What’s the buzz on Trellis? Ask Rebecca Aicher.
As the community engagement manager for AAAS’ member groups on the AAAS-developed communication platform, Aicher keeps tabs on what’s trending and helps keep discussions rolling. She came to the association in 2016 with a background in biology and ecology, including a 2011-2013 AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship and experience working on science policy issues including environmental policy related to climate change, invasive species, nitrogen pollution, and more.
Aicher talked with MemberCentral recently about how the AAAS community has taken to Trellis, how members are using it to collaborate, and what they can expect to see in the coming months.
Q: So what brought you to AAAS?
I was a AAAS science and technology policy fellow from 2011 to 2013. That’s when I started to get to know all the different work AAAS does for the scientific community and connecting scientists with each other, the public and policymakers. After my fellowship, I was in the DC area working with a couple of different organizations, then I saw the opportunity at AAAS. I jumped at the chance to work with an organization I believe in and that has a very important mission. I thought it was a cool opportunity to work with the scientific community to try to empower them and support the mission of AAAS.
Q: You came on board as Trellis was being launched. What’s changed since then?
Trellis is actually still in development, and we release new updates every four to six weeks. Trellis had been around for a bit before I joined the team, but it had reached a stage in its growth where more staff were needed to help manage the groups that were on it. The group I work with largely is the AAAS membership population. I’m here to help facilitate AAAS members in connecting with one another using Trellis.
When we talk about the scientific community, we are thinking about it very broadly. It includes research scientists. It includes educators. It includes journalists, policymakers, and people we call science advocates—people who aren’t scientists, but who are supporters of scientists and believe scientists are a crucial part of making society a better place. What I’m really doing is helping people connect and find a way for people to do the work they really want to do.
Part of my role is helping AAAS members learn about these opportunities. In addition, it’s helping AAAS members connect with each other—starting discussions or finding topics that may be of interest in the scientific community and getting folks talking about those things, sharing their ideas, experience, and expertise. … Sometimes we describe the work we do in community engagement as “in-reach,” rather than outreach, because we’re working to strengthen connections and knowledge sharing within our communities rather than building bridges between communities.
Q: How have people responded to Trellis? Are you seeing people taking the tool in directions that weren’t anticipated?
We’re seeing people joining groups, connecting, starting discussions, sharing their expertise via published articles, experiences they’ve had or conferences they’re attending. They’re really using it in a lot of different ways.
Prior to Trellis, AAAS members didn’t have any direct way of getting in touch with one another or joining conversations with other members. Now, all AAAS members are automatically given a Trellis account when they join the association. In these initial stages for the AAAS MemberCentral community, we’re working really hard to facilitate the formation of connections between our members around topics that are of interest to them. We do this by running a regular set of content items each month—and we encourage members to start their own discussions on the site too.
For example, we might start a discussion about something of general interest such as the important role of failure in science. We have had many different scientists share their stories of failure, and we’ve had people begin talking about how they’ve studied failures in science. Through this discussion, one member discussed a presentation that they’d adapted based on experiences with failure in science and then another person invited them to give the presentation at Columbia University. These members didn’t know one another before Trellis. They would have never known they were both AAAS members, and they had this shared interest. Because of the discussion, they’re building a genuine relationship based on sharing ideas.
Q: What kind of feedback do you get from members, and how is that shaping future updates?
We are extremely open to feedback and interested in hearing from people. We want to know what is working well for them as well as what they find challenging or what they may want from Trellis that it doesn’t currently do. There’s a place on the site where they click a button that says “Got feedback?” There’s a team of us that reads through that feedback, and we try to synthesize what we’re getting … and if people tell us ‘We’d like to be able to do X on Trellis,' we may shift our priorities. We do have a product road map, but if our users are telling us we need something sooner then we’ll certainly re-evaluate and can re-prioritize. And that’s one of the benefits of building Trellis ourselves and for the scientific community—it gives us that ability to respond to our users and their needs.
Q: You’ve got a background in science education. Is there anything from that interest you’ve applied to your work with Trellis?
One of the most active groups on Trellis is the STEM curriculum interest group. It’s a place for STEM educators to share resources, to share ideas, to talk about trends in science education and build their network and their understanding. It’s been really fun to be able to stay in touch with those ideas and that part of my background and experience.
I love working as an educator. I love sharing science with anyone who’s willing to listen and talk about it. It’s great to hear from people who are educators and cheerleaders and sharing their successes and ideas and challenges. And as an educator, it helps inform everything that I do.
Q: Is there a trend or a particular topic that you’ve seen catching fire recently?
In recent months, as certain topics have become more resonant, we’re seeing clusters of similar groups forming into broader “ecosystems” of communities. One such cluster is for scientists and engineers interested in policy. For example, the first AAAS members’ special interest group is the AAAS Force for Science Group and that’s where discussions about science policy and being a science advocate take place. We also have the group Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy for anyone on Trellis, and we’ve seen some other associations create policy groups on Trellis.
Another set of policy groups in that ecosystem are those for the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship. There are over 3,000 alumni from that program, myself included. So combined, using all of those groups, we’re able to share information back and forth, talk about events that are happening, and keep our communities up to date.
We also have some flagship groups open to all Trellis members around science communication, public engagement, and scientific community-building. For example, the Public Engagement with Science group has over 1,700 members, including people who are interested in science communication, communicating with policymakers, outreach through education, all of those types of opportunities.
Supporting collaboration within science is at the heart of the Trellis team and the C4Sci—Communities for Science Communication group is where many of our discussions take place around resources and training for those who are involved in research collaboration or connecting scientists in some other way. This dove-tails nicely with the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (link) that we run to train those in community-building roles in science—including others in a similar role to mine.
Q: What can the users expect to see next?
These are exciting times at Trellis. The site continues to improve its functionality and add new features based on user feedback and our product roadmap. In the next six months or so we’ll be launching Trellis version 2, so people will see some major updates to the site navigation and an improved user experience. We’re always looking for focus group members too—so if anyone would like to be more directly involved in our development process, they should send us an email here.