By Nayiri Mullinix
Our partnership with Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP), a community of data and information technology practitioners, began in 2017 when their Executive Director, Erin Robinson, participated in Science Gateways Bootcamp. Robinson found the week-long intensive workshop so valuable that she returned to Bootcamp in 2018 to work on a different ESIP project. Soon after, Robinson proposed the idea of sponsoring a standalone Bootcamp for ESIP projects because, as she says, it was clear that all digital projects need to be exposed to the kind of sustainability training that the Bootcamp offers. In addition, she envisioned that the Bootcamp could create a space where ESIP projects would come together as a cohort that had a deep understanding of one another’s work, which could potentially lead to further collaborations and alignment across projects.
So, we did it! Eleven earth-science focused projects participated in the ESIP Bootcamp held at NCAR in Boulder, Colorado, in November 2018. We checked in with participants of the ESIP Bootcamp and heard that it was a beneficial experience that helped teams refine their messages, develop core business strategy skills, and learn long-term sustainability strategies, among other things.
Frances Lightsom, Supervisory Oceanographer at the Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center, came to work on the USGS Thesaurus project, which is a controlled vocabulary that is available through web services. Reflecting on the experience, she said that, “The "aha" moment for me was realizing the importance of selling to management the projects that I use to carry out my responsibilities as a government employee, especially when budget cuts increase the competition for resources. It's not enough to just do my job well; I must also make sure that those who hold the purse strings are aware of the value of the projects that I use to do my job. That way of thinking will impact my work, if not daily, at least weekly.” She added, “On returning from the Bootcamp, I recognized an opportunity to use a napkin drawing and elevator pitch to build support for a new project. I was very glad that the Bootcamp training helped me recognize the opportunity and focus on the essential elements to include in a very brief but powerful statement.”
We also heard from Ziheng Sun, Research Assistant Professor of Geospatial Cyberinfrastructure at George Mason University. Sun was there to work on his Geoweaver project, which is a web-based system allowing users to easily compose and execute full-stack, deep learning workflows in web browsers by taking advantage of online spatial data facilities, high-performance computational platforms, and open-source, deep learning libraries. He remarked, “Everybody works on different products but we face the same sustainability problems. We had a lot of meaningful conversations (at the Bootcamp), which led me to look at Geoweaver from totally different perspectives. In particular, I enjoyed the Napkin Drawing session which provided me an opportunity to describe Geoweaver in doodles and present them to everyone. I received great suggestions and encouraging feedback from Bootcamp classmates, which gives me a lot of confidence in promoting Geoweaver to a larger audience. One wonderful suggestion successfully pulled me away from the world view of a technical engineer and threw me into a position where I can overview the entire map around Geoweaver. Based on that, I adjusted the project goal into a smaller but more sustainable one.” Sun also saw the direct impact of the lessons he learned during the Bootcamp, “Four days of brainstorming answers many of the questions which have always confused me during the project progress of Geoweaver. The most important one is how a small project like Geoweaver can survive in the fierce competition we face today. Session organizers and participants advised me with a series of solutions with lessons in value proposition, targeting audience, market research, fundraising, and goal settings. No doubt this advice will strongly impact the development and promotion of Geoweaver in future.”
In January 2019, ESIP members gathered in Bethesda, Maryland for their annual Winter Meeting. SGCI’s Mike Zentner moderated a panel featuring members of the ESIP Bootcamp cohort. Zentner kicked off the presentation by providing an introduction to SGCI and the Bootcamp, and then five of the teams who participated in the Bootcamp presented their Pitch Decks, which is the culminating activity in the Bootcamp that includes customized Napkin Drawings (see picture below for an example), value propositions, current market landscapes, target audiences, financial models, and 3 and 6-month goals, all based on concepts borrowed from entrepreneurship. The presentation was followed by the panel discussion, with questions that focused on some of the results of the work done during Bootcamp and their applicability in a broader sense to sustainable data infrastructures and repositories.
We look forward to further collaboration with ESIP, especially as they begin to expand into building more gateways that require advanced cyberinfrastructure support. Likewise, SGCI can benefit from ESIP’s many resources and, in particular, their 20 years of experience in community building.