The UK Software Sustainability Institute: Phase 3

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre

Abstract

In Phases 1 (Prepare) and 2 (Deploy) we developed an understanding of the state of the nation of research software, its developers/users, its requirements, and how software is changing the way research is conducted. Building on our experience and expert understanding, Phase 3 (Expand) will focus on the creation of sustainable and self-supporting communities of practice to empower cultural change that enables better practice to be widely adopted to: foster a culture of sharing expertise and enabling; integrate project consultancy, training and awareness raising to effect and support change; move from local and individual actions to national and community level effects. Our goal is that the UK research community be enabled to take full advantage of software and, in doing so, to support the conduct of excellent research.


Our objectives are:

A) Widespread adoption of research best practice: agreeing and defining best practice with reference to research software, and enabling its widespread adoption to ensure the reliability and reproducibility of modern research. Enabling development of models and blueprints for initiating, nurturing and maturing communities of practice, enhancing our status in the UK and internationally as the go-to institution for insight into research software matters and catalysing new international collaborations.

B) Cutting-edge policy and guidance: collaborating with stakeholders to create and disseminate evidence-based guidance, infrastructure, policies and tools. This leads to improved reusability of research software and its associated research outputs.

C) A capable research community: based on a sustainable and scalable community-led model that will push the boundaries of knowledge across domains to maintain excellence and drive innovation and career paths, to increase the recognition of research software. Supporting collaboration in the UK research society and helping it become more resilient and sustainable will achieve an increased social and cultural impact.

D) An open evidence bank: identifying and generating datasets, conducting analysis to provide insight and evidence of the importance of software, people and practices. This enables costing of resources required to develop, maintain and preserve research software.


To achieve these goals, we will be:

1) Raising awareness: empower and develop a cohort of ambassadors for good practice through our Fellowship; outreach to stakeholders at all levels on research software issues; to deliver adoption of best practice.

2) Seeding change: build multiple sustainable Communities of Practice (CoP): for research domains, for techniques, for stakeholder groups, for UK institutions; set up expert panels that commission topic-based programmes of workshops, policy studies and outreach; nurture and scale existing CoPs e.g. through RSE exchanges; develop tools and services to support CoPs; to guarantee the widespread adoption of research best practice.

3) Providing expertise: create regional training hubs to continue growth of provision; commission new courses; refocus open call consultancy; conduct feasibility study for an RSE brokerage; to form a capable research community.

4) Influencing policy: publish new guidance and standards; work with international collaborators to put policy into practice; conduct research that improves understanding of research software; to deliver cutting-edge policy and guidance and build an open evidence bank.

Planned Impact

SSI will promote effective use and sustainability of software - Better Software Better Research to ensure that the UK's research and innovation infrastructure can be leveraged by the UK research community, industry and other users to deliver against UKRI's ambitions. By enabling best practice we diminish wasteful reinvention and encourage reuse of software by academia and industry. By developing the computational skills of the research community we will increase the skills base in the economy. Supporting the SSI thus offers an excellent return on investment that contribute directly to UK competitiveness and impacts global economic performance.

In Phase 1 (Prepare) and Phase 2 (Deploy) we established schemes (e.g Fellowship, workshops, consultancy, training, advocacy) to enable knowledge transfer and collaboration between engineers and researchers that achieved value and impact. In Phase 3 (Extend) the work will be scaled through four sets of activities: 1) raising awareness, 2) seeding change, 3) providing expertise and 4) influencing policy. This will empower sustainable change, grow opportunities to learn and access expertise and provide an evidence base for interventions in the 250,000 strong UK research software community.

Academic researchers will gain access to tailored communities of computational practice, training in deeper software skills to face new research challenges, nearby RSE groups to turn to for help, and confidence that work being done to improve practice is backed by rigorous evidence. The maintenance, expansion, exploitation and community development of codes will directly benefit them and others in the UK and the wider international audience.

The commercial and public sector will have access to more robust and high quality software from the research sector, with the potential and incentives for recontribution. We will pursue the commercial exploitation of software with our industrial partners. The commercial sector will benefit from access to people who have gained skills required in industry (through SSI training), improving the ease which researchers and RSEs can transfer to the sector.

UK and international policy makers will see direct benefit from our research into the demographics of the research software community and its economic impact. Our response to inquiries organised by policy stakeholders (e.g. UK government, funding organisations) and internationally (e.g. NSF/DoE, CANARIE, ARDC, OECD) will guide their activities. We will highlight software with capability and potential to define policy in the areas of climate change, mental health, data privacy, social mobility, changing populations, ecosystem services and pollution policy to the appropriate governmental and non-governmental bodies. Publishers and research administrators will be informed by our work on software's place in scholarly communication, software citation and discovery, and software management and assessment.

Public engagement with the research software community will be enabled and enhanced by our open and online channels. Improvements in research enabled by reliable and reproducible software will directly impact our collaborators working in biofuels, fusion energy, health interventions, and drug discovery which are all areas in the public consciousness.

Successful software interventions will be promoted and used as exemplars with our network of international organisations. Our authority in UK, European and international technical and scientific standards bodies, scientific networks and research infrastructures will be used to promote sustainable software practice. Our work will support the UKRI Research and Innovation Infrastructure Roadmap. We will assist key scientific software groups to adopt better development methods, bring together islands of expertise to create critical mass in the community, foster the integration of appropriate software products, and facilitate a fuller dialogue between stakeholders.

Publications

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Cohen J (2020) The Four Pillars of Research Software Engineering in IEEE Software

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Katz D (2020) Software and Data Citation in Computing in Science & Engineering

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Lamprecht A-L (2019) Towards FAIR principles for research software in Data Science

 
Description The SSI3 award has resulted in a better understanding of how to support communities of practice that support researchers and research software engineers in establishing and enshrining good software practices.

This has included development of scalable training and guidance, international collaboration to develop better practices around software citation and software preservation, and campaigning for better career paths and recognition of those involved in research software.
Exploitation Route Our materials and data are licensed under a CC-BY license enabling others to reuse them.

As part of the grant, we are establishing an open evidence bank to support research in this area.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

 
Description Contributions have been made to recommendations around digital skills as part of an OECD report.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Contribution of Software and Skills section in UKRi report "The UK's research and innovation infrastructure: opportunities to grow our capability"
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL https://www.ukri.org/files/infrastructure/the-uks-research-and-innovation-infrastructure-opportuniti...
 
Description EOSC FAIR Working Group
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
 
Description NISO Taxonomy, Definitions, and Recognition Badging Scheme Working Group
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description OECD Expert Group on Digital Skills for Science (Neil Chue Hong)
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL https://www.innovationpolicyplatform.org/digital-skills-data-intensive-science-oecd-project
 
Description Socio-technical resilience in software development (STRIDE)
Amount £998,694 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/T017198/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2020 
End 01/2023
 
Description HDR-UK Curriculum Development 
Organisation Health Data Research UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Contributing expert knowledge to assist in design of training curriculum.
Collaborator Contribution Information and feedback on training requirements for health data researchers.
Impact Development of training curriculum for health data researchers.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Software Preservation Network 
Organisation Software Preservation Network
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Collaboration on Software Preservation Network's Training and Education Working Group to develop resources around software preservation. Also input into SPN's future strategic direction through steering committee.
Collaborator Contribution Collaboration on Software Preservation Network's Training and Education Working Group to develop resources around software preservation.
Impact This collaboration is multi-disciplinary. Outputs have not yet been published.
Start Year 2018
 
Description The Carpentries 
Organisation The Carpentries
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Coordination of Carpentries training events in the UK. Training of Carpentries instructors. Contribution of training material. Facilitation of development of new courses for social sciences and life sciences.
Collaborator Contribution Production of training materials. Provision of central administrative infrastructure. Governance of open source materials production. Organisation of international workshops.
Impact Multi-disciplinary. Training of hundreds of researchers in basic software engineering and data management and analysis skills.
Start Year 2018