A Very Large Tent: Connections at the first Research Bazaar

Last week marked the inaugural run of the Research Bazaar Conference (ResBaz) at the University of Melbourne, a three day training-cross-discussion circle between scientists, researchers, students and administrators on the tools, best practices and at times, aspirational goals of a research community with its eyes squarely on a future of reproducibility and openness. Kaitlin Thaney and I attended on the heels of the Instructor Training event we ran the previous week, and were very impressed with the result.

By the book, ResBaz consisted of three days of workshops (including a whopping three concurrent Software Carpentry workshops, in Python, R and Matlab), as well as an array of trainings in everything from the Python Natural Language Toolkit to CAD for research to CartoDB to social media for scientists (led by the tremendous Katie Mack, with hopefully more on this soon). Trainings, however, all wrapped by 3 PM each day, and attendees reconvened under a big pavilion tent on the lawn of the university. During this time and into the evening, informal discussion circles formed to talk not only about what everyone was working on, but what opportunities, experiences and future goals people were pursuing – and how we could collaborate to realize them.

There are a lot of players in the open, reproducible science space, with distinct but compatible goals and identities. The real power of ResBaz was to bring them together under a big tent (both figuratively and literally). Software Carpentry, for example, has hit its stride and knows who it is with its evolving-but-canonical curriculum; while this has allowed that group to define an identity, iterate and progress on a focused stable of content and thus deliver a high-quality workshop, there’s always more to learn & teach and not always a clear place to put it. The big tent of ResBaz lets us assemble lots of independent players together in a format that preserves distinctions between offerings, but minimizes the barriers students are confronted with to participate in the mix that serves them best. In this way, ResBaz created cross-disciplinary interactions and opportunities for communication strongly reminiscent of the model that made last year’s Mozilla Festival and NCEAS Codefest such successes for the science & research community. Once again, many of our problems with discoverability, reuse and collaboration are instantly vaporized when we move into the post-silo world.

Looking ahead, the thing I’m most excited by for the future of the Research Bazaar is the announcement made during the conference that next year, you can freely hold a Research Bazaar event in your home town. Details on the ResBaz open franchising model are available on their site, and I think this is a brilliant decision on the part of the organizing team. As fantastic as the event was at bringing people together, any event that is confined to one geographic location suffers from major hurdles to accessibility – hotels and plane tickets are expensive (though some were subsidized for this event), parents can’t easily take travel time away from their families, and the time commitment of travel competes with all the other demands on a researcher’s schedule. In 2016, we hope to hold Research Bazaars around the world – stay tuned for more, and please reach out to Research Platforms or us here at the Science Lab for information and support on how you can hold a ResBaz in your home town.

During the conference, attendees were encouraged to write a tweet on a streamer describing their aspirations for their research (follow the Research Bazaar on Twitter to hear these tweets over the next few weeks). The thing I love so much about this community, is that though they might all be wildly different, everyone wanted something beyond the status quo; the vision of this community is boundless, and cross-sectional events like the Research Bazaar help push that vision towards concrete reality. I hope you’ll join us in your home town for ResBaz 2016.