July 7, 2022

Behind the Scenes: What it took to run CarpentryConnect South Africa

Behind the Scenes: What it took to run CarpentryConnect South Africa

By: Akashdiya Chakraborty and Angela Okune (Event Fund) & Angelique Trusler (The Carpentries)

The Event Fund supports more inclusive and accessible events in data science in order to lower barriers to participation in science and facilitate new collaborative relationships. Part of supporting emerging data science leaders to run good data science events includes developing a knowledge base for what it takes to run outstanding and creative events. Through this blog series, we seek to bring attention to the often under-documented and invisibilized processes, technologies, people, and practices that undergird more inclusive and accessible data science event programming.


The CarpentryConnect South Africa event was a two-week virtual convention, offering a series of workshops and networking opportunities for members of the South African Carpentries community. The event was significant as it was the first time a virtual CarpentryConnect was hosted in Africa. In this post, we learn about how the CarpentryConnect South Africa team carried out their first two-week virtual convention. In a separate post here, Angelique has shared key take-aways from the events as well as links to recordings of some of the conference proceedings.

Timeline

Early Carpentries workshops in Africa were run in 2013 and the first South African CarpentryConnect (CCZA) was held in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2018. Momentum grew between 2018 through 2021, as a total of 149 Carpentry workshops were organized across Africa, predominantly in South Africa as well as in a number of countries including Botswana, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, Sudan, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. After receiving the Event Fund award, planning for the second South African CarpentryConnect event began in earnest. The event was announced on January 25, 2021 and preparatory work went on for nine months leading up to the event, first with monthly meetings, then with bi-weekly meetings to facilitate event planning.

Registration for the event was open for two months, from late June 2021 through late August. The second South African CarpentryConnect event was held from September 6 to September 17, 2021. The two week long virtual convention featured two Carpentries workshops, an instructor training session, two networking, a learning sessions, and an opening and closing event.

  • September 6: Opening keynote by The Carpentries Executive Director, Dr. Kari L. Jordan
  • September 7: First networking session
  • September 6 - 10: Data Carpentry - R for Social Scientists Workshop and Library Carpentry Workshop
  • September 13 - 17: Carpentries Instructor Training Workshop
  • September 14: Bonus Module on teaching Carpentries workshops online
  • September 16: Second networking session
  • September 17: Event Closing, inviting community members to give feedback and reflect on lessons learned

Sociotechnical infrastructure

The term “sociotechnical infrastructure” acknowledges how complex and interconnected systems of human relations, technical objects and tools, and underlying processes shape and are shaped by each other. In this section, we highlight the systems that event organizers established in order to thoughtfully organize and run their events.

CCZA organizers were separated into five teams, responsible for communications, business, infrastructure, instructor training and workshops.The organizing committee was made up of supporters of The Carpentries in South Africa who are committed to build up skills of scholars and others in foundational programming and data analytic skills. The organizers included Martin Dreyer and Sebastian Mosidi from the North-West University, Mmasibidi Setake from the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR) and Sarah Schäfer from the University of Western Cape.

Communication

The infrastructure and communications team helped to develop the Carpentries website, using a free template from Github as a starting point. Communication between organizers took place primarily through Slack, WhatsApp, and email. Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets were also used as needed.

Raising awareness

Awareness about the event was raised through networks and direct contacts. Organizers created template emails, images and banners, with links to the event registration page. These were shared via the Carpentries biweekly newsletter, through social media platforms (e.g. Twitter), or on blog posts. Anybody involved in the planning of the event, such as volunteers and organizers, received this information, as did member organizations, community members, and supporters of the Carpentries including other Event Fund grantees. According to event planners, “there was no such thing as over-communication.”

Conference Software

For the most part, organizers made use of existing infrastructure typically used by the Carpentries. Participants registered for the event through Eventbrite, and confirmed their attendance through a Google form. Flickswitch was then used to distribute mobile data to participants, in order to provide stable network connectivity. The conferencing platform used for the duration of the event was Zoom, and participants utilized collaborative tools such as Etherpad to engage with workshop content.

Reaching new audiences

At the time the event was being conceptualized, COVID-19 was in full force and in-person events were not allowed. Thus, although the South African CarpentryConnect event was organized with the aim of bringing together the South African Carpentries community, an unexpected highlight of the virtual nature of the event was that it also allowed participation from a broader audience, with individuals from 16 other African countries to join the conference.

The Event Fund grant helped to reduce language barriers as it allowed both the opening and closing addresses to be translated into isiZulu and isiXhosa, two of the national languages of South Africa. Videos were uploaded to YouTube with subtitles, and transcripts of these translations were also available for download. For the duration of the conference itself, organizers activated Live Transcription on Zoom.

Another innovative way event planners aimed to make this event more inclusive was to remove the barrier of network instability. Organizers used funding from the Event Fund to provide an estimated 300 GB of mobile data to 71 participants, operating through 19 different African mobile network providers. This process was facilitated by Flickswitch, a regional mobile data provider.

“Without the mobile data, this event would have been so hard to run in a manner that was equitable and inclusive,” organizers explained. “The amount of the grant is significant in South African Rand and especially to support the event so we are really grateful. This event really set the bar high and it will be hard to follow it up.

What’s next?

CarpentryConnect South Africa 2021 was able to bring together a network of individuals dedicated towards teaching digital and computational literacy in Africa, allowing participants to exchange knowledge, build connections, and develop strategies for strengthening their local communities. Members of this network continue  to meet and discuss workshops, available resources, and opportunities within an African context. Virtual meetings take place on the 4th Thursday of each month. Individuals interested in participating in these meetings or within the broader African Carpentries community may join the mailing list or reach out to Angelique Trusler for more information. The African Carpentries hope to continue growing their community and organizing educational workshops.

About The Carpentries

The Carpentries is a global nonprofit organization which aims to build capacity in essential data and computational skills for conducting efficient, open, and reproducible research. The group trains and fosters an active, inclusive, diverse community of learners and instructors that promotes and models the importance of software and data in research. The Carpentries collaboratively develops openly-available lessons and deliver these lessons using evidence-based teaching practices. Learn more about The Carpentries.