This is the twentieth 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
“We make and do things together and we also plan for the future”, says Shannon Dosemagen reflecting on what makes GOSH unique.
“Technology is being built. We have to focus on the contexts, the politics: to actually have tools and make sure they’re useful. For that, you have to create an atmosphere of experimentation, where people enjoy making things together. We’re not just coming together at a hackathon or conference: what makes GOSH special is how people get together to do and make creatively, and also have good conversations to figure out what we have to change to meet our goals”.
Shannon is part of the core of GOSH from the very beginning. She has been working on how communities can use science and technology for environmental justice for over 15 years. “Open hardware was not well known at that time”, she remembers. “We worked on the use of technology: communities should be able to build the tools they need, take their own sample, and make sense of them. Making accessible technologies, ensuring that science is accessible, helped to strengthen the organising they were doing”.
In 2010 she co-founded Public Lab, a non-profit organisation to democratise science to address environmental issues. From previous work in the open ecosystem, she had met Jenny Molloy, Francois Grey and Greg Austic. In 2015, they felt that momentum had grown for open science hardware across the sciences. “So many people were using open hardware tools, it was the moment to get together to build collectively”, she explains. “In the type of work I do, we can build as many tools as we want, but if the policies aren’t there to support implementation of the resulting information, it’s difficult to get useful data”.
“2016 [the first GOSH meeting] was about ‘who is going to show up’?”, she remembers. “I’m aligned with community science and social science, others were interested in art, biology, physics … We were looking for a community: who we are. We cooked meals together, staying at the same compound, as a summer camp. We were building a family around this idea of open science hardware. This was carried on in the different GOSH events, it’s not that you go for the day and then go home”, she says. “Geneva was about setting the ground, through the Manifesto. In Santiago we started to see hands-on workshops, the conversation got specific, we had a public event and we started building collective goals. In Shenzhen we expanded, coming together with the community. It was stepped progress .”
What it takes
How to build that family? Shannon was a core organiser in the three GOSH global events. She highlights three key points: time, team, and kindness.
“Logistically, the timeline has to be extensive. The core organising group would work intensively for up to five months before bringing other organisers in. Selecting a location and local partners is very intensive. There’s a lot of invisible labor: hotels, catering, visas, even booking tickets. The programme group, four to five people, design the small talks and the evening activities. The core team should be small enough to make decisions. In total, including people in charge of the documentation, evening events, and Code of Conduct, the team could be up to 20 people.”
The selection of participants is essential. “Putting demographic goals in place for the events helped us to take a critical eye of the community from the beginning”, says Shannon. “We put a lot of effort into it”. GOSH gathered people from 40 countries.
A sense of togetherness
“At the opening, we lay the ground with a short talk, ‘this is why we’re here, this is who we are, and let’s recognise our history’, making sure that we’re connecting the dots between people as early as possible, and setting the stage for a group where you can find family. I think about the communities I belong to as my lifetime family: families are never easy. We have to all work very hard, but it nets so much. We go through the Code of Conduct, we train on how to facilitate. By laying those seeds, you see how it works”, says Shannon. “To build a sense of togetherness, it’s key to ensuring the in-between times: eating together, listening to music, socialising… When some people can be dancing and some others can hack something in the same space, that builds an atmosphere not too rigid and strict, and allows people to find their spots”.
“During the event, I don’t sleep”, she laughingly remarks. “I’m hosting, so it’s my job to make everyone feel welcomed. Sometimes that’s just to sit down and get to know a person or give a little bit of extra support. I think of myself as a support unit, and I am there for everybody. It’s important to have people in that role. And something will always come up, so the team needs someone for troubleshooting, to allow everyone else to keep going.” She writes down the names of those who worked “or demonstrated any active act of kindness, like staying behind to take care of the bags so others could eat lunch”. At the end of the event it can take 15 minutes to thank everyone, but “making sure that people feel appreciated and acknowledged is essential”.
Advice on planning a session? “It’s important to have a good facilitation plan and a goal: where you start and where you want to be. If you can plan ahead of time, it works to activate the people beforehand: ‘read this, do that’. If you are a native English speaker, slow down, write and visualise as much as possible. And always encourage people to participate in sessions outside of their area of expertise: to listen, learn and help to spread knowledge. It’s important for everyone to learn the moving pieces.”
“The bottom line would be encouraging kindness to everyone, and being present”, summarises Shannon. “I would encourage organisers to be hand-raisers, say ‘I am here to help’ (as the event grows, think about how to distribute the intensity of the efforts). We never really know what people are experiencing, what’s in someone’s background unless we try and get to know them. The basis for Codes of Conduct is very western, and as the community grows we should be conscious of this history, and ensure that our community guidelines reflect that there are people from lots of cultures and countries in the room. Be kind, open, inquisitive.. We need to have a willingness at times to say ‘Can you go deeper? I really want to understand’. And that’s how we build community and stronger conversations.”