R Consortium recently talked to Tuli Amutenya of the Namibia R Users Group about the challenges of starting a group during the pandemic. She shared the struggle of keeping the audience engaged during online events and reaching out to people. The group aims to cater to the individual needs of the R community in Namibia and also form strong collaborative ties with other R User Groups in the region.
What is the R community like in Namibia? Can you name a few industries using R in Namibia?
The R community in Namibia is fairly new. We just launched our group in April and have since hosted three events. So far the turnout has been quite encouraging and the gender balance is also good. Seeing an equal number of male and female participants in our sessions was heartwarming. At least 40 percent of the participants so far are totally beginners and have not used R at all. The rest of the percentage comprises graduate students. Our events have been online so far.
What are the challenges of hosting online events as a new group? How do you plan to overcome these challenges?
It is quite an immense challenge, especially in areas where people are not accustomed to using online platforms. Luckily for us, it has already been two years since we got into this situation. People are now more used to meeting and communicating through online platforms.
The actual challenge now is to keep the audience engaged throughout the session. We have also been able to overcome this challenge and now the only challenge that remains is reaching out to the audience. We announce our events on Twitter, but most people are not on Twitter. People in Namibia are not much into social networks, so we have created a database of participants for the launch. We send out emails to this list and so far that has been effective.
But yes, I don’t think meeting itself is a bigger challenge than reaching out to people through social media platforms.
What are the techniques you are using 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?
So far we have been using Microsoft Teams for webinars. We also have a GitHub account where we put material from our online events and share the link with the participants. We have also been recording our sessions, but we have not uploaded them online. Since we just started out, we are discussing how to carry on and use other means of communication.
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?
I think I would like to mention our launch event. For our launch, we were sponsored by Kevin O’Brien through the Why R? Foundation for the Zoom Account to host the webinar. The keynote speaker was Dr. Heather Turner. So that was great.
Presentations from our launch event were quite interesting. We collaborated with Nairobi R Users Group and R Ladies Nairobi, who facilitated the event. They gave guest presentations to provide information about the R community and various possibilities for collaborations and engaging other communities. They also guided us about access to a lot of online materials and provided examples of package designing in R.
So I think those presentations were quite useful for the audience, especially those who are beginners. It was also very encouraging for us as a new community to know that there is a community out there we can reach out to for support and collaboration.
Of theFunded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?
All the projects are very practical and are affecting different areas of the community. For me personally, the ones related to spatial data analysis are quite interesting. For example, the Google Earth Engine with R is quite exciting, especially for those of us who love to use both the tools. It gives more people the opportunity to use free imagery and do heavy computing and data visualization in R.
How has your experience of organizing this group been? What are your plans for the coming year?
It’s amazing and we can see that there’s quite a lot of interest in the community. Since we have just started hosting events, people are still coming out from both industry and academia. So it’s really encouraging to see this.
We plan to set up a structured calendar to invite and collaborate with groups in the region. We have already collaborated with Nairobi R and R Ladies Nairobi for our launch. Now we have contact with R-Ladies Gaborone and Eswatini R User Group and there is a conversation about collaboration. We really want to branch out to the region and invite speakers or presentations from different community areas, especially in Africa.
So as we are going, we are getting to know our audience and creating a more intimate community. We want to learn how we can best support one another and grow. We are really excited to be a part of the R community.
When is your next event? Please give details!
So far, we plan to host the fourth tutorial session on Introduction to Data Visualization. It will be online and scheduled for the 20th of August.
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 four years, encompassing over 65,000 members in 35 countries. We would like to include you! Cash grants and meetup.com accounts are awarded based on the intended use of the funds and the amount of money available to distribute. We are now accepting applications!
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