Exploring Communities of Practice: Spotlight on rOpenSci

We want to introduce the ESCALATOR community to inclusive digital and computational environments, fostering a sense of belonging for all. Kicking off our exploration, we’ve had the privilege of speaking with Yanina Bellini Saibene, who shed some light on the transformative initiatives led by rOpenSci.

Key Info

🎼 What would be the theme song of your community, that speaks to the heart of your culture?

Nice question to ask to our community and see what people think. I don’t know if we’ll get to an agreement but for sure we will get to know good bands and artists from around the world.

📚 Tell us more about your community

Can you provide a brief overview of the community’s mission?

rOpenSci fosters a culture that values open and reproducible research using shared data and reusable software.

We do this by:

  • Creating technical infrastructure in the form of carefully vetted, staff- and community-contributed R software tools that lower barriers to working with scientific data sources on the web
  • Creating social infrastructure through a welcoming and diverse community
  • Making the right data, tools and best practices more discoverable
  • Building capacity of software users and developers and fostering a sense of pride in their work
  • Promoting advocacy for a culture of data sharing and reusable software

Our goal is to build confidence and a sense of belonging for people of all backgrounds, particularly those who might not see themselves as software developers (as many scientists may not!). We do this through building trust and establishing shared norms for working openly, leveraging and creating open source software and resources that support open, reproducible science.

How and when was this community established?

rOpenSci was founded in 2011 by Karthik Ram, Scott Chamberlain, and Carl Boettiger, ecologists who were motivated to make scientific data retrieval reproducible.

Which region(s) are you active in?

We are a worldwide community.

Who is this community for?

rOpenSci creates technical and community infrastructure for open and reproducible research that lowers barriers to working with scientific data in R. Our staff and community actively foster a welcoming environment where users and developers from different backgrounds and skill levels learn, share ideas and innovate together openly through shared norms and software.

When and where does the community connect?

rOpenSci has several paths for people to get involved: we have our open forum to ask and answer questions, monthly 2-hours co-working and social sessions (in different time zones each month), 1-hour community calls, our champions program and our semi-open Slack. We have an open calendar where we share future events we organize or where we will attend.

🤝 Can you share more about getting involved

How can new members join your community?

There are many ways, for example people can send their package to review or volunteer to be a reviewer. They can make or answer question in our forum or subscribe to our newsletter. They can speak in our community calls or host a co-working session. In this Tip Sheets there are a summary of different paths for participation. For a deep dive we also have our Contributing Guide.

What does the onboarding process look like for new members?

It depends on what they want to do. We have guidelines for different roles, for example, here is the Translations and Localization Guide for people that want to contribute with translations. This is our Guide for Authors, Editors and Reviewers for people who want to contribute to our software peer-review process.

What can members look forward to in 2024?

We are in the second year of our Champions Program, our champions will be developing and reviewing packages, stay tuned for updates on their work. We are working on the Portuguese translation of our Developers guide and we hope to make progress. We are building our community call agenda, and we would love to know what people would like to talk about, please help us to create the calendar for 2024 leaving your opinion here!

Is there space and value for women in Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) from South Africa to join this community?

Of course! 😊 We have a suite of more than 300 R packages and some of them are useful for Humanities and Social Sciences, like our Literature or Data Access categories. If they use some of these packages they can share their use case, or fix bugs and write blog posts. They can send their package to review or become reviewers. They can also apply for the Champions Program as Champion or Mentors. We hope the Tip Sheet and the Contribution Guide can provide good points for participation.

🌍 Can you share some thoughts on DEI in your community

In what ways has your community created welcoming and inclusive spaces for underrepresented groups in the digital and computational space?

rOpenSci’s community is our best asset and we believe that our diversity is our strength. The rOpenSci community is supported by our Code of Conduct with a clear description of unacceptable behaviors, instructions on how to make a report, and information on how reports are handled. We have transparency reports and annual updates. Over the last decade, rOpenSci has led various efforts to diversify the pool of contributors to the research software ecosystem and to make software development more inclusive. Of 24 open source software projects fiscally sponsored by NumFOCUS, rOpenSci had one of the 3 the lowest degrees of gender inequality in contributions (Shaikh 2018). By design, half of the selected participants in our unconference-style hackathons identified as women or other underrepresented genders, and one third of all participants had attended a previous unconf, while two thirds were newcomers.

Could you share some of the key initiatives or programs the community has implemented to promote diversity and inclusion within the field?

Language is one of the barriers to contributing to open source software, in 2021 we piloted our software-peer review process in Spanish and in 2022 we translated and localized our packaged development guide and all the artifacts involved in the peer-review process to be conducted in Spanish. The number of submissions in that language has increased since then. We are now working on Portuguese. We also create an R package to support the translations that are available to anyone to use them.
We also launched our Champions Program with focus on people from historically and systematically excluded groups. This 12-month program offers training, mentoring 1:1, cohort meetings and a stipend to champions for them to develop a new package or go through the peer review as author or reviewer. We are now in the second cohort.

Can you share any of the success stories or milestones the community has achieved in terms of DEI?

We already mentioned some of them, but we can talk more about one of our new projects. The Champions Program has been very successful, reaching people from 55 countries and receiving more than 200 applications. 40% of the total applications and 55% of the selected champions and mentors are women. For the first cohort, 9 of 10 champions finished the program (some of them are still working). They developed two new packages, one of them became a reviewer, and six went through the review process. We started a new cohort this year. You can learn more at this https://ropensci.org/champions/.

What advice would you give to other communities wanting to create inclusive and welcoming spaces?

A good Code of Conduct with clear rules of reinforcement is the base to nurture a welcoming community. Be intentional and clear about what aspect of DEI you are going to work on. Remember the mantra “nothing for us without us” when you develop in any initiative. Inclusion by design should be the way to develop new projects. There are several communities working well, learn from them.

🌟 Final words of encouragement

Why would you encourage people to join communities of practice?

Community of practice are spaces where you can find like minded people to share your knowledge and learn from and with them. You can share your passion and your struggles. You can network and work on interesting projects. You can help to create a better world.

Give a word of advice for individuals who are not yet involved in a community of practice.

There are many CoPs. Look for which community best suits your values and needs and join them. You can start by attending meetings or reading their newsletter until you find different ways to participate that are meaningful to you and the community. You don’t need to be an expert.