R Consortium talks to Laura Swales of the London R User Group on how they are dealing with COVID and changing some of the basics of their meeting. As they enter the end of the lockdown, they hope to maintain the ties online while allowing the casual networking that made the meetups inviting in the first place.
RC: What is the R community like in London?
LS: I have been involved with the R community for 4 years. The company I work for, Mango, runs events so my background is more in marketing and events. That being said, it is so refreshing to have a community that cares, is engaging, and enthusiastic about its field. This is odd in most industries. It is a welcoming field – they don’t make me feel weird for not knowing R or data science. If I want to know something, I don’t feel out of place to ask and they answer my questions, which is nice! There is no gatekeeping and people don’t come in with an elitist attitude. Usually, people would come in person, have a drink, and find out what others are doing. It’s a great environment to be in. It is nice that my job itself is to help build the community. I think I am one of the few people who do this as part of their job, Rachel Dempsey at R Studio also has a similar role, and it has been great to talk to her about managing communities.
RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?
LS: The biggest thing that has been affected is the missed opportunities to chat in a relaxed environment. This was one of our big draws, and it’s the hardest thing to replicate online. It is really hard to do casual networking in an online setting. We can do content talks and workshops, but it’s been a real challenge to do networking. I’ve seen people use different ways, but it’s really difficult to do.
RC: In the past year, did you have to change your techniques to connect and collaborate with members? For example, did you use GitHub, video conferencing, online discussion groups more? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive to people that are unable to attend physical events in the future?
LS: We started with Zoom with the account from work since people were used to that. We ended up moving to BigMarker to improve the process for attendees. We found that zoom had issues, with an extra step to add to people’s calendars. With BigMarker, people were able to automatically add the event to their calendar. It also has a lot of built-in features that allow for better communication. We have used hopin before, but BigMarker seems to be working better.
RC: Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what was the topic and why was it so interesting?
LS: Robert Hickman did a talk on Amateur and Professional Analytics of Football (soccer) using R. I’m not a data scientist, so this talk was more tangible because it’s something that I can comprehend!Football is something I know even if I’m not a big fan. The attendees had a lot of good questions – for example ‘How did he get the data, is it comparable to other sports’, and more.
RC: What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?
LS: I spoke to the members about this and they said that the surge in the tidy model ecosystem is going to be a big one. I also heard about the increased focus on auto-testing. Finally, the process framework for writing better code for the community will be big.
RC: Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members? If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?
LS: The people from the NHS R Community are doing great work. They are doing some interesting things and we are going to be involved in their conference in November. Their work is in the real world since they are working with Health Analytics. They have a lot of content on the stats of COVID, and their project and works are impacting the UK.
RC: When is your next event? Please give details!
LS: We tend to have fewer events online due to conflicts with people’s schedules. How we tend to run them is one month we would run a workshop and then the next month a presentation. Normally, in a world without COVID, we would run late into the evening. However, since people are at home and have scheduling conflicts at home, our events are running shorter. Because of that, we have tried to set them up earlier in the evening. We currently don’t have anything scheduled right now. However, something that I’ve noticed is that with online events we don’t need to have a lot of lead time. I asked members if they would be interested in an in-person meetup and have gotten a positive response. I hope to have an online event maybe in July and hopefully an in-person in September or October. For the in-person, we may be able to have a live stream on twitch depending on the internet at the venue.
RC: Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?
LS: Consolidating R Ladies global. A lot of my colleagues have come from R Ladies and it’s been great to see it grow and become an important part of the community and be so welcoming. They are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. They also make R an accessible place to be. They don’t judge your background, as long as you are there.
RC: Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?
LS: R pharma is my favorite. It has been interesting to see how the pharma industry is working. Despite the setup of the companies (with NDA agreements), they are open to sharing how they are doing, being collaborative even within their work. It is refreshing to see.
RC: There are four projects that are R Consortium Top Level Projects. If you could add another project to this list for guaranteed funding for 3 years and a voting seat on the ISC, which project would you add?
LS: Accessibility within R would be a great thing to look at. It is always important to allow equal access to people, and can only be a good thing that expands access to other groups.
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