By Nayiri Mullinix
"...these sessions were amazing, I am a Science Gateways Bootcamp believer now, and I think that all EarthCube projects should be required to take them, if not the entire SGCI Bootcamp. It won’t feel like a requirement, it will feel like a breath of fresh air, and it will make you think in a whole new way about your projects."
Those who participate in SGCI’s Science Gateways Bootcamp tend to walk away eager to sing its praises, so it wasn’t long before Lynne Schreiber, Project Coordinator at EarthCube, began to hear about the effectiveness of the lessons taught and the potential benefits to the projects that fall under the EarthCube umbrella. EarthCube, a community of scientists across geoscience domains, has more than 2,500 contributors who work together on contributing to how geoscience research is done using digital resources, such as science gateways. This is why Schreiber was inspired to work with SGCI to offer at least some of the Bootcamp sessions at EarthCube’s June 2018 All Hands Meeting.
Full, week-long sessions of the Bootcamp are offered by SGCI twice per year and give participants the opportunity to take a careful look at their science gateway projects through multiple lenses. In particular, participants tackle unfamiliar topics for those trained in science or engineering, such as business strategy skills, technology best practices, and long-term sustainability strategies. The jam-packed week is designed to help science-gateway project teams effectively lead and sustain their gateways, which includes working on intentionally defining goals, desired outcomes, and target audiences, as well as exploring different funding models, budgets, marketing and outreach strategies, and more. By the end of the week, participants develop a sustainability strategy and the key action steps they will need to take in order to achieve the strategy.
For EarthCube’s All Hands Meeting, it was Schreiber’s hope that incorporating some Bootcamp sessions would offer attendees a hands-on learning experience, giving them a chance to roll up their sleeves and accomplish some important work. At the same time, it would introduce attendees to SGCI and the many services that are available to those who are building, operating, or sustaining gateways. She worked with the Bootcamp team to identify which of the sessions would be most beneficial for the attendees of this meeting and decided on three sessions that would be led by two Bootcamp instructors, Nancy Maron and Juliana Casavan. The sessions they chose were:
Napkin Drawing, which asks project leaders to create a verbal and visual representation of their science gateway that clearly and concisely articulates the components that make it distinct and different from others.
Understanding Audience & Key Stakeholders, which helps project leaders to define audience segments, identify key stakeholders, define each segment’s key values, and more.
Mapping the Landscape, which asks project leaders to look at existing solutions and to figure out where their gateway fits in the existing landscape. This requires identifying the key forces that drive the marketplace, determine key differentiators that set them apart, as well as the potential for exploring competitors and potential partners.
We heard from some of the participants about how attending these sessions was both relevant and beneficial to their work. Rowena Irene Davis, from the project team for the Coordination Office of the Belmont Forum e-Infrastructures and Data Management Project, which is international in scope, reflected on the Mapping the Landscape session:
“I thought that really honing in on a user group and thinking hard about what is most important to that group, and how it fits into the rest of the project, was really revelatory. The project I am working on involves several user groups, and the mapping activity sort of helped me think about the primary audience, and a hierarchy of users.”
Leslie Hsu of the Sediment Experimentalist Network (SEN), attended all three of the sessions and had only good things to say, even expressing her belief that the Bootcamp should be a requirement for all who are looking to build a science gateway.
“The first thing I want to say is that these sessions were amazing, I am a Science Gateways Bootcamp believer now, and I think that all EarthCube projects should be required to take them, if not the entire SGCI Bootcamp. It won’t feel like a requirement, it will feel like a breath of fresh air, and it will make you think in a whole new way about your projects—at least it did for me. My main takeaway was that we all have ideas (those are our proposals), but in order to make a convincing value proposition, you must do an analysis of your audience, and an analysis of the environment that your idea lives in.”
Hsu also felt that, more generally, the Bootcamp has a lot to offer for anyone embarking on a grant-funded project.
“I think it is aligned with some of the recommendations to NSF that this type of training be made available or even strongly encouraged to every team proposing to develop a tool for scientists. This way, everyone can start thinking about audiences and environments, and making their ideas valuable.”
One of the project teams that participated in the sessions at the EarthCube meeting ended up applying for and attending the August 2018 session of the Bootcamp in order to learn even more. Viswanath Nandigam, Associate Director of the Advanced Cyberinfrastructure Development Lab at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, UCSD, attended the Bootcamp with another teammate to further develop the OpenTopography gateway.
“I found the Bootcamp very useful and well suited for a project like ours which sees a very high usage and a growing user base. The entire Bootcamp process helped us look at our project from multiple stakeholder perspectives which we hadn’t thought of before."
One of the main instructors of Science Gateways Bootcamp, Juliana Casavan, had this to say about the experience of teaching the sessions at the EarthCube meeting:
“It was a great opportunity to share concepts of sustainability through fun and informative working sessions. My hope is that attendees learned how to more effectively communicate the value of their projects and share what it is all about to those who might not fully understand the details of their science. This is a key component to getting people to care and to be genuinely interested in what you do – they must understand its value first!
The other two sessions allowed us to take a closer look at sustainability and help the projects identify their key audiences and be aware of the market in which they compete. My big goal with this one was for them to recognize that, while they may not be in direct competition with another project, they do still compete for their users’ time and attention. Knowing who they are and understanding the problems they face makes it much easier to show the users how they would benefit from the goals of the project.”