Building Carpentries Engagement in Your Communities

Leveraging the power of community

One of the things I enjoy most about The Carpentries is that the people who volunteer their time in so many ways come from so many different backgrounds and fields. Not only are there scientists and programmers from every discipline you can think of, but educators and librarians and people who have a passion for teaching and learning and inclusivity and the power of community.

The building of an organization like this takes time and dedication from many quarters, but produces something robust and powerful. You can help build this community further and spread the word to others about how to get involved by holding a community-building workshop at one of the conferences or events you regularly attend. It’s great fun, and you get to meet lots of people who are interested in the Carpentries and who you can help introduce to the myriad ways they can get involved. There are often spaces and times set aside at these events for people to suggest workshops to lead. Or the workshops can even be done in a less formal way by finding a group that wants to participate and grabbing a corner of the hotel bar during some conference downtime or a networking break.

I, along with five expert helpers, recently hosted a “Building with the Carpentries” workshop at the Research Data Access and Preservation (RDAP) Summit in Chicago in March. The RDAP conference attracts largely librarians working in the areas of research data sharing, accessibility, discovery, and reuse. The “Building with the Carpentries” workshop was designed to introduce people who were new to the Carpentries to a variety of ways that they could get involved or get started. It was also designed to help those already involved figure out how to better build capacity, identify local collaborators, and sustain campus Carpentries programs. Despite being the very last thing on the agenda for the entire conference, we had about 60 people stay to attend this workshop!

To give people a bit of the flavor of how Carpentries workshops and instructor training work, we incorporated a number of traditional Carpentries components into this 1.5-hour session:

  • reminder about the Code of Conduct,
  • introductions to the person next to you,
  • an on-your-feet icebreaker to get people moving and talking,
  • use of the etherpad,
  • activities on their own as well as in breakout groups,
  • expert helpers who circulated to provide guidance,
  • sticky notes to indicate completion of tasks/problems/questions, and
  • the ever-important minute card feedback at the end.

We had some great feedback from the event. People really enjoyed the chance to learn about The Carpentries and to network and plan with people at other institutions in their geographical areas about how to start or further build programs in The Carpentries. They also enjoyed getting the feel for how Carpentries workshops and trainings are run.

We did run into problems with the etherpad; 60 people was just too many to have all typing at the same time. We also could have used more experts to make sure that every group had at least one knowledgeable person to answer questions, and could have used significantly more time for the activities and discussion, as well as for reporting back at the end. This was pretty typical of a Carpentries workshop – never enough time to cover everything we want to cover! Logistics were also a bit off, as the long rows of conference tables hindered our group discussion a bit, and we had only one microphone, making sharing with the large group rather difficult.

Overall, this was a great event, and could not have been down without our expert helpers: Chris Eaker (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), Julie Goldman (Harvard), Jamene Brooks-Kieffer (University of Kansas), Lora Leligdon (Dartmouth), and Kristin Lee (Tufts University).

If you’re interested in holding a similar workshop at the next conference you’re attending, I’d be happy to talk with you about how we planned this event. Feel free to copy freely from our workshop website and etherpad of activities (note that not all the participant answers are here as we had the aforementioned trouble with the etherpad).

Good luck community building at the next conference you attend!


Amy Hodge works at Stanford University and is a member of The Carpentries’ Executive Council.

Dialogue & Discussion