Scroll to top

Join the eLife Innovation Sprint 2020

What is the eLife Innovation Sprint?

Two days, 70 people, different skill sets: together, harnessing cutting-edge technology to prototype new ways to do and share research. The 2020 Sprint takes place September 2–3 in Cambridge, UK.

It’s not…  an overnighter nor at the weekend and it doesn’t involve working to win a prize.


eLife is closely monitoring the latest reports on the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and will be following the recommendations of the World Health Organization and Public Health England.  We will continue to update the community as recommendations change. As of today, the Innovation Sprint will be held as planned on September 2–3 in Cambridge, UK.

We are actively exploring options for remote collaboration, in preparation for the scenario where we have to move the event online.

Sprint 19 participant presenting at the end

Who will be at the Sprint?

The eLife Innovation Sprint is open to anyone who is interested in using open technology to redefine the ways we do and share science. Participants are mostly:

  • Leaders of and contributors to open technology projects for open science, scholarly communication and improving research culture
  • Researchers who are passionate about how research is done and communicated
  • Research software engineers developing open research tools
  • Developers, designers, product experts and technologists working with open initiatives, including open access, data, metadata, and publishing
  • Researchers and data scientists in computer science and digital humanities who are enthusiastic about knowledge dissemination
  • Like-minded community members concerned with issues regarding open education, diversity and inclusion, open-source, mentorship, fair funding, mental health, etc.
  • Policymakers and community managers in the open science and research culture ecosystems
  • Members of the eLife community, e.g. Community Ambassadors and Innovation Leaders

We welcome newcomers to the open science, research culture and communication space! Fresh perspectives are very important and powerful.

What role(s) will I play at the Sprint?

You will work on projects and share your experience and knowledge with other Sprinters! We envision the following roles:

  • Project leads: propose a project, lead the group, direct discussions and manage the team and the project
  • Technical contributors: help turn ideas into code!
  • Expert consultants: skilled in certain areas (e.g. UX, product, policy, marketing) and ready to contribute to and be consulted by multiple projects
  • Communicators: in charge of documenting and communicating project progress during the event, and reaching out to all participants for feedback and input when appropriate
  • Prospective users/testers: have domain knowledge and are ready to help with user testing or be interviewed for multiple projects
  • Mentors: experienced Sprinters and community members who will help guide and onboard newcomers to the event

We value non-code contributions as much as code – documentation, domain knowledge, community engagement and user feedback are all crucial for the success of an open technical project. 

You can play multiple roles, depending on your interest.

What kind of projects can I lead/work on?


Themes are a way to focus the Sprint’s project proposals. These will help us evaluate proposals and create an event that fits community goals and objectives. 

We welcome projects that address at least one of the following themes:

  1. Support reproducibility in research
  2. Reform research evaluation practices
  3. Promote diversity and inclusion in research
  4. Improve publishing practices, e.g. preprints, equitable access and discovery
  5. Facilitate research collaborations
  6. Create a healthy research environment, e.g. mentoring, mental health
  7. Encourage transparent and constructive peer review

You will be asked to indicate the theme(s) of your proposal on our submission form. 

Project requirements

The main output of projects should be technical, i.e. software, an app, a database, a website, etc. We value tangible and measurable outputs from the event, and find that this is easier to achieve with technical products.

What if my idea does not yield a technical solution? Please consider applying to one of the following events with a hackathon session:

Any other events that we could feature on this list? Please contact us to let us know!

Projects must be open-source. Openness is a core value at eLife and the Sprint, and we would like output from the Sprint to be reused and built upon. All output must use either an Open Source License or a Creative Commons License

Projects should have had little or no prior development. We think that the Sprint adds the most value to nascent projects, although if you can demonstrate how the event can add value to a mature project, we would be happy to consider your proposal!

Projects may be submitted by a team. We encourage groups of up to three people to apply together to work on their project. 

Some past Sprint projects

We hope that the Sprint is the start of a long road for the projects. In the past, the eLife Innovation Initiative and other funders have further supported prototypes developed at the Sprint.

  • Plaudit is a widget that allows open, light-weight endorsement of published research, by linking the endorser’s ORCIDs with the article’s DOI. The Plaudit prototype was first developed at the 2018 Sprint, which helped the project secure funding and support from eLife Innovation and the Centre for Open Science. The initial version was launched in March 2019. 
  • Octopus is a modular, collaborative, open publishing system incubated at the 2018 Sprint. Since then, a partnership has been set up with the UK Reproducibility Network, and project lead Alex Freeman has also won a pitch competition for ideas to improve research culture run by the UK’s Royal Society.
  • Hidden Gem is a tool to shine a light on low-visibility preprints in biology. During the 2019 Sprint, the team came up with a ‘shadow index’ for visibility, based on the number of early views of a preprint’s abstract. 

See summaries of Sprint 2018 and 2019 projects. 

The application process

If you would like to lead a project…

Please submit a project proposal between March 18 and April 13.

After you have completed the form below, all submitters will receive an email to a second form that you must each complete for the project proposal to be accepted.

We strongly encourage submitting a project proposal in teams of maximum 3 people– this avoids anyone working alone at the Sprint!

Have a great idea but no co-submitters yet? Tweet your idea with the hashtag #eLifeSprint – we will amplify your idea for you via @eLifeInnovation and hopefully help you find your first collaborators! 

If you are submitting a project idea on your own, we may put you together in a team with other submitter(s) with similar ideas.

Confused? We ran a webinar explaining this process in further details– please refer to the notes and recording.

We will evaluate the project proposals between April 14 and 20, and will aim to communicate our decisions to all submitters in the week beginning April 20. All submitters must confirm their attendance that week, and the tentative list of projects will be published in the week beginning April 27.

If you would like to join us without a project idea… 

We will announce our accepted project proposals before April 27. Please take a look and see if you find projects to which you would be interested in contributing!

We invite you to submit a general application between April 27 and May 24. 

All general applications will be evaluated between May 25 and June 15. We hope to communicate decisions (invited, waitlisted, unable to accept) with all participants in the week beginning June 15 – all invited participants will be given one week to confirm their places before they are offered to applicants on the waitlist.  

Submissions/applications evaluation

The Sprint organisers at eLife will review the project proposals according to the following criteria: 

  • The problem: To what extent is the proposal tackling a well-defined problem that is worth solving and in line with the Sprint’s mission?
  • The solution: To what extent is the proposed work feasible within the two-day event? To what extent will the Sprint add value to the project? Please note that we will exclude all proposed projects whose main deliverable is not technical. 
  • The community: To what extent does the proposal make it clear how the project lead(s) will speak with, involve and/or collaborate with one or more of the Sprint’s target audiences
  • The contributors: To what extent does the proposal make it clear what outcomes contributors should be able to get out of working on the project?
  • Diversity and inclusion: To what extent does the proposal and/or project lead incorporate diversity in gender, geographic location, and underrepresented communities?
  • Unique value proposition: To what extent does the proposal offer something interesting, useful, innovative, or important to the event and the community? 

The Sprint community will help review the general applications according to the following criteria:

  • Your interest: to what extent does the applicant show interest and drive to participate in and contribute to the event, its projects and its community?
  • Your goals: to what extent will the applicant benefit from participating in the Sprint?
  • Your skills and experience: to what extent does the applicant demonstrate skills and experience that are needed by the projects and event?
  • Willingness to collaborate and learn: to what extent does the applicant show open-mindedness and readiness to share, learn and work with others from diverse backgrounds?

Supporting your participation

All participants who otherwise might not be able to participate in the Sprint are eligible to apply for financial support. The kinds of costs we may cover:

  • Travel (return flights, trains, etc) to and from Cambridge
  • Accommodation, for a maximum of 3 nights between September 1 and 4
  • Visa application fees
  • Childcare for the days of the event

Please see our attendance support policy for more information. 

While we wish we could support everyone who needs it, our funds are limited. We will prioritise offering support to participants from under-represented communities, and partial support may be offered in some cases. The amount of support offered will be stated clearly on a separate email that you will receive when you are invited to participate in the event. 

Please abide by the attendance support policy. If you cannot attend the Sprint with the offered amount, you can request more funding, but we cannot guarantee that we will be able to accommodate you, as we strive to use our financial assistance budget equitably. 

Diversity, accessibility and inclusion

Financial support

We prioritise the provision of travel support to applicants from under-represented communities, who are not able to find other means of support. This includes help with visa application, transportation and accommodation costs and support in ticket/accommodation bookings. If you need travel support, please apply and/or let us know as soon as possible so we can plan and arrange accordingly.


We support babywearing at the Sprint and will be able to provide a private feeding area, a fridge, a kettle and a microwave at the event venue. There is an accessible bathroom with baby changing facilities on site.

Please contact us if you would need any additional support and/or arrangement in order to participate. 

Venue accessibility

The venue has flat floor access and accessible facilities. Some areas are fitted with an induction loop and others with infrared hearing assistance. There are dedicated disabled parking bays in front of the venue. The closest accommodation with accessible rooms is directly opposite the venue (Travelodge).


We will recruit more experienced Sprint participants and community members to help mentor and onboard newcomers to the event and its community. You will be able to volunteer to mentor or request mentoring on your application form. 

Remote participation

If you cannot join us physically in Cambridge but are very keen to contribute to some of the projects, please let us know. We will try to arrange communication with the project lead(s) prior to the event to find how you could contribute and benefit from the event. 


The Sprint is informal – all participants should wear what they will feel most comfortable in. We only ask that participants refrain from using scented products such as perfumes or heavily-scented lotions, as other participants could be allergic.

At the Sprint

  • Lunch and daytime refreshments will be provided and dietary requirements will be catered for. There will be time allocated for lunch on the event schedule, but participants are free to eat and drink whenever they prefer. Snacks and refreshments will be available throughout the days.
  • There will be a quiet room for all participants who wish to spend some quiet time in private at any point during the event.
  • Photos and videos will only be taken with explicit permission from each participant.
  • There will be a gender-neutral bathroom at the event venue.
  • We encourage all participants to indicate their preferred pronouns in their name badges. 
  • The event, as well as all communications and outputs, will be in English.