Innovation Leaders 2020: A summary

We share some of the highlights, outcomes and learnings from our first open leadership and mentorship programme.
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The mission of the eLife Innovation Initiative is to support a community of open innovators who are developing tools to change the ways we discover, consume, evaluate and share research. Through organising the eLife Innovation Sprint and participating in other community events, we have seen a wealth of ideas and prototypes supporting these goals, but we’ve also realised that many of these projects are often not sustained beyond the Sprint events at which they are conceived.

This motivated us to start our eLife Innovation Leaders programme, a five-month open leadership training and mentorship course designed to empower innovators in the open-source-for-open-science community, to help them to lead and develop their tools and projects openly, and to think more strategically about long term project sustainability. The curriculum covered key topics in project ideation, launch and growth, such as design thinking, user research, prototyping, team building and marketing. We believe that projects are more likely to be sustainable when they are “open by design”– that they encompass carefully-designed processes for others to contribute to, and collaboratively develop, the project together.

innovation leaders learner journey
Innovation Leaders’ learner journey

The programme officially began in February this year. It was fully online, allowing close to a hundred participants, mentors, experts, guest speakers and organisers from all around the world to join us.

Some participants joined with rough ideas for tools and platforms, while others came hoping to improve specific aspects of their mature projects. Some were more technically experienced and some have a background in research. This diversity allowed participants to learn from one another: in weekly cohort calls, they shared their experiences and perspectives in breakout rooms and collaborative documentation sessions, and listened and discussed with invited speakers.

Participants were also assigned a mentor. Through bi-weekly mentorship meetings, mentors and mentees built a project roadmap and explored challenges together. Mentors also shared feedback on their mentees’ assignments and projects, helping them reflect and learn throughout the programme.

(I would like to thank) Aidan for being a brilliant mentor and encouraging me always to reflect on priorities. And for suggesting bringing Sam in as co-leader.

– Edward Wallace, Participant

One potential barrier to interaction with my mentee has been the time zone difference (13h). Fortunately, we have made this work through scheduling flexibility and enthusiasm. I have also found the assistance offered by the subject experts to be quite useful, and have facilitated my mentee's interactions in this area.

– Bradly Alicea, Mentor

The participants also benefited from consultation meetings with expert consultations, who are experienced leaders in their respective domains. These interactions allowed mentees to obtain feedback and advice on specific aspects of their projects’ development.

We had a conversation with one of the experts of the network of eLife, Bastian Greshake, and one of the things he identified is that this project that we’re working on is also a topic that has been discussed in many different universities in research areas of psychology.

– Jose Rafael Monagas, Participant

The twist came in consultation with an expert from the programme, Veethika Mishra, when I approached her and asked her, ‘listen, we are going to talk about difficult stuff, how can we do it in a funny way?’ and she proposed to actually make a game out of it.

– Mayya Sundukova, Participant

With the dedication and passion of everyone within the Innovation Leaders community, we were able to collaboratively craft a unique journey of learning and sharing over the last 5 months. Out of a starting cohort of 27, 18 Innovation Leaders have successfully graduated from the programme.

We share the recordings and notes from the Innovation Leaders graduation calls:

Below, you can find out more about the projects led by the first cohort of eLife Innovation Leaders. We welcome your feedback and contributions.


Led by Lana Sinapayen, mentored by Bradly Alicea

Because of the current academic publishing practices, researchers usually write up their results after their research has been completed, while in reality, feedback is helpful when research is ongoing, and the sharing of in-progress research can often encourage collaboration.

Mimosa’s vision is to become a platform that will allow continuous sharing and feedback on ongoing research, by anyone. Hypotheses and experimental methods can be shared on the platform prior to having any results and are open to feedback from anyone. They can also be searched for, and the platform also provides aggregated statistics to allow readers to quickly identify items of interest.

Mimosa’s codebase will be made public very soon, and Lana is planning to conduct the first round of user testing with members of her team, prior to opening up the platform for more feedback from the community.

Mimosa screenshot
A screenshot of the Mimosa prototype. Source: Lana Sinapayen.


Led by Ding He and Juan Manuel Irigaray, mentored by Luca Castiglione

Life science research datasets are increasingly complex and large, and with that, the amount of computing power needed to run the computational workflows and software to handle and analyse this data is also increasing. Fortunately, advancements in cloud computing mean that a lot of these bioinformatics pipelines can potentially be moved to the cloud and scaled up. Public clouds are also more eco-friendly, as they can easily be adapted to suit on and off-peak usage.

eBioNT’s vision is to increase the eco-friendliness of biocomputing through raising awareness of the use of public clouds. Project leads Ding and Juan is designing a series of workshops and building a central resource to train and provide easy-to-use resources, e.g. cloud deployment templates, to researchers and research staff.

  1. Visit eBioNT on GitHub
eBioNT project roadmap
eBioNT Project roadmap. Source.

Open Science Community Starter Kit

Led by Loek Brinkman and Antonio Schettino, mentored by Anne Fouilloux

Engagement and involvement of the research community are crucial to making open science the normal way of doing science. Learning from their experience of starting, or inspiring the start of, 10 open science communities in the Netherlands and abroad, Loek and Antonio’s vision is to scale up, to create many more open science communities worldwide.

To this end, they have created the Open Science Community Starter Kit, a toolkit to help anyone kick-start their own open science community. The Starter Kit covers topics from preparing and launching the community, to growing and sustaining the efforts.

  1. Read the Beta Starter Kit

Software Citation Project

Led by Sarthak Sehgal, mentored by Apostolos Kritikos

Software is an integral part of modern research, yet it is still difficult to establish citability of software for those who developed them. Recent community efforts towards solving this problem, including the creation of the Citation File Format (CFF), is a good start as it provides machine and human-readable citation information for the software, but CFF is not yet widely adopted. A barrier to CFF adoption is that the publishing of a CFF file cannot be done at the same time as a software release, as a CFF contains the release information.

Software Citation Project website screenshot
Software Citation Project website screenshot. Source.

Project lead Sarthak has developed a software citation web application to solve this chicken-and-egg problem. He invites all researchers writing software to help test the beta release of the application and offer feedback.

  1. Visit the Software Citation Project on GitHub


Led by Sara Memar, mentored by Grant R. Vousden-Dishington

Touch screen technologies are often employed in laboratories conducting rodent research, but the protocols used and data generated are stored within workstations in individual research labs. This hinders collaborations and sharing between different research labs using similar paradigms and technologies.

MouseByte is a community platform that allows researchers to share their touch-screen experiment protocols and data. Through the Innovation Leaders programme, Sara refined the platform’s community and user engagement strategies through a deeper understanding of its target users and their needs.

  1. Find out more about MouseBytes

Galaksio and Galaxy Workflows

Led by Tomas Klingström, mentored by Dave Clements

Galaxy is a bioinformatics workflow and data analysis platform with the aim to make computational biology accessible to all. It has a big collection of workflows, packages and tools, each with their own, sometimes complicated, sets of parameters, which is difficult for newcomers to bioinformatics and genomics to navigate.

Galaksio started as a standalone project with the aim to provide a simpler user interface to Galaxy for non-bioinformaticians: visualisations aid the understanding of complex workflows, and suggestions are provided when parameters are needed.

Soon after the start of Innovation Leaders, Tomas realised that Galaksio’s development will benefit from the collective design and contributions from the wider Galaxy community. The project became part of the Galaxy Project, and Tomas looks forward to being able to contribute and work with its user and developer communities to continue enhancing Galaxy’s user experience.

Metrics Literacy

Led by Stefanie Haustein, mentored by Lauren Maggio

Research metrics are important as an indicator of the quality of research, and it is important that researchers understand their pros and cons. There is a wealth of literature around metrics and their usage, but researchers are usually too time-constrained to read them.

The Metrics Literacy project’s vision is to reduce the misuse of metrics in academia and discourage the “publish or perish” culture, through providing open educational resources on metrics that are easy to consume and digest. During the Innovation Leaders programme, Stefanie and her team developed user personas, identified storytelling as a key communication strategy, and are now experimenting with different resource formats. Next, Stefanie hopes to build some prototypes and test them with small groups of target users to understand their effectiveness.

Metrics literacies personas
Metrics literacies personas. Source.
  1. Share your thoughts on the project
  1. Read about Stefanie's Innovation Leaders journey

Science communication for non-English speakers

Led by Sejal Davla, mentored by Oarabile Mudongo

English has become the lingua franca for research, but the research community consists of many that do not speak English as their first language, nor use English in their day-to-day research and communication.

Project lead Sejal’s vision is to create a platform for sharing and communicating research, tailored for non-English speakers. She hopes to build a first version for speakers of Gujarati, her mother-tongue. During Innovation Leaders, she brainstormed and identified important stakeholders for the success of the project. She is planning to build a prototype together with linguists, designers and technologists, and invites you to get in touch if you would like to contribute.

Roadmap for a science communication platform for non-English speakers
A roadmap towards a science communication platform for non-English speakers. Source: Sejal Davla.


Led by Raoni Lourenço, mentored by Ian Mulvany

Computational pipelines are growing in complexity, which makes it increasingly difficult to identify the root cause of any error or failing instances. BugDoc is an open-source tool that can help software developers and machine learning engineers debug their pipelines.

Building BugDoc is a part of Raoni’s PhD research. During Innovation Leaders, he made plans to make BugDoc more contributor- and user-friendly and open-by-design, by creating and sharing an open project roadmap and canvas. He also hopes to add documentation in another language to increase the project’s accessibility and inclusivity.

  1. Visit BugDoc on GitHub


Led by Gavin McStay, mentored by Ivo Jimenez

Reading and staying updated on the latest research in their field is an essential part of any researcher’s work, but with ever-increasing number of publications, researchers have to identify ways to select what to read with their limited time. BiomedNews is a growing community of experts curating reports on the latest literature in their research area. The reports are hosted on a very simple platform and communicated through social media.

Gavin joined Innovation Leaders with the aim to better understand how to better design BiomedNews to better address the needs of researchers, and to grow the BiomedNews user community. He created a vision statement, a project roadmap and community engagement plans, and identified challenges that researchers face interacting with the current platform.

Beyond the programme, Gavin hopes to work with his collaborator to build better platform infrastructure and documentation around it.

  1. Visit BiomedNews


Led by Sara El-Gebali, mentored by Pablo Diego Silva da Silva

With the growth of initiatives like the Carpentries, there is a wealth of knowledge around effective computational training and building inclusive communities. While these initiatives continue to strive to become more diverse and global, their technical and socio-economic infrastructures were often not designed for low and middle income countries (LMICs), creating a knowledge gap between LMICs and the developed world.

The vision for the Open Computation Inclusion and Digital Equity Resource (OpenCIDER) project is to build a valuable resource for effective knowledge transfer, and the establishment of inclusive communities focussing specifically on accessibility and adaptability for LMICs. Project lead Sara defined the scope, mapped users’ needs and successfully launched the project over the course of Innovation Leaders.

You can find out more about OpenCIDER and contribute to the project, by signing up to their newsletter, and joining their first community call, as well as their upcoming workshop at CarpentryCon@Home.

  1. Visit OpenCIDER

Friendbot prototype screenshot
Friendbot prototype screenshot. Source: Gabriela Gaona and Jose Rafael Monagas


Led by Gabriela Gaona and Jose Rafael Monagas, mentored by Virginia Brussa

Bullying is a prevalent problem amongst teenagers, and early intervention can help reduce the impact on the victim. Through having AI-assisted conversations with potential victims, FriendBot hopes to support victims and direct them to help.

With the help of their Innovation Leaders assigned mentor, project leads Gabriela and Jose redefined the target audience for FriendBot, and furthered their understanding of the needs of target users through developing user personas. They also identified synergies with ongoing research, and a number of key challenges that they will need to address in developing Friendbot, thanks to the feedback they have received from a programme expert and other Innovation Leaders. The team is currently developing a new prototype, and hopes to start testing it within target users within their local communities soon.


Led by Sam Haynes and Edward Wallace, mentored by Aidan Budd

TidyqPCR is an R package that can help researchers with their qPCR experiments, from designing and setting up, to data collection and analysis. Its vision is to empower scientists to conduct reproducible, flexible, and MIQE best-practice compliant quantitative PCR analysis.

Through conducting interviews, project leads Sam and Edward identified key problems that researchers face while conducting qPCR experiments (e.g. unfamiliarity with standards and inconsistent quality checks), which allowed them to focus on developing a solution that will help tackle these problems.

They are currently working on a minimal viable product (MVP) for the tool, and are looking for programmers to help develop appropriate unit tests to increase the robustness of the tool. They also made significant progress in building infrastructure to facilitate contributions, and in developing training material for users.

  1. Visit TidyqPCR on GitHub


Led by Mayya Sundukova, mentored by Madeleine Bonsma-Fisher

Mayya’s journey and transition through many different roles prompted her to reflect on and learn from her experiences. The current pandemic has impacted many researchers’ work and life, and this made her realised that many researchers are going through what she experienced: adopting new identities and making transitions.

This helped her craft her vision for Rekombinational, a platform where researchers can share their stories and showcase their creativity. Mayya is currently planning a series of interviews with researchers to identify some initial content and users for the platform, and exploring various media beyond text– such as gameplay– to help researchers express themselves and interact with these stories. If you are interested in contributing content or in helping build this platform, please send an email to rekombinational [at] gmail [dot] com.


The eLife Innovation Leaders programme is inspired by the Mozilla Open Leaders Programme, designed and led by Abigail Cabunoc Mayes and Chad Sansing. We would also like to thank the Mozilla Open Leaders X cohort for their input, feedback and support in the organisation and running of Innovation Leaders 2020.

The programme would not have been possible without the support of our participants (full list), mentors and experts (full list), as well as guest speakers who generously volunteered their time to share their experience and knowledge:

  • Georgia Bullen, Executive Director, Simply Secure
  • Abigail Cabunoc Mayes, Practice Lead, Working Open, Mozilla
  • Robin de Mourat, Research Designer, médialab Sciences Po
  • Humberto Debat, Researcher at IPAVE-CIAP-INTA, Argentina; PanLingua project co-lead.
  • Magdalena Drafiova, Customer Development Manager, Digital Curation Centre
  • Hannah Drury, Product Manager, eLife
  • Justin W. Flory, Open Source Technical Advisor, UNICEF Innovation
  • Eriol Fox, Humanitarian Designer at and core team at Open Source Design
  • Mauro Lepore, Research Software Developer, 2 Degrees Investing Initiative
  • Mark Hahnel, Founder, Figshare
  • Chris Hartgerink, Executive Director, Liberate Science
  • Chris Huggins, Senior UX designer, eLife
  • Paula Andrea Martinez, National Training Coordinator, Australian National Imaging Facility / The University of Queensland
  • Rowena Maskell, Interim Head of Marketing, eLife
  • Joe McArthur, Co-founder and Director, Open Access Button, & Assistant Director, The Right to Research Coalition
  • David Moulton, Senior Front End Developer, eLife
  • Naomi Penfold, Community Manager, eLife
  • Aniket Pradhan, Contributor, NeuroFedora
  • Serah Rono, Director of Community Development and Engagement,
  • Daniela Saderi, Co-Founder and Director, PREreview
  • Malvika Sharan, Community Manager, The Turing Way & Co-founder, Open Life Science
  • Gabe Stein, Head of Product and Operations, Knowledge Futures Group
  • Lilly Winfree, Product Manager, Frictionless Data, Open Knowledge Foundation
  • Lou Woodley, Director, the Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement


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