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Effective community surveys

Toby Hodges is a Bioinformatics Community Project Manager at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. He coordinates the EMBL Bio-IT Project, a community building and support project for bioinformaticians and computational biologists. In this role, he works with volunteers from the community to provide training and consulting, information, networking opportunities, and resources to EMBL scientists who use computational approaches in their research.

As community managers, one of the of the pressures on us is the requirement that we make decisions based on an understanding of our community members. We must frequently make choices on the assumption that we know what the desires, motivations, and preferences are of the people that make up our community. Although we have a close working relationship and perhaps even friendship with some of them, it’s generally very difficult for us to maintain a deep understanding of what makes every member of our community tick, what they want to achieve, and how we can help them to do that.

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Impostor syndrome and community management – lessons on building a community while building myself

Shane M Hanlon is the Program Manager for AGU’s Sharing Science Program and a Senior Producer with the science storytelling organization The Story Collider. Learn more about the Sharing Science Community @AGU_SciComm and follow him @EcologyOfShane.

Community (and Communication) Don’t Happen Naturally

Six months ago, I had no idea what a community manager was.

I’m the Program Manager for the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU’s) Sharing Science Program. My team and I work to provide scientists with the skills, tools, and opportunities to help them share their science with any audience. We hold workshops, webinars, create tools, manager social media outlets, and more, all in the pursuit of this goal. Eventually we starting pulling folks together into a network of like-minded individuals who are passionate about, and committed to, science communication (scicomm), policy, and outreach. We called it the “Sharing Science Network.” At that point I don’t know if I would have called it a community – but it quickly evolved into one.

Shane at AGU’s annual meeting (giddily) displaying a Sharing Science Community banner. Credit: Olivia V. Ambrogio
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Stepping Beyond the Personal and Professional Silos of a Research Project Manager

Brit Myers is a Project Manager for the Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S. (ARCUS), a non-profit membership organization with the mission of facilitating cross-boundary Arctic knowledge, research, communication, and education. She works to enhance the ability of the highly distributed Arctic research community to connect with one another and work more effectively through collaborative research programs.

Last year I was invited by Dr. Luisa Cristini  from the Alfred Wegener Institute to co-convene a session at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting.  Luisa was interested in submitting a session proposal specifically focused on issues relevant to the work of scientific project managers – a job title she and I share. Hoping to attract a larger number of abstracts to the proposed AGU session, we also agreed to reach out to the AAAS CEFP community to see if our session topic might be similar enough to their interests to warrant collaboration.  Luckily, AAAS’ Lou Woodley and another group of #CEFP17 session conveners agreed to join us in our efforts!

However, as we drafted the combined AGU session description – and during a number of other conversations that followed – there was some genuine uncertainty about where the boundaries might stand between those focused on professional development from a “Project Manager” standpoint vs. that of a “Research Community Manager.”  For anyone with a Project Management job title, it is hard to forget that Project Management is a well-established profession with an official Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) regulated through accreditation organizations like the Project Management Institute.  Alternatively, the “Research Community Manager” is viewed by the new AAAS Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement as an “emerging profession,” distinct enough from both traditional project management and/or non-scientific online community management to justify the time and attention needed to professionalize and institutionalize the role.


Image by Pixabay:
Image by Pixabay:

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Ten networking strategies for community managers


Rayna Harris is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of California Davis. In addition to conducting neuroscience and genomics research, she works to build multi-disciplinary communities that share computational tools to solve diverse biological problems. 

One task of a scientific community manager is to facilitate the activities of a community and to create opportunities for community members to engage in productive interaction. Networking is a process we use to exchange ideas and to build relationships with individuals that share a common interest.  In previous decades, most networking was done in-person, perhaps with the exchange of a business card or elevator pitch; however, digital communication is an increasingly common way that people network (Leek 2016). Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, the goal of this blog post is to provide community managers with a few strategies for networking to build their community and facilitate the exchange of ideas and information.

Networking strategies for social media


In this first section, I’d like to discuss strategies that a community manager can use to facilitate networking within a community through social media to help community members connect with each other, share ideas, and make scientific progress.

If you haven’t already, the best place to start is to develop an online identity or brand for your community and to set up avenues for people to communicate privately and publicly. For instance, Slack and email are great for communicating with colleagues, but Twitter and Instagram are good for sharing information within and beyond the community. Because online communication happens on multiple platforms, developing easy-to-recognize handles or hashtags will provide consistency across platforms.

If the task of generating content to share on social media seems daunting, start by sharing and promoting the work of others. Retweeting and reposting are ways to quickly share the ideas of others without requiring much time or effort. With a little more energy, you share your colleagues’ publications or work with a short summary to tell your community why you think this work is notable. If you are sharing a publication, it’s always a good idea to include a link to the original article, tag the authors’ personal social media accounts, and include an image from the manuscript to give additional insight as to why the manuscript is worth reading.

If you as the community manager are creating most of the content, it is important that the content you post reflects your community interests and not your personal views. For instance, your personal Instagram account might be filled with photos of cats and martinis, but the posts you share for your community should reflect community activities. Along those same lines, take caution when discussing “hot button” issues that are highly charged emotionally or politically. Decide whether you should engage in these discussions as a representative of your community or if your participation would be more appropriate from a personal account.

Networking strategies for event planners

Even with all the communication that happens online, in person events where people can collaborate face-to-face are critical to scientific progress. If you are a community manager, you might organize so many events that you feel you are a scientific event planner. If you find yourself organizing a lot of in-person events, here are three tips that you can use to foster networking within your community.

Often events are filled to capacity with talk and workshops, but it is important to organize activities where people can collaborate and converse casually. This could be a simple as the “hallway track”, where people have the option to opt-out of all formal activities and converse with other attendees in the hallway outside the main lecture. A slightly more formal but still casual setting would be that of a hack-a-thon or do-a-thon where people work on shared problems with minimal structure.  Finally, never under estimate the impact of organized meals where people can eat, drink, and converse without having to deal with who splits the check or deciding where to eat.

Once you have the agenda set with all the formal and informal activities in place, the next step is to help attendees get to know each other. Tracy Teal, executive director of The Carpentries, says that “introductions set the stage for learning” and are critical to the success of educational programs (Teal 2016). In the same way, I believe that introductions set the stage for building relationships, which leads to collaboration and scientific progress.  As a community manager, you will know most of the people in your community, and you can help your community members network by making introductions.

As critical as face-to-face communication is for the success of an event, never overlook the utility of online communication during events. By setting up online platforms for communication, all the attendees will be able to get the help they need in real time and will be able to stay in touch with attendees after the event or away from the main venue.

Networking strategies for event attendees

For most of this post, I have been talking about strategies that community managers can use to help their community members engage in networking. But, let’s not forget that community managers are (often) members of their own community. So, I’d like to close by sharing some strategies that community managers can use to network while attending events.

The first step is to introduce yourself and stay in touch. You likely already know many people by name, so in-person events will give you the attach names to faces. Some people are easier to communicate with in-person, so if you’ve been rubbing shoulders with someone the wrong way through email or on Slack, see if a face-to-face meeting can help you resolve your differences. Or, is there someone you are excited to collaborate with? Introduce yourself and set up a meeting to hash out your ideas at a later date.

Another excellent way to share your ideas within and outside your community is to tweet and blog about your experience. This will help you remember the highlights of the event, and it will help you develop your online identity, so it’s a win-win. My final word of advice for networking is to give a memorable presentation. Often, if you are planning the event, it’s hard to find time to also present what you are working on, but I think it’s important that your community members hear you speak from expertise.

Final thoughts

While I don’t expect any one person to simultaneously use all ten of these strategies on any given day, I think there is synergy from implementing more than one strategy at a time. For example, when I attended a conference in Argentina, the local organizers setup a WhatsApp group with themselves and the two attendees coming from North America (myself and the keynote speaker). When I saw that the keynote speaker and I were on the same international flight, I introduced myself. When she texted the local organizers that we had arrived, my phone buzzed with her message, and we were able to share an hour-long taxi ride and even had coffee before the meeting. It was a beautiful encounter that was made possible by planning and serendipity.

In this post, I provided ten tips that community managers can use when networking online and in-person. If any of these strategies (combined or in isolation) have worked or not worked for you, please share your story in the comments. Happy networking!


Leek, J. (2016). How to be a Modern Scientist. Leanpub.

Teal, T. (2016). Materials about Introductions in workshops for train the trainers


Join CSCCE at FSCI 2019!

Join CSCCE at the 2019 FORCE11 Scholarly Communication Institute (FSCI)

FSCI is a week-long course in scholarly communication for anyone who works in the world of science and scholarship. Classroom courses, group activities, and hands-on training provide attendees with “a friendly, community-based way of learning about and keeping up to date on the latest trends, technologies, and opportunities that are transforming the way science and scholarship is done.”

CSCCE Director Lou Woodley and Bruce Caron, PhD, Research Director, New Media Research Institute, Santa Barbara will be teaching a course at this year’s FSCI called “Help! How Do I Build Community and Bring About Culture Change for Open Science in My Organization?”

From the course catalog:

Description: We frequently hear about the need for culture change to make science more accessible, reproducible, and collaborative. These moves toward open science may occur at a grassroots or local level, within the institutions where we work, and more globally across the academy. Wherever it occurs, at the heart of culture change is the adoption of new behaviors that become increasingly supported and reinforced by the group or community. So culture and community are tightly linked.

In this course, we’ll explore what it takes to be a culture change agent, drawing on thinking about culture, community, and systems thinking. If you’ve ever been frustrated by attempts to co-create with others, been puzzled about why new ideas aren’t implemented more rapidly, or struggled to gain stakeholder buy-in, this course is for you!

Via discussions, sharing of models, and practical activities, participants will gain an increased awareness of the culture(s) at play in their own professional lives as well as methods to experiment with and implement new ways of working together more collaboratively.

Topics covered will include:

  • How do I recognize culture in my own professional context(s)?
  • How do I set up a project for successful community participation from the outset?
  • How do I (with others) intentionally change institutional cultural practices to foster open science?
  • What role can I play in brokering trust, building engagement, and reviewing success of a community-based project?
  • How do I identify the factors that may be blocking a group project – and understand why?

Proposed Level: All levels

Intended Audience: The course is aimed at anyone interested in promoting open science.

Requirements: Participants are expected to have read Module 1 of the Open Science MOOC:

Click here to register for FSCI, we can’t wait to see you there!


Building Trust in Online Communities

In the second of our series of posts by the 2019 Community Engagement Fellowship cohort, Julianna Mullen walks us through her experiences building trust in an online community and sparking conversations in an authentic way. A marine biologist and writer by training, Julianna is the Communications and Community Manager for the Ocean Acidification Information Exchange at the Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS) working at the intersection of scientists and conversations.

It had been the first bullet point in the job description: “Increase community engagement.”

The Community Manager for The Ocean Acidification Information Exchange would be in charge of getting its member scientists, policymakers, and educators talking to one another about preparing and adapting to ocean acidification. I’d been a scientist and communicator for some time, but I’d never been a Community Manager; when I accepted the post, I knew the learning curve would be steep, but I was excited! Fast-forward into Month Two of my employment, when I’d made a series of important discoveries:

  1. The OA Information Exchange was so quiet I could almost hear the crickets when I logged on.
  2. Using the phrase “increasing engagement” to describe the breadth, scope, and complicatedness of my work was like calling the Encyclopedia Britannica “some books.”
  3. I couldn’t rely on researching myself out of the hole because there simply wasn’t much material that spoke to what I was trying to do.
  4. I’d failed to understand that an online community, even one comprised of scientists and policymakers working on something as technical as ocean acidification, needs the same kind of emotional tending as in-person communities.

In a blind panic, I reached out to some members I knew personally and asked what was going on. What was the holdup?

“I don’t want to waste anyone’s time with my stupid questions.”

“I don’t think I have anything to contribute.”

“I’m worried people will think I’m unintelligent.”

Sound familiar?

Julianna Mullen, Communications and Community Manager, NERACOOS
Julianna Mullen, Communications and Community Manager, NERACOOS

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An agile community strategy — or how to use OKRs to say no and stay focused

In the first of our series of posts by the 2019 Community Engagement Fellowship cohort, Naomi Penfold walks us through her strategy for prioritizing her workflow and staying focused. As Associate Director of ASAPbio, Naomi is leading activities to engage the research community around the use of preprints for biology. She cares about improving transparency and inclusion in processes that affect how scientists do their work, from the evaluation of manuscripts to the design of everyday tools.

You look at your week ahead, and see a calendar jam-packed with meetings and not enough time to respond to community requests or even start to deal with your inbox. Some of these interruptions will be exciting opportunities, but will they help you stay focused on your current goals for the community? Will you ever be able to leave your desk and go home? Despite our best efforts to stay organised and in control, I suspect we all end up feeling overwhelmed at times, especially when community management requires you to be there for people and be reactive in the moment as well as keep the ball rolling with long-term projects and general community programming.

If this resonates, you’re not alone: 32% community managers reported ‘prioritizing number of tasks to do’ as the greatest challenge in their role in AAAS’s survey in 2016. Clearly something has to give, but who do you prioritise and why? How do you know which tasks are most likely to contribute to your overall mission? How can you say no and avoid becoming overwhelmed? In this post, I describe a method I’m trying to outline, use, and evaluate a community-based strategy. This method has helped me to say no and stay focused before, and now I’m trying to combine it with what we are learning about community strategy through the Community Engagement Fellowship Program.

Lay out your objectives to keep your community on track. Photo by Pille Kirsi from Pexels.
Lay out your objectives to keep your community on track. Photo by Pille Kirsi from Pexels.

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Address Your Bias, Call BS, and Broaden your Networks: Interview with Monica Feliu-Mojer

Address Your Bias, Call BS, and Broaden your Networks: Interview with Monica Feliu-Mojer


As the CEFP 2017 cohort’s final installment in our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) series, we interview Monica Feliu-Mojer, an award-winning PhD scientist-turned-communicator who leads communications and outreach for Ciencia Puerto Rico (CienciaPR), a global community of more than 10,000 scientists, students, educators, and allies transforming science education in Puerto Rico, democratizing science, and training young scientific leaders. Monica also works with the non-profit iBiology, leading science communication trainings and producing video stories that explore the intersection of the culture, identity, and research of underrepresented scientists.


Check it out: Monica is guest-editing a special issue on “Inclusive Science Communication in Theory and Practice” for Frontiers in Communications with Erika Check Hayden, Thomas Hayden and Raychelle Burks, inviting research papers, case studies and essays. 

Monica Feliu-Mojer
Monica Feliu-Mojer

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What do we do in the foundational training week of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program? Part one: the core curriculum.

Posted by Lou Woodley, CSCCE Center Director.

Last week we hosted the initial training week for this year’s AAAS Community Engagement Fellows. It’s an intense week with plenty of time spent together in the classroom and outside of it, and where we aim to do three things:

  • Equip the fellows with a shared understanding of some core community management principles – from how we think about scientific community managers to the role of strategy, programming and culture in the work that we do.
  • Surface the expertise that the Fellows already have – through lightning talks, small group discussions and the conversations that arise during the breaks and evening social events.
  • Nurture a sense of community between the Fellows so that together we create a trust-based cohort in which they can learn and support one another over the course of the year – and beyond.

So what materials do we cover during this foundational week? The curriculum builds each day to help fellows move from describing themselves and their own communities to appraising the strategies and tactics that they’re using – and how they might update them. By the end of the week they have plenty of tools and ideas to take back to their own organizations, as well as an understanding of the role that a community playbook or collaboration guide could play in their own work.

In this post we’ll give an overview of the core curriculum and in a second post we’ll outline the community playbook activities.

It's all about the teamwork! Image credit: Lou Woodley
It’s all about the teamwork! Image credit: Lou Woodley

Continue reading What do we do in the foundational training week of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program? Part one: the core curriculum.

Meet the 2019 Community Engagement Fellows: scientific communities convened by infrastructure/halo organizations

For our last installment of posts introducing our CEFP 2019 Fellows, we’d like to introduce you to those who support scientific communities convened by infrastructure/halo organizations.

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