The Carpentries’ podcast is a way for us to share conversations and discussions of interest to our community in a format that is portable and accessible. The goal is to ensure that our community is able to interact with us in whatever way they choose to do so. Please feel free to download or listen to each episode directly from this page.
Community Building Online (Episode 3)
Released 7 April 2021
Serah Rono · Stef Butland · Naomi Penfold · Abigail Mayes · Toby Hodges · Angela Li · Kate Hertweck
In this episode, consisting of excerpts of discussions from the two Fireside Chat sessions during CarpentryCon @ Home 2020, we will be hearing from Stef Butland, Naomi Penfold, Abigail Mayes, Toby Hodges, Angela Li and Kate Hertweck on topics related to community building online.
English language Transcript
Serah Rono: Hello and welcome to the third episode of The Carpentries podcast. In this episode, consisting of excerpts of discussions from the two Fireside Chat sessions during CarpentryCon @ Home 2020, we will be hearing from Stef Butland, Naomi Penfold, Abigail Mayes, Toby Hodges, Angela Li and Kate Hertweck on topics related to community building online.
We have mentioned “community” a lot in our introductions and for the purpose of this conversation I want to define “community” very broadly as a group of people who come together to work towards a shared goal. So, a question for you, Kate – I want you to speak on the development of community values as a cornerstone for supporting communities and the individuals that join these communities.
Kate Hertweck: Thanks. I am especially excited about community values right now. I was a member of the Carpentries Executive Council when the Carpentries’ values were being developed, and in the two years since I have been at my current position I have been working pretty hard to think about, “What are the interesting and different things about the community here and about the way that I am supporting the community compared to things being very siloed and very hierarchical in other areas?” And of course, I found that the values completely underlie that. My group just had a blog post come out that had a draft of our Community Values that highlight things like Open Science, the idea that we care more about learning than about knowing things, and really being able to put voice to some of those main characteristics that I think a lot of us in the Carpentries community take for granted but are not a given in most other communities. That relates to professional development pretty closely because for all of the objectives that I have as a community builder, I try to also make it do double duty for some other purpose.
So, I am trying to facilitate the community while at the same time offering an opportunity to a trainee who is interested in developing a particular skill like teaching or leading a group. Even if I develop outreach materials for use with high school or undergrad students, honestly the difference between a high school student starting to do biomedical computational research and someone with a PhD who has never done computational research is not that big, right? So, thinking about ways that we can continue to branch out and integrate the different activities in a way that helps facilitate everyone and helps normalize all of the community values that we have is one of the reasons that I am really passionate about it. And you know, in the coming months my team member and I are going to be spending a lot of time doing some more writing and more thinking about how we can make it explicit that community values like the ones in the Carpentries community and like the ones that we have developed for our workplace really help support individuals while they are also supporting communities.
Serah Rono: Amazing. Thank you, Kate My next question is for Stef: what are the strategies we can employ to bring together people who’ve been in a community for very long and those who have just joined the community so that they can collaborate and work together effectively, especially in online spaces?
Stefanie Butland: I can think of two examples, and then people can generalize how they might apply these things. One thing that we did running our un-conferences is that we would have somewhere around 60 people attending, but as a rule there would be – I am trying to think. I think either one-third or two-thirds were people who had never attended before, and one or two-thirds of the people – I cannot believe I do not remember the proportions – were people who had attended one previous un-conference. And the rule was you could never attend more than two, because there was very much familiarity with the community and our work, but also the vibe – you know, the Code of Conduct, the way people communicate with each other, the working in groups, the figuring out what you are going to work on, and just that comfort level – it was having new people fully integrated for this two-day thing with people who had done this before.
And then, the other thing I think of is pairing people when they are working on something. So, one thing that we do is when people volunteer to review a package for rOpenSci in the new reviewer form that will be released soon, people can say, “Yes, I would really appreciate some coaching and how to do this.” Now, the coaching comes from the editor, but the idea is we might pair a more experienced reviewer with a first-time reviewer and that kind of thing. The other thing I try to do as a Community Manager is really revealing examples so when people publish blog posts about things – we have a few blog posts that are written by first-time reviewers saying, “I really didn’t think I could do this, but I could, and here’s what I learned or here’s what I appreciated about the process.” So, having people reveal their experiences as first-timers, lowers that sort of anxiety level for other people to do it.
Serah Rono: Amazing. Thank you for sharing that, Stef. And so, as we can all imagine, when these two groups of people come together, people who have been in a community for very long and people who have just joined, there have been old ways of working or established ways of doing things in the community and new people come with new ideas. So, friction might ensue, naturally. My question for you, Toby, is how can these groups of people working together cultivate kindness as they go along in these communities?
Toby Hodges: Speaking from personal experience, what I found to be helpful in this regard is modeling the behavior that you want to see, I suppose. I have worked, unfortunately, in environments that may sound familiar to others on the call as well where like, being positive and enthusiastic about things is somehow deemed to be like, deeply uncool, and being jaded and cynical is the kind of standard way to behave in that environment. I find that extremely depressing, I guess. It can be really intimidating, though, when you are working in that kind of environment, to try to go against that and actually show some enthusiasm. But what I’ve found is that if you do that anyway, then some people at least in the group will take your lead and also start responding in kind. It doesn’t necessarily work for everybody, but you don’t even need it to work for everybody, really. You only need it to work for one or two other people for you to feel like it’s worth persevering with. And I am not saying that is a method that will work on its own and solve all the problems. Of course I’m not. That would be far too simplistic. But I recognize that sometimes it can be difficult to be kind of brave and put yourself out there and do that yourself, but I promise you’ll be rewarded for it.
The other thing I want to say is going beyond that kind of positivity and enthusiasm, specifically if you’re unapologetic about being kind to other people and furtherly, kind of support people when they display kindness to others – again, that’s what I think you can do as a leader to try to at least encourage that kind of behavior that you want to see in the environment that you’re in.
Serah Rono: The next question is for Angela. So, you have a community that is working towards shared goals and has these values to support them as they go along. So, a question we got from a community member is, “How does a community member in a community graduate to being a Community Leader?”
Angela Li: Sure. I want to sort of jump off what Kate said and sort of re-emphasize why community values are so important, which is because you attract people who are as into those values as you are, right? So, I joined the Carpentries because I saw that it was a group of people really dedicated towards inclusion, towards thinking about all these things, and for a while I was just a community member. So, I was just getting started with teaching, learning how to do things, getting really invested in the sort of on-the-grounds, like doing some of these workshops. That was really exciting for me just to see those values play out and see them go on.
I think I started becoming more of a Community Leader when – I think there was a need that I saw. One of the lessons had not been super maintained for a while and I really wanted to change something, so I sort of jumped in and I was like, “Hey, I’m willing to help out with this.” And one thing led to another and somehow I ended up leading the maintainer community after having, you know, just starting with it because I was passionate about it. But I think that process of going from just being a community member to being a Community Leader gave me a lot of perspective on the challenges faced by community members and how I might support that as a community builder. So, obviously this is not the case with all community management roles. You can’t go – it’s not like you start at the very ground level and you sort of move up. But for me, it’s been helpful to sort of chart and plan out the future, so that was definitely something. But I also think it had a lot to do with people encouraging me and being welcoming throughout the whole process, so that was a huge factor in why I stuck around because I knew there were people – I worked with Erin Becker, who’s on this call, really closely for a long period of time, and I just felt like I got so much mentorship from her. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. So, having people who are willing to do that is so important. I talked a little bit more about this path in a blog post I wrote about Maintainer/Community Leaders, which I’ll drop in the chat. Feel free to take a look at that. It sort of talks about how I developed as a person and how I sort of went from being overwhelmed by just teaching to being part of the community.
Serah Rono: Awesome. Thank you, Angela, and yay Erin. So, Stef, I have a question for you. This community member has gained experience and become a leader in the community in different aspects. Are there resources that exist for people who find themselves in this position as Community Leaders, Community Organizers, who often feel that they are making things up as they go along? Are there resources?
Stefanie Butland: Oh, yes, there are definitely resources, and the first thing I want to say is it really is hard work. I heard some people talking about this in a previous Carpentries session I had attended where, you know, it’s easy to start a community and get things rolling, but sustainability is a whole other thing and you don’t get to experience that until later. So, I want to acknowledge and have everybody realize that yes, the stuff you’re trying to do is actually really hard and it requires working with intention and setting a goal, just like any other kind of project management. But I know one of the issues that may come up is undervaluing the “soft skills”, those interpersonal skills relative to the technical skill stuff. So, I have a general resource and then what I consider a very personal resource to suggest.
So, the general resource is something that a handful of people here are familiar with already. It’s called the Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement, so it’s CSCCE. This is a community of practice of Community Managers in science, and the best part about it is it’s people who work for all kinds of different organizations but who really get each other and kind of understand the issues we’re all dealing with. One of the best ways to get exposed to this group is by attending a community call, let’s say. So, you can listen, you can meet some of the people and you get to see, just like this kind of thing, how people – they smile when they interact with each other. But there’s a Slack group that people are welcome to join and you can ask questions on dealing with this thing; “I’m not sure how to handle it,” and a whole bunch of people will answer, give you their suggestions, or you can share. There’s a channel for shared joy. “I’m so proud of this thing I did.” You can share it there. This is – outside of rOpenSci, it’s my favorite place to be and actively participate in.
My personal recommendation – I refer to this as “find your Naomi Penfold and your Steffi LaZerte.” So, Steffi LaZerte is my colleague and a co-author on an rOpenSci Community Contributing guide that we just released yesterday, and Naomi is someone I met through the CSCCE. She works for e-Life. These are people that, you know, get me. We can talk about the issues. We can act as peers. Nobody worries about stepping on someone else’s toes. Something that Naomi and I do almost weekly, and we’ve published a blog post about how we do it – there are lots of different ways to do this, but remote coworking. So, for Naomi and I, what this involves is we have a weekly, regularly-scheduled, two-hour meeting. We meet on Zoom. We spend the first few minutes saying, like, “How’s life this week? How are you feeling? What’s the big-picture thing you’re going to work on for the next two hours?” And then, “What’s the thing you’re going to work on and try to accomplish in the next 30 minutes?” And then we have a web-based timer. We start the timer, we turn off our video, we turn off our sound, but we stay in the Zoom meeting, and then we work away, doing our thing. The timer goes off; we both come into the Zoom and we’re like, “How was that for you?” And sometimes it’s like, “Oh, my gosh. I finished this and now I’m going to move on to this,” or other times what often happens – and this is where that collegiality, especially if it’s a person outside of your organization, you get a really different reflection on the stuff you’re working on. There was one specific time we were working on a project and I had a lot of stuff and complexity that I wanted to convey to Stef so that they could give me specific feedback, but there was so much to pass on. How do I do this? And I just expressed what I was challenged with and Naomi kind of reflected back to me, like, “Hey, what about this?” So, we both get mood boosts sometimes when one of us is down, like we’re at different parts of the roller coaster, helping each other out. But also, we get work done. You get your own work done, but with a colleague. And we were doing this before everyone became physically isolated from each other, but it works perfectly now as well. So, that’s my suggestion.
Serah Rono: Amazing. Thank you so much, Stef, for highlighting the importance and value of other people as a resource as you work as a Community Organizer and with communities. That’s really great.
So Abby, I have a question for you. So we started talking about resources available to community members as they work to build community. I am wondering, and this is a question that also came in, “So you find yourself leading a community initiative in some way, and you do not have a Code of Conduct. How can someone set out to quickly put together a Code of Conduct, and especially in situations where budget is limited or non-existent?”
Abigail Cabunoc Mayes: Yeah. I love this question, because I do think whenever possible you should reuse a Code of Conduct. There are a lot of great ones out there – Contributor Covenant, Citizen Code of Conduct, even Mozilla’s Community Participation Guidelines. Those are all ready for you to use and adopt in your own work. We would not write our own open licenses. I think there’s similar reasons why you should not write your own Code of Conduct, if it makes sense. There are cases where you’ll want to write your own or adapt it, but I think in many cases you can just use one of the existing ones that are out there.
Serah Rono: Amazing. And so, Naomi, I have a question for you. Because Codes of Conduct are really important, and from some of our experiences, it takes years to get it right, how can someone who finds themselves in a position where they have to lead a community and there’s no Code of Conduct, there’s no resources – so, people or money or even the time to put together a Code of Conduct in the way that other established communities have been able to – what can they do? How can they put a Code of Conduct together quickly?
Naomi Penfold: I think this is such an important question to ask, and I would start by saying that there’s some organizations I really look up to who’ve spent a lot of work on Codes of Conduct and they still have questions remaining. They’re still learning; they’re still working on it. So, I don’t think we’re at that place where we have the perfect answer. My experience has been that there’s a lot of people with embodied knowledge who are willing to talk about this. There’s a lot of things that can be shared, the backgrounds of Code of Conduct development, and I have received a lot of help from other people when writing my own Codes of Conduct. I would recommend for anyone to reach out with people who can afford to give some of their time freely to do that if you’re not in a position to pay somebody. There are excellent people you can pay out there, but if you’re not in that position there’s a lot of people you can reach out to for advice and support.
I think Abby said yesterday about there being lots of Codes of Conduct online that are openly licensed and you can reuse. If you do go down that route, I would highly recommend that you really think about what you are reusing, because if you are the one writing the Code you are probably also the one responsible for enforcing it. You need to understand what it is that you are putting in place and you need to understand whether the community you are working with understands it and agrees with it, because there is nothing worse than the stressful situation of thinking that you have done what you need to do and then realizing that it is not enough, so it is even more stressful if something does happen. So, yeah, I would just advocate for people to reach out for help and ask the questions of the people around them, and ultimately you will hopefully be linked to someone who can help you or a few people who can help you think it through.
Serah Rono: Amazing. Thank you so much Naomi. I like that you mentioned the responsibility that comes with enforcing Codes of Conduct and how important it is to think about that whole process as you start to write one.
Thank you for listening to our podcast. On the next and final episode in this series we will publish excerpts from the discussions on the role of soft/hard skills in communities and community responsibility. If you enjoyed this podcast and want more, please let us know on Twitter, @thecarpentries.
Equity & Inclusion in Online Communities (Episode 2)
Released 20 March 2021
Serah Rono · Toby Hodges · Naomi Penfold · Kate Hertweck · Angela Li · Marlene Mhangami · Abigail Mayes
In this episode, consisting of excerpts of discussions from the two Fireside Chat sessions during CarpentryCon @ Home 2020, we will be hearing from Naomi Penfold, Marlene Mhangami, Kate Hertweck, Angela Li, Toby Hodges and Abigail Mayes on topics related to Equity and Inclusion in online communities.
English language Transcript
Serah Rono: Hello and welcome to the second episode of The Carpentries new podcast. In this episode, consisting of excerpts of discussions from the two Fireside Chat sessions during CarpentryCon @ Home 2020, we will be hearing from Naomi Penfold, Marlene Mhangami, Kate Hertweck, Angela Li, Toby Hodges and Abigail Mayes on topics related to Equity and Inclusion in online communities.
One of the questions we got from a community member is, “I have very limited time for other activities after school and family time. I feel like I am missing out on the fun of being involved in volunteer work and the reward that comes with it, like a better resume. What does inclusion look like for people like me?” So, Toby, I want you to speak on that.
Toby Hodges: All right. So, I think that we – speaking to the people here who were like, leaders in their community, at least in some way – I think that we have a responsibility to make sure that this happens. We talked about this last night as well and everybody said things that were the responsibility of the person in the leadership position and not the responsibility of the person who wants to contribute. I will repeat what I said last night to that person who wants to contribute: that is great, and I really hope that you are able to. I think the ways in which we can make it possible for people to do that are through kind of documenting, ideally briefly, but still documenting properly, the processes. And if you can kind of itemize specific ways in which people can contribute, specific ways in which newcomers can contribute or people who already have some experience with the community, and include with that, realistic estimates of the amount of time that it is going to take to do that. I think that is certainly something that I have not done so well in the past and that I have gotten better at doing.
I also think that we need to think a bit about what the unwritten rules are and processes are of our organizations, because those are the kinds of things that make it completely inaccessible, your project completely inaccessible to people who have limited time. Think about why those things are not written down. Write them down if you can, and if you cannot, really interrogate what the justification is for having some process that you are not willing to write down for other people. And I want to mention, Abbie made a great point yesterday about if you have this possibility for your project to adopt like a cadence for the project that makes it accessible for sometime-contributors who do not have a lot of time to put into it. For example, if you can establish like, a monthly release cycle, then those folks who do not have a lot of time to commit know that they can plan to come and do some QA or something close to the release point and be involved that way. Serah, you mentioned last night as well something that I think is really important about this like, getting credit for those contributions as well. We need to make sure that we kind of publicly acknowledge those contributions, whether they are large or small, in a way that those people can kind of point to on their CV or whatever in the future, and to show that we appreciate it even if you can only spend 30 minutes on the project and not 30 hours.
Serah Rono: Absolutely. I really like the last thing you said. As people designing pathways of engagement in our different communities, we should also be very careful about how we communicate the weight that we place on different types of engagement. So, are you communicating that one pathway is more important or more valued than another? I think it is really important to let people know that your fifteen minutes, your one hour, whatever you can give, is really appreciated in the community. Great. Thank you so much, Toby. The next question is for Naomi. In big & established communities especially, what are some of the ways one can give every last community member a voice to make sure that they are heard and that they also feel heard?
Naomi Penfold: Thanks. I think what you just said, Serah – I would like to build on that, because for peoples’ contacts – showing up and listening and then telling their friend – is a huge contribution to sharing practices amongst the community and it is so not visible. So, people who step up and are Project Leads or they have got this written documentation online that’s got their name next to it that is citable, that is always much more visible than the people who are doing the networking and the speaking, and it could be people on the call today who turn up, who do not say anything in the chat, do not have their videos on, but you are important too because you are listening and you might take something back. You might think about something. You might challenge one of us later to say, “Hey…” – and that is really generative. So, I think noting those different activities, the invisible activity, is really important.
In terms of giving everyone a voice, I have really been very privileged to work with a group of early-career scientists who are very international and they are all operating in English, but English is not their first language. And one of the things they do is to try to avoid synchronous spoken calls, right, because in those calls if you are not there with your first language you have got to do all the energy and time of translating, thinking about what you want to say, translating it back, and you have missed the conversation by that point. They kind of organize these – they call it “virtual brainstorming” kind of event, but it is online in a forum so you can write it, take your time to write. We are still doing it in English. Still have got a way to go with other languages, but if you give people two days, you can still reach decisions in that time. It is still quick. It is as good as synchronous, but with text everyone can contribute. No one is talking over. Right now, I am dominating the attention of what, 30 people? But if you are doing it in text, 30 people can write at once. So, I think that little tweaks like that with how you share and collect and discuss information are really important for those voices.
Serah Rono: And the same question to Kate. In big & established communities especially, what are some of the ways one can give every last community member a voice to make sure that they are heard and that they also feel heard?
Kate Hertweck: I think making sure that the feedback that we are getting from a community is representative of the community is generally what we try to attack as a goal, right? And I am continuing to be very interested in what I see are the outliers. People who have felt disenfranchised from a community – like, in my community, we are interested in everyone involved in data-intensive research. Theoretically, that could be anyone who does biomedical research, because everybody has to deal with data. And so, then it becomes a question of “How do I start to interact and engage with people who may not feel like they are a part of my community?” And so, I have been thinking a lot about finding ways to solicit feedback in multiple mechanisms, so a combination of anonymous and if someone wants a response, including an email. Doing formal and informal feedback mechanisms, structured and unstructured. And the truth is that it really is not something that I could sit down and say, “This is my plan for gaining feedback,” because really interacting with people, getting feedback from them is constantly integrated in that. So, every time I teach a class, I am paying attention to what my participants are saying and what they continue to need, and then I fold that into the next iteration of the class I teach later. If somebody seems like they are having a rough time, dropping them an email afterwards. It is amazing to see how people respond when someone sincerely asks them if they need assistance like, personally, and I think that is sort of a testament to the way that our academic and research culture, especially in biomedical sciences, is these days. And I think to a certain extent, by virtue of like, me existing – one of the first things I heard when I started my role: “All of our Scientific Computing staff are middle-aged white men.” And so, me showing up not being a middle-aged white man, that was something that was in and of itself very useful to other people. And the truth is that I can sort of help normalize the idea that uncertainty is a thing and that it is okay to ask questions and that you will have a response that will help you, and part of that is recognizing the limitations of your community as well. So, me being able to say, “Yeah, what you are struggling with right now is really, really hard,” and that type of validation is incredibly important for some people to hear, especially if they are dealing with imposter syndrome and things like that. So, I think the answer is it is a hard job continuing to open up and broaden this space that is available for people to step into and have their voices heard, but what I can also say is that I have what I feel is a much better idea of the community than most of the other people who are relying on standard assessment mechanisms like a survey that only a specific type of person will answer.
Serah Rono: Yeah. Thanks, Kate. I have a follow-up question to that and I think I will throw it at Angela. So, Kate mentioned getting feedback from people and being aware of some of the limitations that they have, and some of these limitations are around the tools and platforms that online communities employ. This is something that we have heard time and again in different communities. So, question for you, Angela: how can we make interactions in online spaces more inclusive, and specifically for people with disabilities and people from a non-English background?
Angela Li: For sure. I think – well, obviously one of the first things to do is to go in knowing that you are going to make your space inclusive. I think that is already a huge step. A lot of people, I think, in communities might not expect that their needs are going to be met, but I think just knowing that going in and planning for that from the outset is really important. So, keeping that in mind as you design your programming. I think one thing we did do in Maintainer Onboarding this past summer was we had some folks who were calling in from pretty remote areas. Their Internet was not great, and I do not think they were native English speakers. And when the majority of the cohort is in a specific place, it is really easy to cater to the majority and not include people. Like, for your ease you just ignore them, and that is really not the way to go. That is – I would caution against that. So, just because 90 percent of your group might be English speakers or able-bodied, making sure that you have space for them. Anyway, rant over.
What we did was I did check in with those people one on one and made sure that they had the resources and tools that they needed to succeed in the program. So, following up and saying, “Hey, I noticed that your video was off. That might be the Internet connection. What can I do to provide resources to make sure you are able to get through this program?” So, I heard from them and they are like, “Yes, this is my plan. I plan to read the materials after and put the notes in later. Is that fine?” and I was like, “Yes, that is fantastic. I am so happy you are contributing and participating in that way.” So, working with the people that you are serving to collaboratively come up with a solution that works for them.
I think I should probably actually punt the disabilities one to someone who has worked more with those populations, but I think definitely Maintainer Onboarding showed me a lot about how to work one on one and how to collaborate to come up with successful things that can make people feel welcome and make you feel like they are a connected part of the community.
Serah Rono: The next question is for Marlene, Are there any experiences & strategies that we can borrow from PyCon Africa and from the Python community around the world for how different people get a voice & a platform to speak?
Marlene Mhangami: I think 100 percent that it is quite difficult, particularly when you are working with a global community and a global context. I actually had not heard the idea of just focusing mainly on text and I think that is a fantastic idea. For PyCon Africa, one of the major concerns when we were thinking about whether we should move the conference online or not was that a lot of people do not have access to that fast Internet connection that can allow you to stream 100 percent of the time. And I think for us, we made the decision to still go ahead and do some of the sessions live, but also making sure to follow that up with content that is recorded. There is going to be content on the YouTube page so that someone can pick out like, a specific thing that they want to watch and they do not have to use all of their data bundles if they are not using a Wi-Fi connection. They can use a certain amount of data to watch exactly what they want. We also really tried to make sure we had a session right at the beginning of the conference where we asked Community Leaders from the smaller communities in different parts of the continent to sort of give us a report back on what are the things that they are doing in their communities that are working well; the things that they would like to see as well from us. And I think that feedback was quite positive for us. It is something that I am not really sure how we could – you know, I think there is a lot of people that have their voices not heard, and I am still trying to figure out the best ways to engage with those people. I think those would be my main points.
Serah Rono: Amazing. Thank you, Marlene. I also wanted to mention that one of the things I really appreciated was when you selected speakers for PyCon Africa this year, you gave people the opportunity to pre-record their sessions in case their Internet would not be reliable on that day or they were not sure if there was going to be electricity on that day. So, allowing people to prerecord so that they will be able to share their ideas and experiences either way was really great and I really appreciated that.
We have a very specific scenario here, and I’d like Toby or Abbie or both to speak to it. Someone says, “I have very limited time for other activities after school and family time. I feel like I am missing out from the fun of being involved in volunteer work and the reward that comes with it, like a better resume. What does inclusion look like for people like me?”
Abigail Cabunoc Mayes: I can start. I think that is really valid and I do think I want to talk to the Project Leads for a little bit. When you are leading a project, I think it is important to make room for these casual contributors, and often something like having a cadence really helps. So, if people know that you are doing a monthly release cycle, they can come in and do a bit of QA at this time each month. It is something they can do easily; they can drop in and out. Yeah, and creating those kinds of roles – I think that is on the onus of the Project Lead. It is not a busy person to try to say, like, “Hey, I just want to try to do this a little bit.” So, if you are a busy person, I would say shop around for different projects and try to find something that can accommodate you, but if you are running a project, do make space for those kinds of things.
Serah Rono: Thanks Abbie. Thank you for listening to our podcast. Next week we will publish excerpts from the discussions on Community Building Online. If you enjoyed this podcast and want more, please let us know on Twitter, @thecarpentries.
Mindfulness & Self-Care (Episode 1)
Released 15 March 2021
Serah Rono · Toby Hodges · Naomi Penfold · Angela Li · Marlene Mhangami · Abigail Mayes
In this episode, consisting of excerpts of discussions of the two Fireside Chat sessions, during CarpentryCon @ Home 2020, we will be hearing from Toby Hodges, Naomi Penfold, Angela Li, Marlene Mhangami, and Abigail Mayes on topics related to Mindfulness & Self-Care in online communities.
English language Transcript
Serah Rono: Hello and welcome to the first episode of The Carpentries’ new podcast. In this episode, consisting of excerpts of discussions of the two Fireside Chat sessions, during CarpentryCon @ Home 2020, we will be hearing from Toby Hodges, Naomi Penfold, Angela Li, Marlene Mhangami, and Abigail Mayes on topics related to Mindfulness & Self-Care in online communities
Serah Rono: I want to throw a question at Toby and Naomi. So someone asked: “I would love to know how successful community managers balance their life with the work that seems to take everything that one has. How do you avoid the trap of there always being more that one could do?”
Naomi Penfold: Can I go first? Cool, okay. Oh, gosh. Play. Play. I have learned the hard way, as I’m sure many people have, that you cannot just work all the time and not give yourself the joy of play. So, I now do improvised comedy with a troupe in Edinburgh. It’s totally different. I don’t look at my laptop. It’s not work-related. It’s creative. There’s different people. I learned that tip from Monica Granados, who runs a product in the Open Science space, and it’s just been amazing. As good as meds for depression, honestly. It’s been amazing. So, I think that’s really important, and the other thing I’d say is boundaries. Toby role models this really well, this ability to know what you can bring, what value you offer and prioritise that for the capacity and time you have, because you cannot give yourself 100 percent to other people all the time and that’s what Community Managers like. We turn up for other people; it’s what fires us. But we just run out of fuel if you just carry on without sustaining yourself. So, I would strongly advocate that you’re not a bad person if you say no. You’re not a bad person if you say, “Not this time,” because you know what you need to do every week, every month, and what you need in order to also be a well-rounded person with friends and family and joy in your life and things like that.
Serah Rono: Amazing. Thank you Naomi, and Toby?
Toby Hodges: Yeah. So, everything Naomi said, and I can add a few things, I guess. Advice that was given to me by another Carpentries instructor recently is to actively practice saying no to people; saying, “Thanks very much for the opportunity, but I don’t have time.” Or if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, and sometimes it can be really hard to actually say no – I find it hard to say no to people to their face – at least practice saying, “Thanks very much for thinking of me. Before I commit to anything, I need to check my calendar to make sure that I don’t have any other commitments that will get in the way of this.” This is good because it gives you the time to actually go check your calendar, which is probably something that you want to do. It doesn’t do any harm, and it also gives you the time and the space if you need it, like I often do, to compose that really nicely-worded, polite email that actually says no to the person that asked you to do something. I find that a lot easier, to be honest, than saying no to them in person, in the flesh.
I’ll also add, I think because we should talk a little bit about not only our responsibility to ourselves here, although that is very important, but also the responsibility that we have to our community members. You should remember that first of all, if you aren’t looking after yourself you’re not putting yourself in a position where you can look after the community that you’re working with. Last night on the equivalent call I gave a name check to Malvika, but she’s actually here today, so I get to wave at her. Hi, Malvika. Malvika talked relatively recently on Twitter about not only saying no to things but also being proud of yourself as a Community Manager if you’re the type of person that people feel like they can say no to as well. If you present yourself in that way to your community, you should feel proud of yourself for having done so. Serah Rono: So Angela Li, I have a question for you, and it’s very related to what Toby was talking about. It came from a community member and they ask “What practices or skills have you found most transformative in working with others as a community leader?” Angela Li: This is good. I feel like I have a few that I’ve developed over time. I think one of the first ones for me is practicing gratitude on a daily basis. I think a lot of people here do that and it just helps me through the day and it helps me sort of realize how amazing my communities are. By that, reaching out to people and letting them know, like, “Hey, that was a fantastic talk you gave,” or “I really appreciated when you helped out with that one thing.” So, I don’t do it enough and I wish I did it more, but I think every time I do even just thank someone and say, “Hey, I really appreciated that,” it makes my day better; it makes their day better. So, I think that’s a fundamental practice. I’m trying to get good at it. So, sort of that praise. Making sure that you’re telling people what they’re doing well, not only “We could improve this.” And this is something that I feel took me a while to develop, because I’m always so focused on what we could do better after a successful event or launch or something. After some resource goes out, I’m like, “Man, we could have done this better,” but stepping back and doing a debrief of what went well – what was good about that? What do we want to keep in that process? Focusing on – doing a debrief of your success, not only how to improve. Making sure that’s a key part. So, I think it’s sort of two things, gratitude and debriefing your successes. And once I started doing that, I realized sometimes my successes aren’t actually – like, they’re successes in the outcome, but maybe not in the process. So, whatever came out of it might have been good, and maybe the process to get there could be improved. So, thinking about that, too. I’m trying to think of something else. I think one final thing that I want to mention is I think listening is probably – I used to feel really nervous about open silences and would always rush to fill those silences, especially on Zoom. It just gets really awkward after a while. You don’t want to just sit there in silence. Giving myself – doing a little count to five seconds in my brain, and people who are quiet will jump in and say something. And I think really working on those listening skills, so if you could take, like, a coaching class, a class that allows you to develop those listening skills, that’s so valuable. The first thing I did as a Maintainer Community Lead, actually, was to have three or four months of just random calls with people in the community and just talk to them about what’s going well, what’s going on, what’s happening. Maybe it’s the social scientist in me, just sitting with people and being like, “So, tell me about your experience in the community? What’s happening?” And sometimes you don’t have the time for that, but if you do, it’s definitely worth the input. It’s sort of like, the ethnographic, “Tell me about your experience and tell me about what you need.” And from that, I realized there were things that I didn’t realize we needed to think about that were really important to people. So, the listening, the practicing gratitude, the debriefing your successes – those are a few things that really were transformative for me.
Serah Rono: And now let’s hear from Marlene on the topic of practices or skills you have found most transformative in working with communities.
Marlene Mhangami: Sure. So, I think when I think of practices and skills for myself personally, I would 100 percent agree with what everyone has just said, and what Naomi said was also great as well in terms of trying to move out of the tech bubble sometimes is great – it’s a really good thing. And for me, I try to at least once a week have a day where I’m just not doing anything tech-related. I’m not doing anything work-related at all, and that’s been very helpful for me. I also try and meditate, personally. Not consistently – I’m not consistent with that, but it does help when I am consistent about it. In terms of – so, that would be for self-care, and 100 percent I would agree with Toby in terms of saying no and learning to be able to do that. In terms of the larger, broader community and encouraging care for our community, I think for myself I have – I think a really key part of that is trying to understand the community and the needs of your specific community. I work a lot with the African Python community and also do some work with the American Python community, and they’re very different communities, very different needs. Some overlap in that, but they are very different needs for the two communities. And so, for me, I think I have tried my best to really connect with specific people in certain communities. Ask them, “Okay, what are the needs in your specific country?” For example, someone was saying that they’re from a Francophone country and we hadn’t actually been – all of our meetings had been in English and we hadn’t done anything French-related at all. So, taking in that feedback and saying, “Okay, how can we actually care for this segment of our community?” It’s very difficult to do that sometimes, but I think actively engaging with your community members is a great way to find out what they need.
Serah Rono: Amazing. I really like that and especially because active listening is such an underrated and important skill, and it is really important for all of us to find opportunities to cultivate it as we work with communities as we go along. Thank you so much. The next question is for Abigail. how can open communities begin to embrace and practice community care?
Abigail Mayes: I do think community care and personal care are really related, and the way I see personal care is just making sure I’m running at a pace that I can sustain long-term and just knowing that I can’t sustain a movement or a community if I’m not sustaining myself. So, starting with that and making sure I’m pacing myself properly, and everyone’s pace is different and it changes depending on what life stage you’re in, but then adapting that to the community. Helping your community pace themselves. You don’t want your community to be a flash in the pan that gets really worked up and does something for one week and then everyone burns out and has to go take a rest. Sometimes that’s what you need. You need that spurt of energy to reach something, but understand that people need to take a break afterwards. Or even when there’s a crisis, understanding that people might need to step away from this project for a while and that’s okay, but they might need to rally together. So, just understand the pacing of your community and make sure people aren’t going too hard, and check in with people. I just love all of these suggestions about the coworking and leaning on community and leaning on others. Make sure you’re actually asking people how they’re doing and do regular check-ins and see, like, are people still finding joy in this work or is this becoming a real burden?
And then, to really help with that, I find it makes a big difference if you can structure the way people interact with your community so that it’s okay for them to step away for a little while and come back and there’s no shame in that. Just make it okay for people to step in and out whenever they can. That usually shows that you care about them and gives them permission to take a few months out if it’s been really rough. And I think we’re seeing this now with so much going on in the world. People really need to take a step back, and making that okay and not shaming people for that.
Serah Rono: Amazing. Thank you so much Abby. Thank you for listening to the pilot episode of our new podcast. Next week we will publish excerpts from the discussions on Equity & Inclusion also discussed at CarpentryCon @ Home 2020. If you enjoyed this podcast and want to hear more, please let us know on Twitter, @thecarpentries.