I have been working with my advisor, James Howison, on a study of how grant funded scientific software work can transition to new models of sustainability. Useful software projects are continuously evolving artifacts that must stay up to date with the packages and libraries that they depend on, but grant funding is bounded and time-sensitive.
In order to understand how scientific software might escape the limitations of grant funding and make themselves sustainable for the long term, we are conducting a qualitative analysis of >100 software projects. These projects, funded through NSF's SI2 program, specifically planned to address sustainability with their awards. Structuring our data using RDF, we collected data from the projects' current and archived websites. Leveraging research on genre theory, innovation, organizational management, and FLOSS, we developed typologies for 1) the different kinds of organizations that have maintenance responsibilities for the software projects (e.g. labs) and 2) the modes of change their software undergoes as they strive for sustainability. Using these insights, we can improve science policy and funding programs by recognizing the specific challenges faced and tactics used to create sustainable scientific resources.
This project is ongoing. In addition to the content analysis described above, we have been conducting interviews with project PIs and developers. These interviews are ongoing, but we hope to share their insights in the near future. We anticipate findings relevant to funders and scientific software developers seeking advice on sustainability.
While working on this project, I collected the qualitative data and, with Dr. Howison, refined our coding scheme. I validated the the results of this content analysis using SHACL and developed a truth table to explore configurations most likely to lead to peer production. I have presented some of our early results at the Collegeville Workshop on Sustainable Scientific Software and at the Academy of Management. Our efforts lately have focused on collecting interview data. In that capacity, I have developed and revised our interview protocol and have planned and led interviews. Recently our research team has expanded to include Caifan Du and Isabella Schloss. Together, the four of us are dialoguing with our data and eagerly anticipate results sharing.