Building scientific communities with strong ties to the broader public runs in just the same way as building any community in this day and age - which means very differently to the way things used to be. The internet, open data, and cheap global communication allow a whole new layer of activism and effort by small groups of researchers to stand beside the traditional conferences, funding sources, and institutional relationships. The successful research community of today will be a lot more in touch with the public who stand to benefit from its work, and with the advocates and activists who support progress in the field. You might look at calorie restriction research as an example of strong ties between researchers and advocates, leading to a greater number of human research programs and a greater visibility for calorie restriction as a lifestyle choice. Similarly for aging research: efforts like the Methuselah Foundation and SENS Research Foundation have emerged as much from visionaries and support outside the research community as from the work of those within.
It may be easier to build communities these days, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Effort is definitely involved, along with some measure of fortuitous happenstance, the upkeep of watering holes and initiatives, a need for strong personalities to make and maintain diverse connections, the creation of collaboration tools and outreach programs. The list goes on.
Some of the folk at the International Longevity Alliance are enthused by the idea of building more and better threads to link and strengthen the longevity science community. From their point of view there is much yet to be done in terms of opening up collaboration between research groups and between researchers and interested members of the public. For the moment their efforts center around the Denigma resource database:
When I started research 12 years ago, articles were on paper or from books borrowed at the library in whatever language, and contacting researchers was done through letters sent by mail - needless to say the pace of research was much slower then. The Internet and the area of computerized experimental data is changing everything. PubMed is the new bible and collaborations *can* go at the speed of emails. *Can*, because there is still much that can be done to go even faster:
Research labs generally remain local and closed places that do not interact much with other ones, even if it were beneficial for both. In many cases this a matter of distance and not knowing each other, which some summarize as follows:"science improves at the rate of congresses".
Citizen science is a burgeoning new revolution: Imagine what could happen if a large part of the longevity alliance (currently about 5,000 members) was attending lab meetings and helping in one way or another... For example statistics, experiment design, grant or paper writing, or basic administration (another break for research...)
Luckily we are not the first ones to try to optimise and systematize research, in biogerontology in particular: pioneers have created important bricks for the grand edifice. We have the ingredients and now we need to create a recipe to be adopted by aging research This was clearly highlighted at the Eurosymposium on Healthy Ageing (EHA2012, organised by Heales in Brussels, and where various members of the International Longevity Alliance met). The need for a centralized place for collaboration against aging was strongly raised and a few days later emails were springing on the matter, with names like "Collaborative Resource for Gerontology" (by Georg Fullen, who presented Denigma at EHA2012) or "inSilicoSENS" (by Aubrey de Grey, where SENS = Strategies to Engineer Negligible Senescence).
There is a fair amount of this sort of sentiment in the broader research community these days: towards open publishing, greater transparency, relationships established with philanthropists and supporters in the public. It is the mood of the times, enabled by the falling cost of communication and the increasing capacity of the internet. But mood of the times or not, it still takes people to do the work, bang the drum, build the tools.