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How Abidjan R User Group Is Leveraging Online Meetups To Go Beyond Borders

By January 29, 2022April 21st, 2022Blog

Anicet Ebou is a PhD student in Bioinformatics at the Institut National Polytechnique Félix HOUPHOUËT-BOIGNY de Yamoussoukro (INP-HB), Ivory Coast. He works as a bioinformatician to design tools and methods for molecular and agricultural data, and he is one of the lead organizers of Abidjan R user group.

Anicet talks to the R-consortium on the status of their community group especially during this post COVID era. He also shares the trends in the R language which he feels will affect the global R user community.

What is the R community like in the Ivory Coast?

Our community is medium-sized in terms of number of members. We have around 500 active members. The community is composed of people who are very interested in the R language. We have people from academia, students, professions in the field of data science, networks and IT.

Majority of the members come from academia. We have PhD students, researchers, university lecturers etc. Our members have done interesting projects in R which we keep in our Google Drive folder.

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

When COVID hit our country, it was not easy for us because we had to find a new way to meet and continue with our programs. After realizing that the pandemic was not going away anytime soon, we switched to online.

All the meetings we had in 2020 were online, and we would have at least one physical meeting a month. In 2021 it was more difficult to have in-person meetings despite that the COVID situation was calm and the restrictions were lessened.

Our community members now prefer online meetings to physical ones. In 2020, we used to book a small room at one of the universities and invite only a few people to attend while the rest were streaming at home. I think this is what has made our members more inclined to online meetings than physical meetings. Whenever we call for a physical meeting, they always ask for an option to stream online.

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?  

What we have learned from 2020 through 2021 is that people are now used to having everything online. This has prompted us to switch to video conferencing for all our meetups. I think one of the mistakes we made in 2020 was that we were not quick to discern that our community was turning virtual.

We tried organizing in-person meetings in 2021, but the community was not reactive. We have learnt that it’s better to have on-site meetings only for bigger meetings like conferences, hands-on training, and leaving the rest for online. Online meetings are what people now prefer.

Apart from video conferencing, we have a Telegram channel where people ask questions and help one another. I believe these techniques are going to be more effective for us as a community because people are able to connect from anywhere.

Our online meetings always draw people from outside Abidjan and also from outside the country such as Senegal and Mali. Transitioning to online has eliminated geographical barriers. 

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?

We had Abraham Bio do a presentation on the use of Shiny to create web apps. It was interesting because it gave the participants an opportunity to see what R is capable of doing.

What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?

What I have seen is that people are more interested with the use of spatial analysis in R, like how to draw maps, and view spatial data. People are also interested in linking R with Shiny to create web applications, and also how to transform data in R. These are the three major areas we are planning to address as a community this year. 

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?

I haven’t seen any data journalism from any of our members, but it seems to be a trending topic in the data science space. We are thinking of having a meeting in line with that this year to motivate people who would want to go into this field.

Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?

My  favorite is the Extendr – Rust extension for R because Rust is a new language and is memory safe. I feel it is a good language to get into R. I work with Rusty on a regular basis that’s why I love this project.

Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?

I really like the Distributed Computing in R working group because my day-to-day job involves working with algorithms and how to optimize them. This area interests me because everything we use in R involves data structures and making sure the design is perfect.

When is your next event? Please give details!

We have our next event in February. The executive team will be meeting soon to decide on the agenda and the date.