Here’s what Fotis Mystakopoulos got from participating in the INOSC Open Science Community Incubator Program

Summary

"Something that is very hard to capture in these paragraphs is the actual feeling of participating in something bigger than ourselves, the moments where we connected with participants through our mutual and also different challenges. Being able to share what makes my position unique through the cultural variable of where I live and work. We were often put in small groups to discuss exercises, and so many times the combination of ideas produced an actually coherent response that could be adopted by various people of the program. Anita and Loek were always there to nudge us toward new ways of thinking about our problems (how to attract members, how to seek funding, how to set up events) and asking us meaningful questions that would allow us to rethink our approach on a certain situation. I am grateful to every participant that was with us on this cohort, as they showed us how to be positive and how to work on our intentions to create Open Science communities."

I had the privilege to participate in the 2023 Spring Edition of the Incubator Program, an initiative funded by Skills4EOSC and AURORA Alliance and run by the International Network of Open Science & Scholarship Communities (INOSC).

In this short piece, I wanted to reflect on the experience of the Incubator Program and the lessons learnt.

Globe with local Open Science Communities depicted as flowers

Open Science: a new horizon for research culture

Before we talk about the program, it’s important to note that I am a librarian by degree. Libraries and librarians have always been supportive of the honest intentions of the Openness movement, starting with Open Access (OA) two decades ago, and now that movement has been expanded to include more than OA in research articles. I, too, subscribe to the belief that openness (and its derivatives – transparency, integrity, collaboration, equity, the list goes on…) is beneficial to the reputation of science and important to the scientific method itself. Therefore, Open Science has become the core of my work and I am trying to find ways to contribute to this ongoing change of research culture. So why the Incubator program?

Incubator Program: a how-to guide for creating a community.

Being a librarian for the better part of a decade in the UK, I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of being part of a community. The value of an organized network rests with its ability to tackle challenges in a cooperative fashion. That’s where you identify colleagues with the expertise to support you in your journey, and it is exactly what I needed at the time that I applied for the program. Working as a research data manager, I was learning about the policies governing open science in projects funded by the European Commission through Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. I had a lot of questions about how to write reports for Data Management Plans, and how to structure research data management activities for large consortiums, and as such I felt the need to turn to a network of people much like the CILIP community I was part of in the UK. Alas, I was not able to locate the network of people to reach out to, and I decided to explore options of creating one! The caveat here is that of course there are networks out there that cater to the different needs of the researchers, but as a support staff myself, I wanted to feel again that I belonged to a community that shared the same values and beliefs as I did, and together to do our work of supporting researchers.

After a bit of searching and asking around, I came across INOSC. My timing couldn’t be better, and I was lucky enough to be included in this small cohort of participants for the Spring program in 2023. How would I summarise the Incubator program? I would say that its essence lies in nurturing skills for individuals that are invested in Open Science giving participants the tools to create a local Open Science Community. It is not a simple process, and it requires devotion and perseverance on the participant’s part to make this happen. Having said that, the incubator program provided us with more than enough tools, resources, and guidance through regular meetings on how to start a community in our own institution, and further how to maintain them. The challenges around growth, added value, and sustainability remain, but this is the work that needs to be done. What were taught can be can be found at the INOSC website, but here is a list of the modules:

  1. Mission and Vision
  2. Community Engagement
  3. Communication Strategy
  4. Stakeholder Engagement
  5. Governance and Sustainability
  6. Open!

Program Structure

The program lasted 3.5 months. We had weekly meetings of about 2 hours each, and during those meetings half of them were devoted for instructional materials and exercises presented and delivered by Anita Eerland and Loek Brinkman who were running this iteration of the program, and half of the meetings were catch up sessions between the participants to track progress.

The sessions were well structured, and I quite enjoyed the silent note taking exercises at the end of each part of the session (either at the end of the hour, or at the end of the 2nd hour of the session). This is where we were encouraged to write our thoughts positive and negative about our experience, and seeing the shared document being filled with ideas and comments from the participants was exciting and very emotional to see how everyone was experience the journey, and how individuals from different backgrounds actually shared similar ideas and thoughts with you about the Open Science movement. Lots of excellent advice was shared in these documents and I still revisit the documents for inspiration.

How we stayed in touch in between sessions? INOSC as a whole maintains a Slack workspace and a specific channel was created for the incubator program participants. While not heavily used it did allow us to share links and news about various activities and helped with creating a stronger bond between participants. Of course, the channel is still active and for example, a kind colleague shared a contact with me that would help me with setting up my own community in Athens.

There were plenty of useful exercises and materials for us to use and review, but the most essential document of it all was the Master Plan Template for creating a community that we had to develop during the program. The benefit is that at the end of the program you have a tangible plan to follow (including a minimum viable community checklist) and a lot of notes and ideas across the various modules on how to organize and progress with setting up your community. Which is what I need to do next!

Something that is very hard to capture in these paragraphs is the actual feeling of participating in something bigger than ourselves, the moments where we connected with participants through our mutual and also different challenges. Being able to share what makes my position unique through the cultural variable of where I live and work. We were often put in small groups to discuss exercises, and so many times the combination of ideas produced an actually coherent response that could be adopted by various people of the program. Anita and Loek were always there to nudge us toward new ways of thinking about our problems (how to attract members, how to seek funding, how to set up events) and asking us meaningful questions that would allow us to rethink our approach on a certain situation. I am grateful to every participant that was with us on this cohort, as they showed us how to be positive and how to work on our intentions to create Open Science communities.

Open Science Community – Athens (OSCA)

The most valuable experience has been to meet people from various parts of Europe (in this case) and see how passionate everyone is and what challenges everyone faces. And in creating a community here in Athens where I am now based, my hope is to meet like-minded people and for us to find ways to implement Open Science practices.

I am committed to starting the Open Science Community in Athens and put this city on the wonderful map that INOSC is proudly demonstrating on their website.

Logo of Open Science Community Athens

Part of this journey is to find people that are equally committed and passionate about Open Science and for us to figure out how to shape the community. This post is also an open invitation for anyone from the Greek research community who wishes to support setting up the community with me. This endeavor requires a group of people to deliver on the organizational aspects necessary to achieve success in relation to the vision and mission of the community.

What do you need to start a community?

If I could choose three things for anyone wishing to start an Open Science Community, that would be:

Passion. Running and participating in a community requires each and every one of us to devote time that we normally don’t have. Unless you are passionate about it, very little will come of it.

Support. You’ll need the support of the people from INOSC as they are experienced in supporting many communities. However, make sure you have the support of your local team at the place of employment so you can be afforded time to develop that community.

Open Science Community Starter Kit. While passion and support can take you a long way, you’ll need specifics. The starter kit will provide with a narrative on the why of your community and how to get started.

Open Science at its core, like any other worthwhile initiative is driven by people and individuals passionate enough to change things and do something of their own volition by volunteering their time. I feel privileged and honoured to be able to associate myself with INOSC and beyond that to have found a path to contribute to the paradigm shifting era that we are undergoing in terms of how science is documented and organized for our modern times.

Author: Fotis Mystakopoulos (ORCiD), Project Policy Officer, OPERAS Research Infrastructure (fotis.mystakopoulos@operas-eu.org)

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