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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