Developing a pathway to research software sustainability

Research software is critical to supporting science. Between 1998-2016, the NSF made more than 18k awards totaling $9.6 billion related to research software.
Modern research is digital: data & publications are created, analyzed, and stored electronically using tools and methods expressed in software. Much software is developed specifically for research, by researchers. This research software is essential to progress in almost all research fields, but it’s often not developed in an efficient or sustainable way, and knowledge is often locked away in individual laboratories or only shared via method papers that cannot directly be used by others. Researchers who develop software know their disciplines, but often don’t have training and understanding of best practices to ease development & maintainability and to encourage sustainability & reproducibility. And, developers don’t match the diversity of overall society or of user communities.

S2I2 Conceptualization: URSSI: Conceptualizing a US Research Software Sustainability Institute

We have been funded by the NSF as “S2I2 Conceptualization: URSSI: Conceptualizing a US Research Software Sustainability Institute.” We proposed that the long-term goals of an institute should include:
  • Help research software projects grow, become sustainable, and develop a governance model
  • Provide developers with good practices
  • Track software impact and usage, which are difficult to measure and interpret
  • Help grantees of major funders communicate and share resources with each other
  • Give the public a better understanding of science
  • Bring more diversity into the field
In our conceptualization project, we want to:
  • Conceptualize (plan) a US Research Software Sustainability Institute that goes beyond resources like GitHub
  • Cut across existing activities funded by NSF and beyond
  • Directly and indirectly positively impact all software development and maintenance projects across all of NSF
  • Focus on the entire research software ecosystem, including the people who create, maintain, and use research software

URSSI Activities

This project is conceptualizing a US Research Software Sustainability Institute that will validate and address various classes of concerns impacting all software development and maintenance projects across all of NSF. URSSI conceptualization includes workshops and a widely-distributed survey that will engage important stakeholder communities to learn about the software they produce and use, and the ways they contemplate sustaining it, following the paths blazed by other successful software institutes. The workshops, survey, and community management approach allow the conceptualization project to iteratively build on existing, extensive understanding of the challenges for sustainable software and its developers. The project also addresses how URSSI could formalize, diversify, and improve the pipeline under which students enter universities, learn about and contribute to software, then graduate to full-time positions where they make use of their software skills, to increase the diversity of those entering research software development and to retain diversity over their university careers.

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