Soliciting Community Feedback

The Carpentries is a lucky community

There are many people in the Carpentries who are enthusiastic about the mission of the organization and eager to contribute time and effort to developing and maintaining resources, and to serving on committees to help the Carpentries flourish. Of the core lessons for both Software and Data Carpentry, all lessons have been updated in the past month, most within the last two weeks. If you look at the community calendar for the organization, there are meetings nearly every day. For a largely volunteer force, that is incredible.

This community effort is manifested in lesson maintenance and committee and task force activity. Data Carpentry’s Python Ecology, maintainers, for example, have merged about 200 pull requests, and solved about 100 issues in the past three years. The first release of the lesson boasted almost 70 authors. There will be more in this summer’s release. Don’t worry - there are still plenty of open issues and pull requests if you’d like to contribute. In fact, there are a lot of things in this repository that need a little love. Other lesson organizations, such as Library Carepentry are actively planning materials hackathons right now.

Many of our Carpentries community members are actively particpating in committees in addition to teaching workshops. The CarpentryCon Task Force is working on the 2020 conference. The Code of Conduct Committee has recently revamped the incident reporting and response plan. Regional development groups (such as the African Task Force1 and Carpentries en Latinoamérica2) are helping to develop our community across the globe. The Lesson Infrastructure Committee3 is actively working on improvements to the lesson template. Each of these committees has unique opportunities for members to become involved.

We are also a community of people with day jobs. Relatively few people in the Carpentries community are employed by the organization, or employed in a position where hacking on open source materials is directly rewarded. For academics, rewards might come in the form of using work for the Carpentries for the “professional service” part of the tenure packet, or from adopting Carpentries materials in your classroom (examples of semester-long courses taught using dc-r-ecology by Ethan White here and dc-py-ecology by April Wright here). Some volunteers in industry or non-profits may have some release hours for open source volunteering, or be able to sell the time as skills development. But for many volunteers, this is work snuck in on coffee breaks, lunches, and while the kids nap.

Communities must be collaborative

As we lay out above, we have tons of work to do, and little time to do it. Even were maintenance every maintainer’s full-time job, or every committee member had explicit release time to do their committee work, at some point you need to hear from the community you’re serving. Are the lessons headed in the right direction? Are there major problems with the template? For our friends doing committee work, growing the community means understanding the needs of the community. We all thrive on feedback.

And yet, feedback can be elusive. Some documentation from Mozilla suggests that even among folks who sign up to contribute, few people make it to the point of actually making a contribution. Data Carpentry’s Python ecology lesson actually has quite good contributorship - there are about 180 forks, and 70 authors on the last release. While stats are hard to pin down, about 35% of folks who took the first steps to contributing via forking the repository actually follow through.

However, connecting engaged members to specific labor needs can still be tricky. How can maintainers and committee members communicate opportunities for involvement to the membership? How can people performing work for the Carpentries leverage this excited community to get the information and assistance we need to be effective in our roles? How do we turn excitement into impact?

People performing work for the Carpentries use a variety of strategies to solicit feedback. These can include requesting help via the mailing list, via Twitter and or via the Slack groups. They might also directly contact individuals who have special expertise. Please let us know in the comments below if you have other ideas for how we can effectively get feedback from the broader Carpentry community.

Or … join us for the upcoming maintainer call.

Maintainer call

This month’s maintainer call will focus on feedback. How can you determine if a suggestion is serving the needs of a community of learners, or the needs of one individual? How can you recruit help and synthesize differing viewpoints? This is not solely this issue affects maintainers, committees and taskforces. As such, we would be happy to have attendance from the broader community of Carpenters so we can talk productively about how to connect requests for help to helpers. Join us April 17th at 15:00 UTC and 20:00 UTC in the maintainer’s etherpad.

Let’s help each other turn excitement into impact.

Dialogue & Discussion