A look back on the last few months …

ImageImage MozillaEU, under a CC-BY-2.0 license

Today marks the start of the Mozilla Summit (#mozsummit), a three-day meetup (split between three cities) of Mozilla staff and key contributors. It’s a celebration of and a chance to discuss the amazing work that’s being done across the organisation, from Firefox OS to Open Badges and the Science Lab. This is our chance to come together as a community, learn from one another, and more specifically for our work at the Science Lab – our chance to not only tell our story, but invite our colleagues in to help test and shape it.

Earlier this week, in the lead up to the event, two of my Foundation colleagues posted two stellar pieces that got me thinking about where we’ve come in the last four+ months with shaping the Science Lab. If you have the time, do check out Matt’s post on working in the open – core to how we operate at Mozilla, and Brett’s reflections on the summer of Maker Parties on the Webmaker blog. They’re a great lens into not only the activity going on at the Foundation, but a look into our process as a whole.

On to some reflections of our own …

We launched with an idea of how Mozilla could best help the research community this past June. We had a project up and running to build on (Software Carpentry) and a sketch of some of the areas making the most progress in advancing science on the web, as well as an even longer list of areas needing attention.

So where have we come since June 14? Here’s a look at our progress to date, what we’re excited about and what we’re still exploring (and could use your help with).

We spoke with over 3,000 people.

In the last four months, we’ve engaged with (not just talked at) over 3,000 people, astonishingly, largely face to face, to ask them where they see the research system breaking down, where is attention needed, and start to discuss how an organization like Mozilla can help. I’ve spoken with researchers, educators, developers (or “research software engineers”, bridging both worlds), scientific startups, publishers across the spectrum, and institutions around the world. We’ve spoken with researchers of all shapes and sizes working on problems in the US, Australia / New Zealand, South America, and Africa – to see how we can best work together to achieve this vision of more web-enabled research that helps us connect, helps us learn and innovate, and helps us interoperate.

We honed a model for the Mozilla Science Lab.

A few common threads emerged from those conversations.

There’s a tremendous amount of work being done to move science to the web, but not in a coordinated fashion. And for all of that development, it’s still difficult to discover what work’s already been done. So we’re duplicating efforts, or, even worse, continuing on with business as usual.

You can read more about the model for the Science Lab in our post here (feedback always welcome). We strongly believe that what Mozilla can best contribute to this space is the expertise, values and leadership needed to fill in the missing gaps (digital skills education, examples of what’s technically possible if systems interoperate), to be the support beams needed to truly change the way science is done.

We started to map activity to those pillars

  • code and data literacy: Software Carpentry, currently at 135 volunteer instructors, 30 more in training, with more in the works. Care to help us shape digital training for researchers? Here are a few ways we could use your help.
  • technical prototyping and interoperability: We’re wrapping up our first pilot on code review in science with PLOS Computational Biology. You can read more here and here. And stay tuned for more soon on badges for contributorship, as well as more exploring “code as a research object”.
  • building communities of practice: We’re planning for the first “science and the web” track at MozFest (not too late to join us!), as well as building out resources to help take the ambiguity out of “open science”. Also, see the bottom of this post for more thinking on community building. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

What have we learned (and what do we need to work on)? 

Terminology matters.

… and we need a tighter way of articulating our project aim to a wider audience.

One of the interesting points that’s bubbled up in the last few weeks is a bit of dissonance between the phrasing “Open Science” and “science on the web”  – two characterisations that I believe are dependent upon one another, often used interchangeably in these circles. But there are other situations where “open” is used as a catchall, and we need to do a better job at unpicking why what terminology matters, what it means in this context, and explore the relationship between those two.

In the open science circles, working on the web is the condition to moving work forward – crafting our systems to interoperate, designing our communities to operate in a networked fashion, making sure the components of our research (data, code, content, materials) are as reusable and maximally interoperable as possible. Working on the web without having those components or that process be open doesn’t scale. But we need to better articulate what we mean by those two phrasings, and show by doing to researchers what science on the web means.

We need a better, more explicit call to action.

In the short term (for those of you who have been asking 😉 ), we are working towards launching our Science Lab website. But that’s not really the type of engagement I’m shooting for, though it will help us create a core focal point for developments and resources not only with the Science Lab, but also in the community. Watch this space.

We’re currently exploring an action-based community building effort that we’d love your feedback on – the aim being to do more science on the web, and build communities of practice around that action. Much of this is a hattip to the brilliant work the Webmaker team has done. For those of you who’ve seen me talk recently, I also take inspiration from the International Geophysical/Polar Years – international efforts spanning 60+ nations, involving 50,000 participants across the social / life / natural / theoretical sciences to push towards one common goal.

I think we have a real opportunity to do the same for science on the web, showing that working with open-access content, open data, open-source / interoperable tools and code, or running a training is the future of 21st century science, and invite you all to join us.

This is where we could use your help. As we work to craft resources to help others learn more about how to work on the web – about implications for data, content, code, new tools, training programs, how can we best structure that for maximum engagement?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

But we’ll save further discussion on that for another blog post … I’ve got to get ready for the Summit. 🙂


4 thoughts on “A look back on the last few months …

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