The DIY Science Network

#mozsprint 2017 Interview Series

Lucy (@lu_cyP) is a Community Scientist, open science advocate, and longtime organizer for Science Hack Day Berlin. I met Lucy at the Working Open Workshop in Montreal, where we bonded over swing dancing, and I learned about her passion to create sustainable networks to support grassroots citizen science groups.

I interviewed Lucy to hear about her experience at #mozsprint, her project the DIY Science Network, and how you can help her continue this work.

What is DIY Science Network?

The DIY Science Network is a project for all the hackers, artists, weird scientists, activists, organisers, enthusiasts, concerned citizens, patients, and their communities, who are getting to grips with science despite not being part of a research institution. However, from diybio community labs and bioart collectives, to civic environmental monitoring projects, to patient activism groups, to interdisciplinary science hacking communities — we all face similar challenges in growing and maintaining ourselves as sustainable civil society initiatives. We are building a peer network to share experience, learn from, and support each other.

Why did you start DIY Science Network?

I’m one of the volunteer organisers of a community of science hackers in Berlin. Since 2013 we’ve been running a local edition of the hackathon Science Hack Day which brings together scientists, artists, designers, engineers, developers and other enthusiasts with an open brief to collaborate, ideate and build weird and wonderful science hacks. We’ve grown a really amazing community of passionate interdisciplinary folks, but we’ve really reached the limit of what we can achieve as volunteers.

In parallel to our local community we’ve also grown our connections to a larger distributed network of related projects — biohackers and diybio labs (eg La Paillasse, Gynepunk, Hackuarium, ReaGent, Biotinkering, Technarium…), bioartists, galleries and curators (eg Hackteria, Lifepatch, Art Laboratory Berlin, Kapelica Gallery…), developers of open source scientific equipment and environmental monitoring tools (eg GOSH, PublicLab, BentoLab…), and it seemed as though we were all surviving rather precariously and/or dealing with similar challenges. A few of us kicked around the idea of forming a network but, with very limited capacity for yet another volunteer engagement, we struggled to make it happen. In the end, it was the need to have a public discussion about our often complicated relationship with institution-led citizen science initiatives that provided the final push for us to get started and build a platform. We started the DIY Science google group in November 2016, which is gradually growing to include initiatives from around the world. Through that we are starting to have conversations and develop resources on best practice, for example in building better more equitable collaborations with institutions, sustainable funding models, and even thinking about how we might be able to advocate for access to public research funding for grassroots citizen science initiatives like ours.

Why are grassroots science communities important?

My background is in molecular biology, and whilst my heart is still very much in science, after a PhD and a number of years as a postdoc I eventually accepted that there wasn’t a place for me in research. Academia can be a very challenging place to work and the majority of young scientist will end up leaving. And academic science is very far from being a career that anyone can get access to in the first place. With the best will in the world, those with the tenacity, good fortune, or privilege to secure academic positions can only hope to represent a small slice of our diverse societies.

I really believe that science, as a method and a body of knowledge, should be for the benefit of everyone. DIY science is a way for anyone to appropriate the tools, practices and findings of science for their own purposes and causes — be they cultural, civic, social, environmental — or simply out of curiosity about the world we live in. By breaking down the barriers to non-specialist involvement with science, DIY science initiatives have the potential to democratise and (re)connect science with wider society.

What are you most proud of accomplishing at #mozsprint?

The DIY Science Network is still pretty new and made up of diverse, geographically spread, and mostly already over-extended volunteer community-coordinators. In the run up to #mozsprint it became clear that, since co-design is really important to the project, we would need more time to come together and find our shared identity before we could really focus on defining a shared roadmap. So, instead, we used #mozsprint as an opportunity to work on a few smaller projects, the most successful of which was gathering experience around different funding models for DIY science, picking up quite a few contributions from members of the Network.

However, the bigger impact of #mozsprint was probably the attention it brought us thanks to the Mozilla platform and the urgent campaign-feeling of being in a sprint. It definitely helped our network to grow, and put us on the radar of other projects, influencers, and decision-makers. For example, it likely played an important role in an invitation I received to give a keynote about DIY Science at an upcoming conference.

Looking back at where you were when you joined the Mozilla Open Leaders cohort, are you where you expected to be? What have you learned in this process?

Being part of the Open Leaders Cohort has been really inspiring for me. I got to meet a bunch of people from around the world who are totally enthusiastic about making science better and more open. I was really looking forward to learn a lot of new best practice methods for community building and collaborative working, and the Mozilla Science Lab team are real experts on that. Even just the organisation of the community calls is amazing. I’ve already incorporated a lot of tips and tricks into my own projects, and it has given me more confidence as a community manager.

On top of that, committing to work on the DIY Science Network through the Open Leadership programme has helped me to carve out enough time and brainspace to help steer things in the right direction. The regular chats with my mentor Bastian Greshake have been really great waystones over the last months, helping me to reflect and plan the next steps. It’s been great to have this support.

How can others help you continue the work on DIY Science Network?

If you’re a DIY science person, come join the network and introduce yourself :) The “How to get funding” project is still running in our github repo, as are the other projects. Please share your experience of different approaches to funding, or contribute to the project to develop guidelines for happy and equitable collaborations with institutions.

And, watch this space…! We’re hoping to find some funding or backing (any tips welcome) so that we can dedicate time to co-design solid foundations for this network and roadmapping our next steps to support DIY science all over the world!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I just want to say hi to the rest of the cohort, the mentors, and the organisers! Hope to catch up with you all at MozFest later this year :)

What meme or gif best represents your project?

Because we’re just getting started ;)

Interested in bringing your own projects to a Mozilla event? Submit a session to MozFest, the world’s leading festival for the open Internet movement. October 27–29, 2017 Ravensbourne College, London.