The Value of #Welcome

We’re now mid-way through the first year of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The first cohort of Fellows is made up of 17 scientific community managers working with a diverse range of scientific communities. As they continue to develop their community engagement skills and apply some of the ideas and strategies from their training, the Fellows will report back on the blog, sharing their challenges, discoveries, and insights. Today, Fellow Stefanie Butland shares her experience welcoming new members to her community.

Posted by Stefanie Butland, Community Manager at rOpenSci, – Open Tools for Open Research

Hanging wooden sign that reads "Welcome"
“Welcome” by Nathan under CC BY-SA 2.0

In my training as a AAAS Community Engagement Fellow, I hear repeatedly about the value of extending a personal welcome to your community members. This seems intuitive, but last week I put this to the test. Let me tell you about my experience creating and maintaining a #welcome channel in a community Slack group.

I listen in on and occasionally participate in a Slack group for the R-Ladies community (a global organization with local meetup chapters around the world, for women who do/want to do programming in R). Their Slack is incredibly well-organized and has a #welcome channel where new joiners are invited to introduce themselves in a couple of sentences. The leaders regularly jump in to add a wave emoji and ask people to introduce themselves if they have not already.

At rOpenSci, where I am the Community Manager, when people joined our 150+ person Slack group, they used to land in the #general channel where people ask and answer questions. Often, new people joining went unnoticed among the conversations. So recently I copied R-Ladies and created a #welcome channel in our Slack and made sure any new people got dropped in there, as well as in the #general channel. The channel purpose is set as “A place to welcome new people and for new people to introduce themselves. We welcome participation and civil conversations that adhere to our code of conduct

I pinged three new rOpenSci community members to join and introduce themselves, and in the #general channel said “Hey, come say hi to people over here at #welcome!”. One day later, we already had 33 people in #welcome. I spent that morning nurturing it, noting some people’s activities and contributions that they might not otherwise highlight themselves e.g. Bea just did her first open peer software review for rOpenSci, or Matt has been answering people’s questions about meta data, or Julia and Jamie are co-authors on this cool new paper about open data science tools. And I gave a shoutout to R-Ladies stating clearly that I copied their fantastic #welcome channel.

People are introducing themselves, tagging with emoji and thanking “the community” saying things like:

“…I feel super lucky to be a part of the rOpenSci community, which has … had a great positive impact on my life!”

“I heart emoji rOpenSci for building this community and helping people like me become confident data scientists!”

“[I’m] hoping to contribute more to the group moving forward”

“…thank you for having me part of this community!”

Such is the value of #welcome.

Do you use welcome threads in your communities or have you participated in a welcome thread in a community that you joined? What’s the next step after being welcomed? Do you dive straight into the regular community activities or is there more encouragement and support required?

Want to learn more about what the CEFP Fellows are up to? You can find all of their posts here.

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