On the difficulties of making consortia and managing expectations

We had an interesting discussion in the comments to the CCCP concept note on who should be in the consortium. I think it is interesting because it gives me the chance to explain better how these consortia are coming together, and how we can navigate them.

In essence: @rachel and @winnieponcelet are both providing input. Both see themselves in the consortium. But, so far, only Winnie’s Biofabrication Forum is listed as a partner, whereas Rachel’s Hackuarium is not. What gives?

Here’s what gives: consortia come together as a sort of coordination game. Almost never does one partner have all the necessary resources of expertise, administrative solidity, impressiveness of brand, political clout etc. to win alone, no matter who else gets involved. In general, you need to go about this job by securing these resources from different people.

In CCCP-SSSR there is a sort of two-pronged leadership. ER is itself one of the prongs. But it is not the consortium coordinator. Reason: as a new company, we would never pass the financial validation that coordinating partners must pass. Second reason: we are not that experienced at this game, and we want someone else to help build a “pitch perfect” partnership and proposal, someone who has better intelligence into the Commission than we have. This someone is the Lisbon Council. I know them well, and trust them.

They have pointed out that this partnership is very interdisciplinary, so it needs partners who can stand guard at each ingredient in the mix. But then, it becomes big and unwieldy (9 partners already), raising coordination costs. We cannot justify two partners in the same area, they say. I agree, and anyway they have last word in strategic matters.

So, I propose three solutions and a reflection. The solutions:

  1. Replace Biofab Forum with Hackarium.

  2. Have Biofab Forum hire Hackuarium people to participate in the project (or the other way around). Or give fellowships, even: this is how we ourselves tried to support Reagent during 2017 (and Woodbine and GalGael).

  3. Hackuarium and/or Biofab Forum dig out some other funding opportunity, where we apply with some variant of CCCP. We would be happy to participate, helping out with the writing etc.

Do you see any of them as viable?

The reflection is this. We are doing our best to dream up new and better ways that all of us, as a community, can support ourselves and the work. In Edgeryders core we are happy to take on some of the heavy lifting of doing the intel work (@anique.yael) , sitting in meetings (Anique again) and writing concept notes and proposals (mostly me). But that does not mean we can wave our magic wand and make things happen. Expecting this will only lead to frustration. We have no magic wands, only shovels, and we are shoveling as hard as we can.

So, what can you do to make the most out of it? I would say two things. First: try to copy what we are doing in your own space. As I said above, we are happy to help you put together a proposal in which you would be leading and we would be supporting. We will not stop looking for opportunities, so the net result will be that the everyone in the research network will be looking out for opportunities for the whole network – more shoveling. And the result of that is risk reduction and more revenue to go around.

And second: try to keep in mind that this is unpaid work for Edgeryders. Treat it as a friendly gesture (about 40% of our labor costs go to non-Edgeryders directors); even if it does not go all the way you want to go, it still is made in love, and hopefully still has a positive sign.

Makes sense?


I think we should also clarify also who’s who and what’s what here.

BioFab Forum: a tool that the cooperative Magma Nova has commissioned to build, it does not have an own legal entity. It’s looking more and more that it will be a tool shared by several organisations in biomaterials. The topic are biomaterials and biofabrication. Air quality or water quality or other scientific subjects other than biomaterials / biofabrication are a little outside the scope. They are welcome, but on the sidelines.

Magma Nova: cooperative in biomaterials & biofabrication. We make products and we do education. The BioFab Forum is an educational tool, that we share with the global community. We see the forum as bringing two innovations: open online communities for science/design education, and open online communities for citizen science. But it is no more than a tool. We did not want to brand the forum as “Magma Nova forum” or whatever, since it goes beyond only Magma Nova. A gift and an investment for the open source biomaterial field.

ReaGent: the organisation that stewards the open biolab in Ghent and legally a nonprofit. Lots of what Magma Nova does, goes down in the lab, and there are other organisations also sharing the lab. In ReaGent we have a team experienced in citizen science, communication, education etc. that spans every field of science. It is as ReaGent that we get asked to facilitate citizen science now and again, or where we look for opportunities ourselves. We have good boots on the ground skills, but also strategic insights. The former we would do only locally, the latter we can share globally.

So I would scratch BioFab Forum from any texts related to this proposal. Of course we can discuss using it as a tool, but I would do that at a later stage, and keep it at “an online platform” for now. It’s already hard enough to get it working well without an additional project relying on it.

We are doing the same as you are @alberto , for the biomaterial community, as we speak. And try to give back to Edgeryders as well, eg. with the forum mission. It’s small things for now, but we are still small. For the forum, at least we can give back in kind under the form of advice about how you could scale up this forum prototype with us into a business model.

For the proposal, strategically or intellectually I would like to be personally part of it, since it’s right up my alley. It builds on thinking that I’ve been part of for a long time now, has shaped how we operate and where I feel like we can push the possibilities further.

Practically, ReaGent can do facilitation in Belgium (or even more local), but I would prefer if budget for doing actual citizen science is distributed to orgs like Hackuarium (@rachel ) , Science Hack Day Berlin (@lucy ) and the likes. But for this practical facilitation, we don’t mind skipping altogether either.


Yes, of course! Biofab Forum is shorthand from “any org that (a) emanates from the biohacking movement (b) contains at least some of the stellar people we have met through opencare (yourself, but also @rachel, Cindy, perhaps Dorsaf if that’s mature), and © is incorporated and with a PIC”. You can choose which one, we’ll go with it. Let’s have a quick chat soon, and we can solve it in 20 minutes, I’m sure.

Also, we need someone in charge. Because there is some work to do to get to a good proposal, and there will be plenty of work to do if we get approved, and we need to be able to invoke someone who knows about lab work in citizen science. Example: right now we need a discussion between Milano, the biohackers and us to make a decision about what the wet project will look like in CCCP. Who is this? Winnie? Rachel? Lucy? That would be the person taking point for that partner, and by implication the person calling the shot.

We (you) need to make the decision about who’s taking point real soon, so we can move forward. OK?

Thanks so much for this @alberto.

I’d like to add that much of the research network’s “shoveling” is a strategic crafting of relationships, ideas and impact. The energy and artistry that goes into this cannot be underestimated and neither can the consequences of disruptions to these processes. For the scientists in the room you could think of it almost like the delicate balance that comes with biochemical experiments.

To date we work hard to bridge the edge of chaos and high stakes, high impact proposals with the centre. From my perspective, as the lead on the strategic liaison and relationship management in the research network, when building a consortium we can’t just have our members pushing their hands for money in the pot. This can become messy, which is just not an option with such stakes. I suggest @winnieponcelet @rachel and whomever else wants, that you take a moment together separately to think through how you want to craft the wetlab and community building side of our proposal, and then come back to us with your preferred option. This has to be as one partner as the consortium is full, and needs to happen within the coming days.

In future, I also ask you to please be sensitive to the constraints and commitment of our team. We are all in this together and it’s vital we trust each other in this epic paradigm shift we are all giving so much too.


I’ve been a bit busy the last days re: @alberto and @anique.yael . I’ll reply soon with thoughts.

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All good @winnieponcelet and good to talk more about it with you Friday.

@alberto and I have just checked in and would like to follow up on the decision of who will be leading the wet lab work package. Can you confirm that
a) it will be ReaGent that leads
b) you and @rachel can collaborate between you as to who actually coordinates and contributes to those activities under ReaGent
c) and that you have or can acquire a PIC before the proposal is due 10 April?

We need to resolve this in the coming couple of days max thanks!

sorry again for my limited input, but Anique’s proposal above is ok, I think. Just for a bit more detail, our mycelium team is making progress, but that is not my expertise, again. I hope our first rhizobial urban garden tests will be done latest this spring. For the DNA damage or microbial analyses, however, I am ready to contribute personally, also for the proposal writing. Again, Hackuarium does have a PIC, and it is simple, Winnie, to get.

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Okay @anique.yael , so after talking to you all, our team and thinking it over, we’ve come to this:

  • ReaGent can lead the wet lab WP with a team member of ours on project management and me on the strategic side
  • We distribute resources to local labs like Hackuarium to do the actual citizen science, with ReaGent only in a supporting role where needed
  • We actually already had a PIC number for ReaGent: 912089934
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I’m sorry for jumping in so late here… I think the project will be in very safe hands with @winnieponcelet/ReaGent as the lead.

If you need though, I’d love to contribute to the conceptual part of the biohacking/community project. Urban gardening/farming is a great topic with lots of scope for implementation of DIY scientific practices in a valuable way. In Berlin we’re trying to get a project started around community bioremediation of urban soils. I think this could be a very valuable practice for urban farming communities, should be very DIY-able, and taps into a wider discourse around land ownership, responsibility, preserving and reclaiming the commons. In case it fits, I’d love to see something like this take off inside an edgeryders project, whether together with or in parallel to our efforts in Berlin, and would be happy to help where needed with the proposal if you need this kind of detail.

We’ve already been working on building a network around the project and are already well connected with Prinzessinnengarten (long-established urban gardening project in Berlin) and various biohacking friends, and are looking to find funding ourselves. However, our legal entity situation in Berlin is not terribly clear, so we anyway wouldn’t be able to help you out in a project partner capacity. Just let me know :slight_smile:


Super @lucy! Do you have any documents I can go through about the projects you’ve been setting up? It helps me prepare for the first consortium call. I’m catching up with expectations from the other partners (eg. Milan) so after the call I’d like to see with @rachel and you how to practically plan the WP.


Nice to meet you @lucy! Just jumping in to say DIY expertise in urban gardening/farming is much appreciated here. This is because it brings to center stage our partners at the City of Milan. Milan is one of the most progressive, forward-thinking, hype-averse municipalities I know; plus, they consider themselves a farming city (hence the Expo 2015 being themed on food). Their full involvement gives the project (and your own work) a much better chance at making a large impact. We will be dealing with the mighty @luciascopelliti.

Lucia, expect a call soon! If my understanding is correct, @winnieponcelet is taking point in organizing the biohacker community’s effort in the project; @anique.yael is coordinating the whole effort from the Edgeryders side. Onwards!

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@winnieponcelet: I can share what we have so far. It’s not in a very finished state and still needs feedback from others involved… but it should still give you a good impression of what we have in mind.
@Alberto: I can’t claim to be an expert in urban gardening/farming myself. My expertise is as a grassroots DIY science community organiser also with a background in molecular biology and an understanding of academic culture / how research institutions work. The project is about building a network that connects DIY science to urban farming and academic soil science. If we need more concrete urban farming expertise in this proposal perhaps I should help by connecting our partners…?

Thanks for your input, interest and willingness to contribute @lucy! [quote=“lucy, post:9, topic:8160”]
If you need though, I’d love to contribute to the conceptual part of the biohacking/community project. Urban gardening/farming is a great topic with lots of scope for implementation of DIY scientific practices in a valuable way.

So it’s a resounding YES on this. To clarify as I’m not sure if you’ve read the concept note (which will help a lot), that the layer of the project you’re talking about is what we’re calling the WET citizen science. IE. It is coming under a work package engaging in the hard data collection and is accompanied by two other layers (ethno and experimental economic), as well as our outreach and community building activities and our social semantic network analysis.

@winnieponcelet and ReaGent are our partners leading the wet citizen science work package, with input and support from others in the network like yourself and @rachel . Edgeryders is the project’s overarching conceptual lead and will be leading the outreach and community management. It seems you come in under both but as this proposal is still in development and the consortium is finalised, from my perspective the timing of your offer of connecting partners isn’t quite right. IE. We can’t bring any more partners on and the proposal is yet to be funded. That being said, there is the possibility of cascading grants and we’ll be further developing the model and how they may work in the coming weeks. What I will encourage is that you reference you and your partners work in your dialogue with @winnieponcelet as he develops the conceptual and methodological framework for the wet work package and application with the City of Milan on their cases. This clearly will be invaluable :mushroom:


As I see it now, what would be relevant is:

  • Input from @lucy and/or @rachel as to the logistics and budget of supporting/setting up local citizen science initiatives in urban gardening/farming
  • Input from experts as to the concrete science that can/should be done. So either I can get a sense of this through reading some material you already wrote, or in contact with @lucy’s partners (in transparancy about the phase we are in as @anique.yael mentions)

And ultimately combine these with the expectations from the other consortium partners in terms of focus points. It should result in:

  • Budget and plan for supporting local wet lab citizen science initiatives: what is mutually feasible?
  • Budget and plan for project management of the WP: what is necessary but sufficient?
  • Plan for the interface with the other WP: what should interface with what?

Does this sound logical?

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our expert on rhizobia, Alicia, has a 3 point plan with sprouting seeds (+/- rhizobacts) in very controlled conditions, somewhat controlled conds and with the workshop strategy for urban gardeners (with them taking home or to their local potager, their experimental work for further documentation…
we had a great lunch yesterday at the Hackuarium space and we made some headway in finding some useful equipment (i.e. big glass test tubes with screw cap lids) among our usual stock, before she heads off, back to Uruguay after her long visit here (6 weeks)…
should I ask her to officially join this group, as we make more budgetary/deliverable plans?
have a great weekend!

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Yes, Rachel! We can really use some input right now. I’m trying to wrap my head around things at the moment also with the help of @lucy regarding the specifics of the research.

@winnieponcelet Suggest you make a separate post and thread in the Research Network workspace to discuss these details :blush:

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I’m into that as well. And currently exploring that field from Paris. Could give some inputs if and when needed :smiley:

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