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Chile’s R Ladies Group is Open and Inclusive

By Blog

To understand what R Ladies in Santiago is like, R Consortium talked to Riva Quiroga about how they are dealing with organizing and meeting during the pandemic. We also discussed how the chapter is becoming more inclusive and helpful to others in Santiago, as well as all of Chile and Latin America as a whole.

RC: What is the R community like in Chile?

The R community in Chile is very active and diverse. We have members who come from different fields and who have very different interests. There are members who have a STEM background, but also a lot of people from social sciences and the humanities. And they work in very different places: academia, industry, public services, ONGs, students, etc. There are currently four active RLadies Chapters, and one R User group. 

The R user group in Chile started in 2012 in Santiago. I think I found out about them around 2015, but never attended an event because I wasn’t sure I would feel welcomed (it was an all-male group and I was just a beginner), and then they stopped organizing meetings. In 2017 they resumed their activities and we, the team that was planning the launch of RLadies Santiago, started attending. They supported us when we were starting our chapter in 2017, by helping us find venues for our first events. Since then, we see each other as collaborators. We have organized joint activities, and organizers and members of both groups have collaborated together in R-related projects (such as packages, courses, etc.)

2017 was the year the R community started growing at a very fast pace here. Chile is a very centralized country, so everything usually happens only in Santiago, the capital city. So it was great to see in the next few years new RLadies chapters in other parts of the country: Valparaíso (2018), Concepción (2019), and Talca (2020).  

RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

We were a very active group until October 2019, when we had to stop our activities due to social unrest in the country. Probably because it was a very difficult time for everyone, it didn’t occur to us to organize online events. 

And then came COVID. Working remotely and online events became the “new normal,” so we decided to resume our activities. We saw this as an opportunity for collaboration between all the RLadies chapters. So since March 2020 all our activities have been branded as “RLadies Chile.” All our events are held via Zoom, thanks to the licenced account provided by DataUC. We post our videos on Vimeo and use GitHub to share code and materials. 

Online events have been a great opportunity to make our community grow. We have been able to reach people in cities that currently don’t have an RLadies chapter, and also people who were unable to attend in-person events. 

This means that our “local” community is now bigger than before. It is no longer limited to the four cities that have an RLadies chapter. People from different parts of Chile and Latin America are joining our events, and even spanish-speaking folks who live around the world. As a consequence, when possible, we try to organize our events in time slots that are not too late for someone based in Europe, and not too early for someone in México. 

This collaboration between the four RLadies chapters to organize online events has been a great experience. On the one hand, it allowed us to connect with a broader community in a new way, so we plan to keep organizing online events even when meetings in person are back. On the other hand, we as organizers became closer. At least for me, having the opportunity to share time with such an awesome group of people has been one of the things that motivates me to keep going during these difficult times.  

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? 

A couple of months ago we ran an event about how we have been using R during the pandemic, and what new things we have discovered and learned. In that context, Alejandra Silva Tapia, the organizer of RLadies Talca, gave a talk about sonification techniques with R. In her presentation she not only showed some explorations she did with meteorological data using packages like {tuneR} and {sonify}, but also the teaching potential of these techniques. She shared her experience sonifying plots in order to explain statistical distributions to blind students. With just a couple of lines of code, she gave attendees a tool to make their learning materials more accessible. 

It was so interesting that in our internal Slack we added a new channel to share our sonification experiments and new ideas on the subject.

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

There are currently more than 18000  packages on CRAN, and many of them are very field-specific, so it is very difficult to keep up to date with all the new possibilities that they offer. Therefore, it is very challenging to decide what new workshop to offer; what new package to share with our community. Should we run a workshop about something broad and general that might benefit anyone? Or do we target a specific audience that will benefit from learning about new packages or techniques for their field? 

To face that challenge we have been trying to do a mix of both. We have organized workshops focused on general tasks, such as cleaning data, modeling, visualizing, etc., and also subject specific events. Organizing both types of workshops (general and specific) has been our way to attend the needs of a very diverse audience. 

Another trend we are very happy to see is the discussion around diversity, inclusion, accessibility and algorithmic bias in Data Science. We are currently running a book club based on the book Data Feminism to discuss some of these topics. Discussing the social and ethical issues involved in coding and data science is something that interests all of us. And a safe space like RLadies is a great place for starting that conversation. 

In regions like Latin America the decision about what workshops to offer is not trivial. Here, being able to understand English is, in most of the cases, a sign of privilege: you went to a private school, you had the opportunity to study abroad, you work in international projects,  people in your family speak English, etc. And that is not very common. This means that RLadies chapters and R Users groups are sometimes the only place for many non-english speakers to learn about the new developments in R and Data Science. So when deciding which workshop to run, we have this in mind. We see this as part of our mission. 

This was also the reason why the Latin American R community translated, as a joint effort, the book R for Data Science into Spanish. We saw the need (and impact) of having this kind of resource available for everyone who has interest in learning R. 

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?

We have had journalists attending R Ladies events in the past, and we are very happy to see that some of them, who were also professors, started promoting the inclusion of R as part of their undergraduate curriculum. 

Regarding the second question, there are three data journalism projects that have had a positive impact on society here in Chile, from my point of view. The first one is La bot, a Telegram and Facebook Messenger bot that sends you short and precise data based analysis of current issues. This is a women-led project that has received support and funding from the International Women’s Media Foundation and the Open Society Foundation. The team has made an amazing job showing new ways in which journalists can seek and connect with different audiences. And by always discussing current issues supported by data, La bot has also been a great way to fight the spread of fake news.  

The second one are the reports Alejandra Matus did in the first months of the pandemic. She explored the death rates in Chile for the past ten years and exposed that the government was underreporting COVID deaths. She revealed that there was an excess death rate for March 2020 that the authorities were not explaining. They were only reporting PCR-positive patients who died at hospitals, not people who were dying at their homes or elderly nursing homes. Her work had a great impact. Not only because we started demanding more transparency from the government regarding COVID data, but also because many people began to realize the seriousness of the pandemic. 

The third one is called Plataforma Telar. Chile is currently drafting a new constitution and, in this context, Plataforma Telar is using innovative methodologies to gather and analyze data related to this process (and they are using R!). What I find really interesting is that, although this is an interdisciplinary project based in academia, they have made alliances with networks like CNN Chile to showcase their findings to reach a broader audience. 

RC: When is your next event? Please give details!

Our next event is the sixth session of the book club about “Data Feminism”, which will be held in late November. For December we are planning a workshop about building your first R package and one about using git/github in RStudio.

We have been able to be a very active chapter, even during the pandemic, mainly because of two reasons. First, because all our activities are the joint effort of the four RLadies chapters of our country. That makes all the planning easier and keeps us motivated. Second, because we plan the workshops not only taking into account what we already know, but also what we want to learn. For example, if I want to learn about a specific package, I will volunteer to run a workshop about it in a couple of months. That way I have an incentive and a deadline to achieve that objective. Because R Ladies is a collaborative and safe space, we feel comfortable running events that are not about something that we have already mastered, but about something we are currently learning.

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

Obviously, the R Ladies project is very dear to my heart. The support of the R Consortium has been crucial to offer current and prospective chapters the human and technological support to operate. 

I also want to mention the SatRdays project led by Steph Locke and Gergely Daroczig. They developed a starter kit, a knowledge base, and all the infrastructure you might need to run your own SatRday.

SatRdays are accessible R-focused conferences organized by local R communities, that are held on Saturdays. In 2018 RLadies Santiago and the Santiago R Users group organized one of these events, and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without all the support this project provided. That event was very important for growing our local community, so we planned another one for April 2020. But we had to suspend it due to the pandemic. We expect to be able to run it again in 2022.

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

I’m not sure if I have a favorite one, but I really like the idea of working groups that are focused on specific fields, like R/medicine and R/pharma. They are a great way to bring together people that are using R for similar purposes to collaborate on events and advocacy, and to make advances in different areas by promoting cooperation.

It would be great to see in the future similar working groups for other fields (e.g. R/social sciences, R/humanities, R/ecology, R/open government, etc.). 

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?

I would love to see a project about multilingualism. Currently there are many people working toward this aim, and not only by translating learning resources, but also by developing packages that take into account that English is not the only language that exists. For example, Michael Chirico has made a package called potools which allows you to internationalize your own package by translating user-facing communications (e.g., warnings, errors, etc.) into different languages. Also, the Datasketch team (Colombia) developed a package called Shi18y, that allows you to create multilingual Shiny apps. And a group of RLadies from Brazil and other countries from Latin America are currently developing a package with datasets in Portuguese for people to use when teaching/learning R, similar to the ones that already exist for Spanish and Turkish.

All these are great efforts that are helping to make R more accessible to non-English speakers. It would be great to see a Top Level Project that promotes these kinds of initiatives. 

How do I Join?

R Consortium’s R User Group and Small Conference Support Program (RUGS) provides grants to help R groups around the world organize, share information and support each other. We have given grants over the past 4 years, encompassing over 65,000 members in 35 countries. We would like to include you! Cash grants and accounts are awarded based on the intended use of the funds and the amount of money available to distribute.