Communications at The Carpentries

Boats, Bridges, Balloons - Here's why and how we communicate at The Carpentries

The Carpentries is a project merger between Software Carpentry, Library Carpentry and Data Carpentry, with a strong community of librarians, researchers and technologists brought together by two distinct events of 2018, and a common goal in mind - to build and grow communities of practice around computational skills development for researchers and librarians. 2019 marks twenty years of iterations on The Carpentries pedagogical model, and the ninth year of executing our current focus on community edification by sharing data science and coding skills.

As a community-led organisation, The Carpentries remains committed to training and fostering an active, inclusive and diverse community that is largely comprised of learners, instructors, maintainers, trainers, mentors, workshop organisers, Carpentries champions and paid employees, and which promotes and models the importance of software and data in research and libraries.

As is anyone’s guess, communicating well in such a robust community is no easy feat. It is often the result of proper planning, and an openness to sharing, testing and iterating on ideas from the community, with the realisation that what worked in the past, or for some communities in specific contexts will not always translate in the present, and that community needs should continually be at the heart of every decision we make.

Boats. Bridges. Balloons. Why and How We Communicate at The Carpentries.

In the last week of January 2019, and as my first onboarding project, the Community Development and Communications team decided to review all the different ways that we share resources and information, and how we facilitate discourse in The Carpentries’ community. The goal was to help us spell out how The Carpentries, through our communications, can continue to:

  • Create awareness about the work we do:
    Our communications should articulate the purpose and value proposition of The Carpentries so as to facilitate uptake of our core offerings among key audiences i.e. we want people to know about and take part in The Carpentries’ workshops and trainings, and join our Memberships program at an organisation level.

  • Encourage participation and collaboration:
    Our communications should emphasise our collaboration-driven ethos and point to the myriad of ways contributions and participation are encouraged in various Carpentries’ initiatives.

  • Empower our community:
    Our communications should amplify the voices and reiterate the value of Carpentries’ community members the world over, so as to foster a deep sense of belonging and community ownership of Carpentries’ resources.

  • Edify our community:
    Our communications should strive to highlight relevant opportunities such as jobs, grants, fellowships, conferences, et al. and to apprise our community of pertinent issues by passing along information and discussing relevant trends on data, software, inclusive teaching, accessibility, etc. as they arise.

XKCD illustration 1810 on chat systems

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As part of this exercise and building up to a communications strategy, we revived the Carpentries Conversations repository and revisited Carpentries/Conversations#1 which, thanks to Erin Becker and Tracy K. Teal, first set the tone for how we communicate at The Carpentries two years ago.

We received plenty of feedback in the aforementioned GitHub issue, via email, and The Carpentries’ Slack channel. Coupled with insights from past interactions and website metrics, we then had a first go at considering ways to work this feedback into our communications going forward. XKCD 1810 above accurately captions our sentiment from initial analysis of the feedback, although we are yet to receive requests to Telegram Carpentries’ communiqué ☺.

As we are now at the tail end of 2019’s first quarter, the first phase of our work as the Community Development and Communications team is done - we have now determined what we want to do (communications strategy) and have an idea of how we want to do it (communications plan). We will now spend the second quarter test driving and refining our strategy, and communicating about our process as we go along.

Here’s a short analogy to help summarise what our communications strategy encompasses:
Consider a body of water separating two inhabited land masses and with three ways to traverse from one land mass to the other: a ten-minute boat ride, an hour-long walk across a footbridge, and a twenty-minute trip in a hot-air balloon. No specific option suits all inhabitants, and all modes of movement are made available to all equally, with reasonable constraints for each, as one might expect i.e. one must have a life vest to go on the boat, or time to spare to use the foot bridge. At a meta level, this analogy explains what we have discovered about interactions in The Carpentries’ community so far, and it is this:

fragmentation by platform use is a challenge we already have, but one that also helps us meet our community where they are.

Because our community is made up of librarians, researchers, scientists, developers, designers, data scientists, data analysts and more from different domains and geographical locations, fragmentation of discussions by the platforms our community members prefer or are limited to is in fact not a bug, but a feature. We will embrace and use this as a premise in implementing our communications strategy in this second quarter.

We invite you to continually share your thoughts, experiences and suggestions as we go along via Carpentries Conversations GitHub repository, Twitter, Slack, or any other way you prefer. A big thank you to The Carpentries community for your feedback, Chris Erdmann and Kari L. Jordan for their work and input towards this first version of our communications strategy, and to The Carpentries team for their reviews and insight as we worked on it.

Happy days!

Dialogue & Discussion