Setting up a Mozilla Study Group involves a few key steps:
- Set up a website. The Mozilla Science Lab has a template you can use to create a website to list events, create a discussion board and host a chat room.
- Write or adopt a Code of Conduct. Mozilla Study Groups work best when everyone feels welcome. A copy of the Mozilla Science Code of Conduct comes with the template website above; adopt it as is or edit it to your liking, and enforce it to create a space where people feel comfortable asking questions and speaking to the group.
- Communicate. Every event you throw should be promoted to a current community of at least 200 people, in order to get 10-20 in attendance. Some strategies for this:
- Get on at least three departmental newsletters, emails, and welcome packages for new students & members.
- Make sure everyone 'Watches' the GitHub repo that hosts your website - this way, they'll get email notifications of new events.
- Tweet and blog about events, and post lesson materials for reuse.
- Always remember to emphasize that beginners are very welcome!
- Assemble a Team. Find a few people to help you organize your Study Group; the more people help out, the better your meetup will be.
- Follow the Event Guide. The next chapter describes some possible events, and some ideas on how to plan for success.
If you'd like to dive right in and get your Study Group set up right away, follow the steps in this Quick Start activity:
As researchers, we work with computing nearly every day, and yet rarely receive training and almost never encounter organized opportunities to discuss, present or collaborate on those projects. A Mozilla Study Group creates these opportunities for skill sharing and conversation; one of the organizers' main jobs, is to communicate these opportunities to the community. There are five main tools to consider for communication: a website, a message board, an outreach channel, a blog, and a chat room. Free services exist for all of these; in this section, we present some ideas for getting them set up smoothly, and some thoughts on how to use them effectively. Also, if a wide variaety of people are to feel welcome at your Study Group, it's important to adopt and advertise a Code of Counduct demanding respect for all involved.
A good baseline to shoot for in your communication strategy: every event should be advertised to at least 200 current community members who may be available to attend, resulting in 10-20 people actually showing up.
A Study Group's website is the first point of contact for newcomers to start finding out what's up. A good intro website should give people enough information to have an idea of what's going on, and a clear path to get involved - and not much else. At this stage, people are just testing the waters; keep it simple, and let them decide if they want to jump in further.
The Mozilla Science Lab has a template website you can use and adapt however you like. Instructions on how to use it are in the README, under How To Set Up Your Own Study Group Website; if anything is confusing or doesn't work, reach out to the Science Lab and we'll help you out ASAP. You can see an example of this website here; another, independent example of a great website is from the Davis R User's Group. Here's a video walking through the website setup procedure:
If you use this template, your website will be built on a GitHub repository (don't worry - no command-line git required), will list recent and upcoming events registered as per the instructions, and will direct participants to the issue tracker in the same repository, which you can use as a message board. Make sure you include the link to your website in every communication you put out, and it will guide new participants to your community. Here's a video walking through the event listing procedure:
A message board is the online heart of your community; it's where people can come to ask questions, request events, volunteer to lead sessions, and have conversations. Conveniently, GitHub provides a free message board with every repository (they call it an 'issue tracker'); if you used the template website above, you'll have already set up your issue tracker. A few tips for effective issue tracker usage:
- Advertise it. Make sure everyone knows where your issue tracker is, and encourage them to use it; a lively message board indicates a strong community to newcomers.
- Tell people to Watch the repository - this way, they'll get email notifications of new conversations. They can do this by clicking on 'Watch' at the top of the repository:
- Include event details when you list an event, at least: time, date, place, a link to a map to the location, and a list of dependencies for the event (do participants need to have anything installed or prepared beforehand)?
- Close old issues that are for past events, resolved questions or long-silent conversations; this keeps the clutter down by hiding old threads, and makes the board easier to read.
- Use labels to indicate what each thread is about - common ones are 'Event', 'Question', 'Request', and 'Conversation'.
Everything we've set up so far uses GitHub's free services for website hosting, message boards and file sharing. In addition to offering these tools in a relatively straightforward way, Mozilla Study Groups use GitHub as the center of their online presence in order to encourage participants to interact with version control and GitHub in a friendly, introductory way, in order to ease the introduction of open, online collaboration - a cornerstone of open science. No complicated command-line git is required, but by communicating via issue trackers and sharing content in version controlled repositories, you will help your participants get comfortable with collaborating online.
In addition to listings in your issue tracker and on your website, you can optionally also set up a Google Calendar to list your events; these are convenient for participants who already use an ical-style calendar tool, since they can import the event listings into their usual schedule. There are instructions in the README in your repo on how to set a calendar up; also, those instructions point out a script that will automatically update your calendar, to help keep management simple.
Code of Conduct
Your Study Group needs a code of conduct that demands participants treat each other with respect and makes a welcoming space for beginners; it's important to emphasize the presence of this code to your community. Having a code of conduct signals that diversity is taken seriously by your group, and gives clear grounds to eject someone who treats others poorly. The repository you set up above contains a file called 'codeOfConduct.md'; keep this, or write your own. Once you've adopted some text, include a link to it in the footers of your communications, and make sure that everyone sees it at least once.
Outreach (Beginners Welcome!)
In order to find your Study Group's website and message board, you need to get the word out! There are two good channels for this:
- Institutional messaging from your department, lab, or organization in the form of newsletters, departmental emails, and a note in the welcome packages given to new students or employees go a long way to letting everyone in your community know you're there; these channels also lend a little formal nod to your Study Group, which will help it stand out to busy professionals.
- Twitter is an effective broadcast medium for pushing out links to your website and announcing events; make up a hashtag people can keep their eye on, tweet out every event and new piece of content your Study Group participates in, and if there are any big Twitter users in your community, tweet at them so they can help spread the word.
Some groups have had success with traditional mailing lists; others find them too noisy. In practice, your GitHub issue tracker should serve the role of a mailing list, without having to set up and manage anything extra.
In general, good messaging for outreach is short and welcoming; keep announcements short, include a link to your webpage, the Twitter hashtag your group uses, and your code of conduct, and always emphasize that beginners are welcome and no experience is necessary.
While setting up, try and get in touch with at least three large mailing lists at your institution, that will disseminate your announcements. Good people to approach are graduate secretaries, community managers, colloquia organizers and organizers of other meetup groups.
As a Study Group meets over time, lots of discussions happen and new content gets generated. By creating a record of what you've done, not only will newcomers get an idea of what they're going to see at a meetup, but you will generate a collection of resources and lessons learned that will make the job of organizing your Study Group easier and easier. There are two main records to consider keeping:
- A collection of lesson plans is an invaluable resource. One of the most popular types of events we'll discuss in the events appendix is a work-along, where one person leads the group through a hands-on demonstration of a skill, tool, or package. After a work-along, get the lesson notes from the leader and put them somewhere they can be used again; in time, you will build up a collection of lessons that can be delivered with a minimum of preparation. If you're using the template website mentioned above, you can put the lesson notes in a folder in the same repository; if you don't want to maintain the lessons yourself, the Mozilla Science Lab is collecting such lessons here.
- A blog can be a great way to keep a record of all the things your group has done show off your work and success, and give more in-depth previews of upcoming events. Also, try showcasing work and articles from your community on your blog; this is a great way to draw attention to your participants and make them a part of the community. A great example is the Data Science Hobart blog.
Build Your Team
Assembling a team of organizers is crucial, so you don't have to do this all yourself! One challenge Study Groups face is longevity; a solo organizer can get too busy, or move on from the host institution. By having a team of people you trust, not only is the work of organizing events spread out, but adding a new organizer to the team isn't such a big ask; rather than taking over the whole thing, the newcomer need only contribute a share of the organizational effort. Also, try to pull in co-organizers from different departments or organizations in your community, in order to be in touch with the needs and interests of many different groups, and give your Study Group representation within each. Remember to add co-organizers as Collaborators on your GitHub repo, so they can help manage events!
There are a few key skills and personalities to look out for when building your team:
- Social media enthusiasts. Having a few people on board that like tweeting and blogging can be a huge help when communicating with your community.
- Departmental reps. Sometimes, newcomers feel uncertain if an event is 'for them'. Of course, Study Group is for everyone! But having familiar faces in a number of different departments who can reach out to their colleagues will help people feel welcome.
- Teaching enthusiasts. Leading lessons in a Study Group can be a great experience-building activity for people who like teaching and presenting; having a few contacts who are up for leading lessons that your community asks for will be an invaluable resource.
The following exercise will walk you through the most important pieces of what we talked about in this chapter; finish this, and you'll be all set up with a team to help you bring your Study Group to life!
In Running a Mozilla Study Group, we'll guide you through some techniques for managing your Study Group, present some ideas for different types of events you can try out, and give you a play-by-play guide to your first few meetups.