Open source bioinformatics communities - BOSC2015 Unconference Sessions

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Want to get to know new people who share your enthusiasm for building open source bioinformatics communities? Looking to do that in a relaxed fun way, learning together things we can do to make these communities a success? Then join us for these participant-driven unconference-style sessions held both evenings of BOSC2015. All BOSC2015 participants welcome!

What and how? An unconference-style session organised during the Birds of a Feather of BOSC 2015, see schedule. Note that only people who have registered for BOSC can participate in these sessions.

When? Friday 10th and Saturday 11th July 2015, both evenings 17:15-18:30

Where? BOSC takes place in Wicklow Hall 2A, of The Convention Centre Dublin.

Who? You! (if you're a BOSC participant, that is). Manuel Corpas, Natasha Wood, Aidan Budd, and Dave Clements have planned the session, supported by the BOSC co-chairs Nomi L. Harris and Peter Cock.

Post-BOSC follow up

We're keen to share our conversations at the BOSC unconference sessions on what makes a great open source bioinformatics community (OSBC). We really enjoyed the sessions, and think it'd be great if others could also benefit from the shared opinions and experience on offer from BOSC.

Want to share your experiences on this, whether or not you were at BOSC? Then please join us in trying to crowdsource this via github!

Firstly we aim to make a consensus list of features common to most great OSBCs; we aim to use this as a backbone for the article content.

To start, we'll try collaborating on the text via fork and pull requests on this repo by editing the file to give suggestions on adding/removing/merging/editing the working of this list of 'features'. Please give also a quick description of why you make that suggestion (i.e. how you think it improves the list), maybe also signing it with initials or your name; we hope that keeping the reasoning and history easy to view like this will make it easier to build consensus.

You can also add you name to the list of contributors in the file: . Note that, if this does get published, authorship order will be chosen by the order in which people make their first commits to the repo. More info on plans to develop this into a manuscript can be found in other files in the repo.

This is the first time we try crowdsourcing a document via a public github repo, we're not sure if github will work as the only source of communication, but we'll start off trying it like that.

However, in case we want to try using e-mail later, would be great if you'd also share your email address either via this GoogleForm (only required field is the email address), or Tweeting and following me on Twitter @AidanBudd (I can then DM you to get your email details).

Don't know how this collaboration will pan out - it's a chance for us all to learn about what works, what doesn't, in this kind of context - looking forward to trying this out with you all!


Open source bioinformatics projects can provide a nexus for collaborations between people with shared interests, goals, and values; i.e. can form the focus of a community (which has been pragmatically defined as a group with shared interests, goals, and values, that possess a 'collaborative spirit' i.e. the wish to collaborate together to achieve these goals. (For more background on communities of this kind, check out the seminal book "The Art of Community" by Jono Bacon, available for free download under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license, or this PLOS Comp Bio article on building successful bioinformatics communities, which some of this session's organisers are authors of.)

If we want these communities to be as effective and enjoyable to be part of as possible, it can be useful to ask ourselves questions such as:

  • What are the features of such projects and communities that make them particularly successful?
  • What does 'success' mean in this context?

This unconference-style session aims to help us to explore together, and learn from each other about, our experience of working on many such projects, to share together our ideas and about the answers to questions of this kind. And what better context for this than BOSC, the yearly bioinformatics open source conference, when so much experience on this is gathered together in one place?

These unconference-style sessions aim to do this by providing a structured, interactive context for us to discuss these questions and issues with each other. We'll do this using:

  • flash talks, giving examples of communities and projects of this kind, with an emphasis on what those communities have seen as the keys to their own success
  • social networking activities to help us get to know new people who share these interests
  • a 'visioning' activity, to help us refine, in discussion with others, our own ideas about what is important for building successful communities
  • a 'world cafe' activity where, based on the ideas gathered during the visioning, we share and collect together specific examples of our experience from working in many such communities; depending on the output from this session, we may try to use this as the basis of writing a crowd-sourced opinion/guide article for publication, to share the ideas and insights of the group with those who were not able to join the meeting in person

We (Natasha, Manny, Aidan, Dave) are looking forward to participating in the session with you, as we are all enthusiastic bioinformatics community-builders. We're also keen advocates of the power of unconference-style events for promoting participation and community-building, which we feel is thus a great fit for the topic of the sessions.

(Note that 'unconference' is sometimes used as a synonym for an Open Space Technology format event; however we take a broader definition of the term, i.e. events that aim to flip some of the common features of a conference session, in particular shifting the control of content and conversation structure from organisers and presenters, to be shared much more equally with the 'average' participant; if you're interested in reading more about unconferences, several of the session organisers, with others, recently published a short article describing features of such events.)


  • to meet new people who share our interest in building successful open source bioinformatics communities
  • to learn together, and from each other, about ways we can make the open source bioinformatics communities we're part of as successful as possible
  • perhaps most importantly - to enjoy ourselves


Friday 10th July 2015, 17.15-18.30

Friday presentation

  • 17.15-17.20 Introduction (5 min)
    • Few quick words from Natasha, Manny, Aidan, Dave, introducing:
      • ourselves
      • communities
      • aim of the two unconference-style sessions
  • 17.20-17.35 Rainbows (and Open Source Communities...) (15 min)
    • Setting an interactive, collaborative, active tone for the session, let's explore together the diversity of our experience of open source communities and, er, also of rainbows...!
  • 17.35-17.50 Community flash talks (15 min)
  • 17.50 - 18.25 Visioning successful open source bioinformatics software communities (35 min)
    • Introduction to the activity (5 min)
    • Make personal notes on your vision of what great open source bioinformatics communities look like: (5 min) It might help you to consider how you'd answer these questions about such communities:
      • What makes you perceive one as great/successful?
      • What features do great ones have?
      • What tips would you give someone trying to build a great one?
    • Partner discussions round 1 (7 min)
      • Find someone you don't know (well), and take turns describe in 3 minutes the key features of your vision of a successful open source bioinformatics software community
    • Partner discussions round 2 (5 min)
      • Find someone else you don't know (well), and take turns describe in 2 minutes the key features of your vision of a successful open source bioinformatics software community to them - feel free to borrow ideas you heard from your partner in round 1!
    • Note making in pairs (5 min)
      • Find a final partner, discuss and write together on index "question" cards, topics you think it'd useful to discuss in a guide/opinion to this topic (the kind of topic it'd be useful to collect specific examples/anecdotes on for such an article)
  • 18.25-18.30 Wrap up
    • Thank yous
    • Plans for developing the discussion further
    • Ask for a rough count of people planning to come to the session the next evening

Saturday 11th July 2015, 17.15-18.30

Saturday presentation

  • 17.15-17.20 Introduction (5 min)
    • Quickly introduce aim of the session and schedule for those who weren't there on the first day
  • 17.20-17.40 Speed-dating
  • 17.40-17.50 Flash talks
    • Manuel Corpas - BioJS
    • Open slots for three minute descriptions of other great open source communities and your understandings of the secrets of their success
  • 17.50-18.25 Open Space Technology (OST) (35 min)
  • 18.25-18.30 Wrap-up (5 min)
    • Thank yous
    • Plans for developing the discussion/publication further


  • BOSC and ISMB/ECCB for supporting and providing resources to allow us to run these sessions
  • Heidelberg Unseminars in Bioinformatics for providing this wiki space for hosting the web content for the sessions