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The Turing Way forward

Our community champion programme recognises and celebrates inspiring people from further and higher education and research, who go above and beyond to collaborate and share experiences for the good of all.

Malvika Sharan is a senior researcher for open research at the Alan Turing Institute and co-lead of The Turing Way, an open source, open collaboration and community-driven project. She was recently recognised for her work in building a community of open science contributors and training others to adopt community building approaches. Malvika says:

“Throughout my career as a researcher and community facilitator, I have strived to create an inclusive and collaborative space that empowers people to develop and practice computational skills and openness.

“Being recognised by Jisc and having the opportunity to meet other community managers at Digifest was quite humbling. Seeing how the role works in different contexts and having external examples of how things happen beyond my own ecosystem is an incredible opportunity to learn new things."

Where it all began

In 2018, the Turing Institute – the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence (AI) – was awarded £48 million to undertake and apply data science and AI research that can transform four key areas of science, industry and government. The Turing Way was funded originally as a guide for reproducibility, one of the core requirements for translating research into cross disciplinary innovation.

The Turing Way was proposed by Dr Kirstie Whitaker (now director of the Turing’s Tools, Practices and Systems Research Programme), and started with a small team of research software engineers, data librarians, and research fellows. When a second round of funding was made available in 2019, the scope expanded to include collaborative and communication practices, alongside the computational reproducibility focus.

When Malvika joined as community manager in 2019, there were already many open research experts and enthusiasts world-wide getting involved. She says:

“Although it started as a handbook written by members of The Alan Turing Institute, our project was always designed to be co-created. It has been wonderful to see how many people have found the resource helpful and have then contributed their expertise. The Turing Way is an open collaboration with a global community.”

At Jisc, it’s our vision for the process and outputs of all research to be as open as possible and as secure as necessary, so that the research can provide the maximum possible benefit to all. An overarching goal of The Turing Way is to improve the quality of research and understanding of how this research affects society. Malvika says:

“It’s important that anyone can access and read the resources or interact with the community to gain an understanding of data science.”

With around 3,000 monthly visits to the handbook, the project has seen educators and learners all around the world both in research and outside accessing their resources.

Recipe for success

Open research or open science is an umbrella term which includes different types of open practices. Malvika says:

“One of the ways that we position open research at The Turing Way is that it enables global accessibility and inclusion in the research we do.”

People position their interpretation of openness differently. “Open” is a relative term and its meaning changes based on what you’re doing and in what context you conduct your research. Bridging these different ways of working requires training, practice and specialised approaches developed from the beginning of the research and delivered through collaboration at each stage of the research. Malvika says:

“Our biggest challenge is around accessibility and democratisation of knowledge.”

So how does the community project help with the challenges? For Malvika, it’s about being supportive and providing mentorship:

“Whether you’re gaining something out of it or sharing with others, we really want to build this resource with collaboration and kindness towards each other.”

Having clear lines of communication and clarity of role is important. She says:

“As The Turing Way is a book, our culture is documentation first. With our core contributors, we try to document everything, including how we conduct our community practice. For people entering the project or community, they should have a clear role and if they don’t know something, they should have an easy way to find out.”

Acknowledging all different kinds of contributions is also crucial. The Turing Way uses all-contributors bot on their Github repository, where all the components of the project are developed, reviewed and maintained. Whenever someone contributes, they are added to the contributors list and invited to record their highlights on the contributors page (322 contributors as of end of March 2022). Malvika says:

“When people volunteer, they’re investing their time and expertise, and therefore it’s our responsibility to acknowledge everything they do. Irrespective of the quantity of contribution, we give shared authorship in the book for anyone who collaborates with The Turing Way.”

Looking ahead

Excited for her community to progress through the next level of maturity, Malvika is looking ahead and considering how to better engage with the community members, ensuring that their voices are heard and involving them in the decision-making process. She says:

“To provide the right level of care and support for a growing community, you need more people doing the community management role. We’ve recently invested in building a team of community managers including a new full-time community manager, Anne Lee Steele, to help reimagine what the support system looks like for our community.

“We’ve launched a series of ‘Fireside Chats’ to tackle different cultural problems in open research such as multilingualism in data science, research infrastructure roles and accessibility concerns across communities.”

So, if you’re thinking about setting up your own community, what advice does Malvika have? She says:

“Find support – a network of community managers or a community. Anne, Kirstie and I will be delighted to welcome you and answer your questions in The Turing Way slack workspace.

“It’s likely that the challenges you’ll see setting up a community have already been addressed by others, so there is no need to struggle. Take time to understand who came before you, what they’ve done and think about how you can build on that.

“Community management is emotional work, you can’t do it alone, and that’s why the Jisc community champion group is good, because we can come together and talk about our struggles and share successes.”

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