The Society of Research Software Engineering: Strategy 2020/2021
The Society of Research Software Engineering has a mission to “advance the practice of research software engineering for the public benefit in such ways as the charity trustees consider appropriate.” Over our first year the society has established a sound membership base and continues to serve the Research Software Engineering (RSE) community by providing a national conference, a community communication platform and support for a range of events. A summary of the activities of our first year can be found in our first Trustees Report which was presented at our AGM (https://bit.ly/socrse-report-2020).
Recently we conducted our first community feedback event, with 61 registered and 32 giving feedback in advance. This event was the first of many planned events which encourages members to ensure that their voice is heard within the society. As a result of this event the society has drawn up this strategy document to identify areas of importance which the society will aim to address. Our proposed strategy is based around three pillars which align with the Society’s aims:
- Environment: Creating a research environment which recognises software and its contributors
- Skills: Enhancing the provision of skills for researchers and the RSE community
- People: Increasing awareness and opportunities for the role of RSEs
The society aims to revise and release a strategy each year following the appointment of new trustees.
Environment: Creating a research environment which recognises software and its contributors
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published extensive guidance on “Building digital workforce capacity and skills for data-intensive science” . Recognition of software, and the people who develop it, features as a key component in attracting and retaining diverse and digitally skilled staff. An important aspect of recognition is the development of career pathways and reward structures for research software engineers. UKRI has a firm commitment to “increase the recognition of all roles which contribute to the research process”  and as such is actively pursuing a number of initiatives such as the Technician Commitment and the Researcher Development Concordat . Despite this progress there are clear aspects of UK research guidance practice that do not meet the requirements to achieve recognition of software or the people who contribute to it. The Society will address this by:
- Engaging and lobbying UKRI and other funding councils to ensure funding guidance around the inclusion of research software and the people who develop it to promote a recognition and reward structure within research institutions.
- Working with software focused partners such as the SSI to lobby for the adoption of policy that encourages recognition of software as (and as a key part of) research practice and outputs (including publication and impact).
- Working with UKRI and other stakeholders to create policy and national awareness campaigns that encourage research institutions to provide recognition and reward for RSEs through defined career paths.
- Encouraging the RSE community to actively participate in the process of reviewing and awarding of funding in which software plays an important role.
Skills: Enhancing the provision of skills for researchers and the RSE community
It is well established that there is a digital skills gap within the research environment. Surveys conducted by the SSI have provided (and continue to provide) clear evidence of the lack of training within the broader researcher community. Initiatives such as The Carpentries are providing mechanisms for RSEs to address this, however more needs to be done to expand the capacity for national delivery. RSEs themselves also require personal development not just on technical topics but especially around leadership skills so that they can become successful ambassadors for change in research practice. The society will endeavour to:
- Work with the funding agencies and other stakeholders to enhance the provision of funding to support the delivery of essential training to researchers delivered by RSEs.
- Deliver a professional development mentoring programme for members.
- Engage with industry to provide training on commercial and community tools via a membership benefits programme with mutual benefit.
- Encourage, endorse and provide financial support for RSEs to run events that meet our objectives to enhance skills provision through an events and initiatives funding scheme for members.
- Enhance the support for Regional and Special Interest RSE groups.
- Create working groups for members to allow the RSE community to engage with and instigate key policies and initiatives.
- Continue our tradition of running a high profile conference and supporting events to bring the RSE community together.
- Support RSEs and initiatives that offer training to increase RSEs educational skills. E.g. Train the trainer events.
People: Increasing awareness and opportunities for the role of RSEs
One positive outcome from the controversy around the modelling of the COVID-19 pandemic is that many more people are aware that the reliability of research results is intrinsically linked to the reliability of the software used to generate them. Awareness around the importance of the role that RSEs play in the reliability of software is central to the society supporting its members and needs to continue to be advocated to increase visibility of the role. RSEs also need opportunities that allow them to develop their careers. It is encouraging that funders have begun to develop opportunities for RSEs such as the RSE fellowships and more recently the inclusive Open Fellowship which supports applicants to focus on software engineering or to include non-technical elements to create positive change in the research community. The Society will:
- Engage with UKRI and other funders to ensure that funding opportunities are extended to RSEs at all seniority levels to create a culture of investment in software as infrastructure and to encourage development of emerging leadership within the RSE community.
- Work with stakeholders to lobby for the adoption of policy which encourages visibility of the people behind software to raise awareness of the important work that they do.
- Improve our membership benefits by offering a range of improved incentives to increase our community representation and lobbying power.
- Engage with the international community and international initiatives to enhance national associations providing a platform and support for new communities for bootstrap.
In addition to the three strategic pillars highlighted above the Society will continue to improve our internal processes and governance to ensure efficient running of the Society to continue to meet our needs.
- OECD Science Technology and Industry Policy Paper No. 90, http://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/publicdisplaydocumentpdf/?cote=DSTI/STP/GSF(2020)6/FINAL&docLanguage=En
- The Technician Commitment Initiative (website), https://www.technicians.org.uk/technician-commitment
- The Researcher Development Concordat (website) https://www.vitae.ac.uk/policy/concordat