GOSH Community Member Profile of Max Liboiron: “Nothing about us without us”

Brianna Johns GOSH Profiles, GOSH! News Leave a Comment

Source: Gathering for Open Science Hardware

This is the fifteenth 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

Max Liboiron is a leader in developing and promoting anticolonial research methods

Max Liboiron is a leader in developing and promoting anticolonial research methods. As founder and director of CLEAR, an interdisciplinary plastic pollution laboratory whose methods foreground humility and good land relations, Liboiron has influenced Canadian national policy, invented technologies and protocols, and led the development of the interdisciplinary field of discard studies. On that journey, they create open science hardware specifically for marine plastic pollution monitoring in northern climates and economies. They worked on the writing of the GOSH Manifesto, Code of Conduct, and Roadmap. Several GOSH members highlighted their role in making GOSH a diverse, safe, and participatory space. 

“When I saw the call for the first GOSH I assumed it wasn’t for me, that it was another male-dominated, white-dominated, dude-core situation’. But Shannon Dosemagen individually invited me, and told me that I did fit. For folks who are underrepresented, direct invitations from someone they trust is the key recruitment strategy”, they say. “The meeting had a good spirit and intentions but it was still very dominated by what’s called ‘dude-core culture’ in tech. Also it privileged certain types of open science: high-tech, multi-tech things that beep. As I design hardware to be done without electricity because that’s the communities I work with, I thought ‘this is not for me’,” they remember. “But there was a bunch of feedback of that kind from the first GOSH, and the organisers decided to address it. For the second GOSH, I was part of the organising team and we made a real effort to deal with that alienation and dude-core culture. I volunteered to do equitable and anti-oppressive facilitation. They invited me as someone who is fluent in these techniques, because intention doesn’t do it: you need to have plans that you know work. So we tried to change a lot of things. The most and first important thing to ensure equity and diversity is ensuring that you have experts in diversity on the organising committee”.

How to recruit diverse participants

“For selection, we set quotas and targets, which took a lot of discussion. Research shows that having diverse people, however you want to define that, in a conversation requires they make up more than a third, or they will simply not speak. If they don’t make up half or more of the group, then they won’t get innovative. They will only enrich and educate the rest of the group. So our goal was to make sure we had over 30% or over 50% in groups that tend to not talk as much in these conversations: global south or low income countries, gender diversity, artists, and people from NGOs. And of course, local people, because having a meeting in people’s homes without inviting them is super colonial and rude”, they explain. “Setting targets was really hard, but meeting them was even harder, because people from these diverse groups know that most meetings aren’t for us. So putting out an open call doesn’t work, because they won’t apply. You have to demonstrate the culture you preach. We tried to do that by talking about the targets in the call, and through a lot of targeted and snowballing invitations. We wanted folks who would change the conversation. There was a lot of conflict between merit-based evaluation and equity. The problem with merit-based evaluation is that it assumes evaluators already know the terms for excellence and they map onto the existing ones, when often what you’re trying to do when you diversify is to change what excellent looks like”, they state.

How to make a safe space

“The second biggest issue is retention and safety. Just because you’ve managed to get people in the room doesn’t mean they stay or that it’s a good space for them to be in”, explains Max. “So we created a Code of Conduct with accountability. We had people who looked out for the Code of Conduct and that’s all they did during the meeting, they didn’t multitask. If there was an issue, you could talk to them or send them something anonymously and they would just take care of it. And that can’t be someone who is also running the meeting”.

On facilitation

“We tried to move the culture away from leadership and towards facilitation: how to get people to put everyone’s ideas on the table and invest in other people, instead of investing in themselves, in their own good ideas, which is more common in individualist cultures. There are techniques to do anti-oppressive facilitation, such as the AORTA collective guidelines. We made four or five guidelines and put them up everywhere on posters, and we did training. Things like ‘ask more questions than you make statements’, ‘step back if you’ve spoken a lot’, and ‘if someone hasn’t spoken, put them forward.’ One of the most important yet simple facilitation techniques is the round robin, where you go around the circle and everyone talks, or they just say ‘pass’ if they don’t want to speak. That revolutionises the conversation. You hear from people who tend not to speak as much and when there’s agreement, you hear it”, they say. “Having someone in each group who is a dedicated facilitator, especially in hard conversations, is really important. That was my job: getting other people’s ideas onto the table, without adding my own. I was active in the Roadmap conversations, which had 112 people. That’s why you need training: 20 of them will talk a lot, and the facilitator’s job is to get to the others. That takes a lot of work, and the facilitator needs actual breaks. I was pretty burnt out by the end.” 


“Almost everything was in English. Paying more attention to translation and multi-language facilitators, and also to disability and child care, would add a lot of value for equity”, says Max. They add: “I think a good policy is ‘nothing about us without us’. If you’re going to talk about tech for Indigenous people, for example, have at least 30% Indigenous people there. The assumption is that if you have a diverse group they’ll be good at all sorts of different diverse conversations, but that is not always true.”

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