Chapter 4 Community & Outreach

Researchers in academia and national labs are incentivized to become experts in one or more specialized domains. While research software plays a critical role in achieving such mastery, skills to develop such software are rarely taught in formal settings. These skills are often picked up from secondary special interest communities and online resources. We plan to formalize such community resources and associated activities in our institute plans.

The institute’s Community area will build a thriving community of like-minded peers for researchers to seek advice, learn about training opportunities, and funding announcements. A community manager will curate state of the art information on best practices for research software development. We will work closely with The Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement (CSCCE) to train a research engineer who seeks to pursue a career in community management. CSCCE specalizes in professionalizing scientific community building and their training program can be completed while the community manager is getting started with their position. The Community area will also administer a competitive fellowship program for early career researchers. These fellowships will provide funding, training, and prestige/recognition to pursue a career that promotes the development and use of research software. The thriving community will also provide venues and annual conference focused on software across disciplines where researchers can share their work, learn about new software, and software development techniques.

Many of the current challenges around sustainability of software, and those who produce it, are mostly social and cultural and not limited by any unassailable technical challenges. While other areas of the institute such as Policy and Education & Training lay down the guidelines and training necessary to grow the research software enterprise, a strong community strategy will be key to maintaining it. URSSI will act as the hub for all types of researchers interested in using and developing research software. The institute will provide necessary resources to address shared challenges and help catalyze collaborations to tackle emerging problems. URSSI’s Community & Outreach area will achieve this mission through the set of activities described below.

4.1 Community & Outreach Resources

Managing the URSSI community will require the following staff and resources:

  • Managing communications (website with regular posts, moderating a mailing list), producing high quality newsletters, and acting as a community liaison will require 2-3 FTEs.

  • This could involve a Director of Community (could be part of a PI’s time), with the remaining part of the area’s workforce split over two positions: a community manager and fellowship coordinator (to be split with the Incubator Area), reporting to the Director of Community. We will work closely with The Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement to recruit one of their scientific community manager trainees as a fellow. We may also recruit someone who will undergo their training upon joining URSSI.

Besides the budget for the 2-3 positions, the Community & Outreach area of the institute will also require budget for:

  • Technical infrastructure (including: website, mailing list, archiving of resources). Maintaining a high quality newsletter will require access to high quality data feeds, all of which require paid subscriptions. The team will also require technical help to maintain a static site on GitHub.

  • One URSSI fellow (as part of a cohort of 4-5 fellows/year) can be asked to focus on community. Much like the BSSW fellowship, an URSSI fellow can propose a community related topic to pursue for the year of their fellowship.

  • Participant support for fellows and speakers to attend annual meetings

  • Base costs for an annual URSSI conference (with the rest to be supported by registration and sponsorships)

4.2 Community & Outreach Methods

4.2.1 Fellowship Program

URSSI will run an annual fellowship program modeled heavily on the successful program run by the UK Software Sustainability Institute (Sufi and Jay 2018). We will recruit 3-5 fellows from a pool of US graduate students, postdocs, and research software engineers. Since research software suffers from a lack of diversity, the fellowship selection process committee will focus on providing opportunities for candidates from underrepresented groups. The community team will rely on existing research and tools on candidate selection to make decision making transparent and free from human biases as much as possible (Huppenkothen, McFee, and Norén 2020). One of the criteria used to select fellows will be a diversity statement that fellows will be required to submit, and ~50% of the selected fellows will be members of underrepresented groups, with a lower bound of 25%. Each fellow will affiliate with one or more areas of URSSI (Policy, Education, Community, Incubator) and propose an activity that would take no more than 1 day a week of their time. Fellowship stipend will provide an appropriate time buyout and also cover travel to biannual collaborations workshops, and the annual URSSI conference. Fellows will be given an additional travel budget to present their research software activities at society and discipline conferences. Each fellow will be paired with an URSSI mentor and success will be based on entry and exit interviews.

The fellowship program is aimed at the people and careers portion of URSSI’s impact goals.

4.2.2 In-person events

Create new community events: Building upon the work of small workshops such as Workshop on Sustainable Software for Science: Practice and Experiences (WSSSPE), there is an opportunity for URSSI to host an annual in-person conference for scientists, developers, and students to connect and discuss research software development and their applications. One of the criteria used to select funded attendees will be a diversity statement that applicants will be required to submit, and at least 25% of the selected applicants to be funded will be members of underrepresented groups. The conference will initially be medium sized (with a limit of 300 participants) and grow depending on the interest. Talks and workshops will span the entire continuum from applied computational research to software development. The event will also feature a “demo day” for URSSI incubated projects, which would be a cross cutting activity with the Incubator program. The costs for such an event will be supplemented by a mix of registration fees and sponsorships.

In-person events are aimed at the people and careers and research software ecosystem portions of URSSI’s impact goals.

4.2.3 Online community events

Promote existing activities: One of URSSI’s strengths will lie in amplifying the work of existing initiatives. We will achieve this by showcasing projects in our weekly newsletter, by inviting projects to present their work on monthly community calls (aka webinars), and by highlighting/crossposting news via partner organizations such as the Carpentries, rOpenSci, Workshop on Sustainable Software for Science (WSSSPE), Mozilla, and others. The community manager will work with various parters and data feeds to curate and disseminate a high quality newsletter similar to the the data science newsletter operated by the Academic Data Science Allaince (ADSA). The institute will budget for costs associated with newsfeed subscriptions.

Community calls: Modeled after the successful series organized by Mozilla and rOpenSci, a monthly webinar series will expose researchers to the latest best practices and new trends in research software, and will provide them an opportunity to interact with prominent research software engineers. This free and open series will provide additional opportunity for the community to participate, especially for those that are constrained by travel. Past calls, including videos, code, and Q&A will be archived and made searchable by a dedicated community coordinator. We will consider diversity when chosing participants who will present in these calls, and seek to have at least 25% of the presenters being members of underrepresented groups.

Online community events are aimed at all three portions of URSSI’s impact goals: research software sustainability, people and careers, and the research software ecosystem.

4.2.4 Curating and disseminating best practices

URSSI fellows will convene ad hoc panels of experts to curate information on state of the art practices for scientific computing. The topics will cover many foundations of research software engineering including but not limited to collaborative software developing with modern version control, software testing, code review, packaging and distribution, and overall software design. The materials will also provide strong guidance on open science practices to increase impact of such work. These include guidance on licensing, properly archiving research software, and citation.

Curating and disseminating best practices is primarily aimed at the research software sustainability portion of URSSI’s impact goals, and secondarily at the people and careers and research software ecosystem portions.

4.2.5 Newsletter and social media

There is a huge opportunity for URSSI to produce and disseminate a high quality newsletter to keep the community informed about research software news, notable research papers, critical software, events and job openings. The data science community already benefits from such a newsletter that is maintained by Laura Noren and Brad Stegner and financially supported by the Academic Data Science Alliance. The community manager will curate news, jobs, software releases, conferences, and activities of other organizations (by crossposting). For community calls, we will invite speakers from related communities such as SSI, BSSw, US-RSE, and also solicit presentations from the larger community. All material will be stored in public GitHub repositories under a permissive license to allow people to use and remix the content while contributing back to the original source.

The four major channels of communication will be a website, a newsletter, mailing list, and accounts on social media such as Twitter and Slack.

The newsletter and social media are primarily aimed at all the research software ecosystem portion of URSSI’s impact goals, and secondarily at the research software sustainability and people and careers portions.

4.2.6 Other activities

Besides the activities described above, the institute will feature these ongoing activities:

  • URSSI will serve as a broker for software expertise and connect developers to scientific projects seeking contractors, expert advice or collaborators on grants. The community team will coordinate some combination of a job/skills board to better leverage expertise among US institutions. [TODO: Flesh out details of this program]
  • Promote training events from URSSI and other communities
  • Develop an ambassador program for early career researchers to promote sustainable software and current issues to their local communities. Examples of similar programs include the Campus Champions program at XSEDE, and the SSI fellows program (Sufi and Jay 2018).

An URSSI ambassador program will be a light touch activity (less engaged than the fellows program) and provide students at US colleges and universities with resources to support campus colleagues effectively use research software to advance their research. The program will provide a venue to build community among early stage students (advanced undergraduates, beginning graduate students). One of the criteria used to select ambassadors will be a diversity statement that potential ambassadors will be required to submit, and at least 25% of the ambassadors will be members of underrepresented groups.

  • Hosting a blog, with a series of staff and guest blog posts, including cross-posting relevant blog posts from others

4.3 Community & Outreach Assessment and Metrics

Goals:

  • Steadily grow the number of subscribers and participants each year
  • Grow the diversity of participants, instructors, and speakers each year. Self reported data on affiliations and domains of expertise will also provide a measurable metric of impact across domains.
  • Grow the number of applications we receive for the fellowship program every year
  • Grow the rate of paper and poster submissions every year
  • Improve the careers of those who participate in URSSI

Metrics:

  • Number of subscribers to the newsletter, visitors to the website, and social media followers over time
  • Quantify instructors, presenters, lesson developers, and participants by demographic and geographic breakdown
  • Count citations of software that have participated in URSSI
  • Tracking career paths of fellows will also act as a measure of success for the program

Impacts:

This table maps URSSI activities from this chapter to the three portions of URSSI’s intended impact. (A complete table of impacts from all URSSI activities can be found in Chapter 10 (Metrics and Evaluation).) In the impact cells, X indicates a designed primary impact on an activity, and y indicates a designed secondary impact.

Table 4.1: Impact table
Activity Impact on Research Software Impact on people and careers Impact on research software ecosystem
Fellowships X
In-person events X X
Community calls X X X
Curate best practices X y y
Newsletter & social media y X

References

Huppenkothen, Daniela, Brian McFee, and Laura Norén. 2020. “Entrofy Your Cohort: A Transparent Method for Diverse Cohort Selection.” PLOS ONE 15 (7): 1–35. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0231939.
Sufi, Shoaib, and Caroline Jay. 2018. “Raising the Status of Software in Research: A Survey-Based Evaluation of the Software Sustainability Institute Fellowship Programme [Version 1; Peer Review: 3 Approved with Reservations].” F1000Research 7 (1599). https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.16231.1.