Introducing 'Charting the Course: Policy and Planning for Sustainable Research Software'

Eric A. Jensen

June 22, 2023

Hello research software community!

In this blog post, I am going to introduce myself and the research software policy project I am working on with Professor Daniel S. Katz at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign (and Principal Investigator of the project).

I am a social scientist with 20+ years of professional experience working on social, policy and institutional aspects of science and technology. I am now working as a Visiting Research Scientist for the U.S. Research Software Sustainability Institute (URSSI) policy project at NCSA, as part of a two-year award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

My background

Right before this role, I worked at the Advanced Visualization Lab in NCSA as The Brinson Foundation Civic Science Fellow. That role focused on using social research to inform the design of cinematic-style data visualizations for the general public.

I started my education in the United States at Portland State University in communication. I received a scholarship for my master’s and Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Cambridge. I have spent most of my professional career outside the United States, with the longest chunk of time as a sociology professor at the University of Warwick in the UK (I am currently on a long-term career break from this professor role).

An example of my recent relevant experience working on advancing research systems is contributing to the UNESCO global policy instrument, called the Recommendation on Science & Scientific Researchers. As an invited United Nations consultant, I led the development of the evaluation framework to track progress toward more socially responsible research systems.

URSSI policy project - Charting the course

Funded by the Sloan Foundation, “Charting the Course: Policy and Planning for Sustainable Research Software” is a project aimed at reshaping the future of research software within the scholarly community through evidence-informed policy work. This initiative gathers and analyzes data about existing practices and policies, then communicates this crucial information to stakeholders. Building on established planning by URSSI, the project strives to understand why research software policy changes succeed or fail, and leverages these insights to devise and refine future policy strategies for enhanced software sustainability and impact.

This policy work focuses on grasping and altering the sociotechnical landscape of research software to foster beneficial outcomes like software sustainability and improved research, rather than targeting changes at the individual or project level.

We’re gathering and analyzing data about existing funding approaches, practices and policies. Our findings will inform future policy and funding strategies for sustainable research software. Our project’s targeted outcomes extend beyond traditional academic outputs. We aim to affect tangible policy and practice changes.

The project’s work is being carried out in an open and transparent manner, with the aim of encouraging wider community engagement. All outcomes will be openly shared, supporting the ongoing development of the sustainable software community.

I’m excited about the opportunity to use my skills as a social scientist to help advance the status of research software (in terms of sustainability and impact) in U.S. and international research systems. Research systems, including funding, publishing, institutional practices and initiatives delivering benefits beyond the academy, need to be improved in this and other ways, so they can be effective at making the world a better place.

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