation. Community documentation happens quite soon after the event, fortunately in Shenzhen Laura Olalde was running the documentation team. Then we adapt that content to the report for funders: 15 to 20 pages, including photos.
Then the cycle starts again. From the evaluation you’ll know where the next GOSH might be, who wants to go, and who volunteers for organising. There’s a lot to book, and some people would need invitations three months in advance to get visas, so you need to send the call out five to six months before the event. With a twelve-month window, you start planning the next GOSH two to three months after the last.”
Don’t underestimate the amount of work
“You can’t plan for everything to go well. If you’re organising international events, mind what is an acceptable time frame in the host country. Be aware that people work at different paces, understand the timing of your team, and keep everybody on the same page.”