First Birthday Series: CSCCE working groups and special interest groups

For our “First Birthday Series” of blog posts, we are taking some time to reflect on CSCCE’s community of practice, which turned one year old on 21 October 2020. Our first post summarized the community “by the numbers,” then we delved a little deeper into our programming offerings, and last week we discussed our resources and the importance of co-creating together. In this post, jointly authored by Communications Director, Katie Pratt and Center Director, Lou Woodley, we take a look at the scaffolding needed to support working groups and special interest groups – and review what ours have done so far.  

The rationale for working groups and special interest groups

Why might a community decide to establish working groups and/or special interest groups? In an earlier post we discussed community-level programming – activities that are general enough that they are designed to be of interest and value to all members and to create opportunities to get to know one another and identify commonalities. However, within any large enough community, there will also be differentiation into sub-groups who want to focus more deeply on a specific topic – perhaps as an area of professional development or something that supplements a project they need to deliver in their own community role. This differentiation into sub-groups also creates opportunities for emerging leaders within a community – those who are highly engaged and wish to take on more responsibility for advancing the overall mission of the community. It’s this combination of scaling, through the activities and empowerment of these emergent leaders, and dedicated group work that greatly enhances the ability of any community to make progress towards its overall mission. For these activities to be successful, community management is nonetheless needed to support emergent leaders and their groups in their activities.

In CSCCE’s case, we’re trialling a model where working groups are currently output-focused and co-led by staff who keep a project on track. By contrast, special interest groups are member-suggested and member-led with staff providing supporting infrastructure to help them thrive. 

We’ve learned a lot from supporting these groups this year – from how much infrastructure is needed and what that looks like, to the different forms a group can take. We reflect on that below.

CSCCE working groups

Our working groups are currently staff-led entities that have an explicit goal or end product. Members of these groups have both collaborated on the creation of new materials and served as consultants, ensuring the high quality of our outputs. Working groups also offer opportunities for members of the community to co-create together, raising their profile, expanding their knowledge base, and/or strengthening their peer networks. 

The code of conduct working group

Formed in late February of 2020, the code of conduct working group set out to define CSCCE’s core values, articulate these values, and then use them to inform a code of conduct for all of CSCCE’s spaces and events.  

Arne Bakker, Arielle Bennett-Lovell, Chiara Bertipaglia, Alycia Crall, Emily Lescak, Katie Pratt, Tracy Teal, Steve van Tuyl, and Lou Woodley published CSCCE’s Core Values in June 2020 after a community call in May to solicit feedback from the broader community, and a set of Community Participation Guidelines in October 2020. They are currently drafting a series of blog posts to share more details on the process, the first of which we published in October. This group met bi-weekly at the peak of its activity, and in getting to know one another and working thoughtfully through a set of activities were able to learn and ask hard questions as well as deliver the intended outputs.

Example type of group: Project-oriented with the goal to co-create in order to meet a specific need. 

Mode of interaction: Explore and learn together, revealing opportunities for further activities and outputs along the way. 

Takeaway: Creating a safe space for challenging conversations enables us all to learn together.

Scaffolding required: Google Drive folder structure for group notes, taking meeting minutes, structuring the activities that lead to the creation of the outputs (in this case, using our core values statements activity), formatting the final outputs, and coordinating communications. 

The community profiles working group

Also formed in early Spring of 2020, this working group was established to advise on a CSCCE research project. The project involved creating a survey that community managers could take to describe and assess their community, using a variety of metrics and frameworks. In collaboration with Lou and independent contractor Sara Kobilka, Rebecca Carpenter, Marty Downs, Leslie Hsu, Lena Karvovskaya, Erin McLean, Ann Meyer, and Serah Njambi Rono advised on all aspects of survey creation and profile design. Many of the group then contributed data via the survey, resulting in community profiles for their own communities.

As the group made progress and collected data, Katie Pratt also joined to work on the visual aspects of the project, collaborating with professional design firm C&G Partners to create a CSCCE-branded template to display the profiles. 

In September 2020, the first round of 13 profiles were released and published to our Zenodo repository. We also highlighted the project on our community call that month, with three of the community managers who completed the survey taking part and showcasing their profiles. 

This working group is now dormant, its goal accomplished, but there is a demand for another round of profiles, so we may revive it in the future. Also forthcoming from this project are additional resources that CSCCE staff are currently working on, so watch this space! 

Example type of group: Project-oriented with group members acting as a steering committee to advise and give feedback at various stages 

Mode of interaction: Consultative – data and drafts are presented to the group that offers feedback in response. Group members may also be early-adopters/contributors to the research.

Takeaway: Community members have context-specific knowledge that can be very valuable in resource-creation. Closing a group (or putting it into a dormant state) once a project goal has been achieved is ok.

Scaffolding required: Google Drive folder structure for group notes, taking meeting minutes, structuring the “asks” for input.

NEW! The community champions working group

We are currently forming a new working group to look at the importance of engaging and empowering emergent leaders within communities. Our Community Participation Model notes the importance of formal and informal “Champions,” members of a community that are exceptionally engaged who help the community succeed through a variety of activities. 

If you are interested in joining this working group, please email by 16 November 2020.

CSCCE special interest groups

Special interest groups (SIGs), in contrast to working groups, are opportunities for members to lead. While CSCCE staff may be  members of SIGs, they do not lead or define programming, making each group its own unique entity within the CSCCE ecosystem. SIGs have public channels in our Slack workspace that any member is welcome to join. 

Setting SIGs up for success

As we started to support SIGs we wanted to bear in mind several motivations – including emphasizing the need for succession planning and easy access to group-created resources as well as helping the group leaders avoid burnout. In order to support that, we paid particular attention to the following: 

  1. Setting expectations – as well as a basic questionnaire to apply for a group, we also created guidelines for group leaders about everything from where we could provide help to publication guidelines. We also had at least one Zoom meeting with group leaders to establish goals and needs, and the best ways that CSCCE staff could support without interfering. 
  2. Avoiding leadership burnout – we realized that for volunteers who initially convened each SIG there was significant potential for burnout or overwhelm. We therefore insisted each group have at least two co-conveners, and consider how leadership might change or be distributed with other group members over time. 
  3. Making things easier by providing set-up resources – as we established each group, we realized that there were standard pieces of infrastructure they all needed. These included powerpoint templates, virtual note-taking templates, setup guides (which we made openly available in our Zenodo collection), and access to shared Google Drives. Each group now has a resources folder in their shared Drive to help them get started without expending effort on the easy-to-provide basic templates.

We have been so impressed with the thoughtful way that the SIG co-convenors have approached forming their groups, and we are grateful for their willingness to work with us as we developed the supporting materials needed to set them up for success. 

The data science SIG

Co-conveners: Steve Van Tuyl and Alycia Crall

The data science SIG is a space for community managers from data science, data science adjacent, and data science interested communities to gather and share activities, updates, and observations. 

The diversity, equity, and inclusion SIG

Co-conveners: Kate Baker, Arielle Bennett-Lovell, and Cass Gould van Praag

The diversity, equity, and inclusion SIG is a space for community managers to share experiences, ideas, and resources about diversity, equity, and inclusion in scientific communities.

The open research SIG

Co-conveners: Cass Gould van Praag and Dylan Roskams-Edris

The open research SIG is a place for people involved in coordinating and promoting open research practices to network, support, share information, experiences, and advice.

As always, let us know!

If you have any comments of feedback we’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or by emailing us: While we are at capacity for working groups at the moment, if you have an idea for a special interest group, please fill out this application form

Next week…

…we’ll take a look at CSCCE’s path to sustainability and the different ways you and/or your organization can work with us.