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SGCI’s Virtual Mini-Course Gives Gateway Projects a ‘Jumpstart’ on Sustainability Planning

“The mini-course helped me step back from my role as a scientist trying to deliver data to the masses, and examine our gateway through a business lens. Who is our real audience? How can we fund this project into the future? How do we promote the value of our endeavor?"

Jenny Chipault
Wildlife Epidemiology Team/Informatics Team
USGS National Wildlife Health Center

By Nayiri Mullinix

One of SGCI’s most popular programs is Gateway Focus Week, which provides five days of intensive learning for gateway project teams to help them define and articulate sustainability strategies based on a deep understanding of the value their gateway offers users. Under normal circumstances, Focus Week is offered twice per year as an in-person event but given that COVID-19 has, for now, limited our ability to travel and gather in groups, the instructors made the best of the situation and decided to instead offer a reimagined and free virtual mini-course. 

Fifty-four participants joined Jumpstart Your Sustainability Plan, which was held June 16-18, 2020. The mini-course focused on key elements of sustainability planning. Focus Week’s lead instructors, Nancy Maron, founder and principal of BlueSky to BluePrint, and Juliana Casavan, program manager for MatchBOX Coworking Studio, presented the core topics each day, outlining the key components any sustainability strategy should address. Subjects covered included:

  • What exactly is sustainability, and why is it important?

  • Articulating your value proposition

  • Audience as the key to a sustainability strategy

  • Finding the funding model that works for you

After each day’s main presentation, participants could meet with the instructors to receive personalized feedback and attend Special Topics presentations offered later in the afternoon. The special topics covered were:

  • Cybersecurity for Science Gateways

  • User Experience for Science Gateways

  • Activity-based Budgeting

"I have often thought about the science behind the project: how it works, how I can use it, and how others are using it. However, this workshop gave me tangible, practical tools to think about it from other perspectives: how can I measure user experience, what are the roadblocks for successful use and implementation, what security flaws are there in my gateway, how is my project actually funded and how I want it to be funded, and ultimately how sustainable my project is and how can I make it more sustainable."
—Luis M. Rodriguez-R

“These core concepts can help project leaders at any stage of their work,” said Nancy Maron. “We were delighted to see so many new project leaders join us, including many who were just in planning stages.” Juliana Casavan added, “This new online format gives us the opportunity to share these critical concepts with more people in the science gateway community, and help them plan for their future sustainability.”

Greg Newman, Research Scientist at Colorado State University and Director of CitSci.org, said is already using the skills he learned during the mini-course, “Our citizen science gateway benefited from this mini-course greatly. In fact, we are already putting the usability and recommendations into practice, having already conducted two usability sessions and finished a draft activity-based budget for our platform and gateway.”

Another participant, Jenny Chipault of the Wildlife Epidemiology Team/Informatics Team at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, said, “The mini-course helped me step back from my role as a scientist trying to deliver data to the masses, and examine our gateway through a business lens. Who is our real audience? How can we fund this project into the future? How do we promote the value of our endeavor? These were some of the questions I was guided through during this course.”

Luis M. Rodriguez-R, Department of Microbiology & Digital Science Center (DiSC) at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, added, "The SGCI online workshop was a fantastic experience, where I got to take a step back and think of the history and future outlook of my project. I have often thought about the science behind the project: how it works, how I can use it, and how others are using it. However, this workshop gave me tangible, practical tools to think about it from other perspectives: how can I measure user experience, what are the roadblocks for successful use and implementation, what security flaws are there in my gateway, how is my project actually funded and how I want it to be funded, and ultimately how sustainable my project is and how can I make it more sustainable. I have used this shift in the way I see my project to organize it as a portfolio (currently with six different products I had never even listed!), and I have already implemented a pilot usability test in one of the upcoming products before launching."

The next Gateway Focus Week is scheduled to take place in San Diego, CA., November 30–December 4, 2020. The application is open and, for now, it is still planned as an in-person event. The effects of COVID-19 will be closely monitored to ensure the health and safety or participants and instructors and, in the event that the in-person event is canceled, a virtual alternative will be offered. 


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