Report: Sustainability in Research-Driven Open Source Software

Danielle Robinson, Phd and Joe Hand
Last updated: Oct 7, 2022

Earlier this year, we received a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to identify systemic challenges to the sustainability of data driven tooling in science and scholarship. We are excited to share our report documenting our survey of people involved in research-driven open source software (OSS). The report describes key challenges encountered by communities in the space, and identifies where investment can meet immediate needs in the open source software for research community.

We feel there is a critical need to advance systems supporting researchers and the broader OSS community to create long-lasting software communities:

The increasing importance of software in reproducible research burdens researchers trained in scientific disciplines to produce lasting software products. Supporting and developing the communities building OSS will create capacity to support the future of data-driven research.

In this changing landscape — what will prove sustainable in the next 20 years? How can the projects and organizations emerge from today’s transition with the resources needed to prioritize innovation in data science for the pursuit of research? How can scientific and public interest communities grow with constrained resources?

As a nonprofit organization supporting a variety of public technology projects, CS&S works intensively with OSS projects through various stages of growth. This work will inform our path forward as we continue to develop programs that support OSS for science and in the public interest, and we hope it will add context and new voices to the conversations on OSS sustainability in research.

Areas of Impact

Research-driven open source software (OSS) is a critical component of the scientific research process and has a broad usage in many data-driven industries. Generally, this software is open source software developed by, maintained by, having contributors from, and/or used by the research community. This includes projects developed for one paper or research lab and projects where researchers are one of many stakeholders. The research OSS community has unique constraints and stakeholders, placing it in a challenging position relative to the broader OSS ecosystem.

To build capacity and sustain OSS communities serving the research, we call for work developing three key areas of impact:

  1. Growth strategy program for research-driven OSS projects
  2. OSS leadership development program
  3. Advocacy skill development program

Growth strategy program for research-driven OSS projects

  • Rationale: Transitions between project phases (such as those identified in this post) provide key points of leverage to impact project sustainability.
  • Approach: Provide focused support for projects in transition phases or to support transition through an incubator-style program, combining work sprints with supported implementation and iteration of new practices.
  • Outcomes: Increased project transparency, successful implementation or maturation of governance models, increased diversity in revenue streams, reduced burnout among team members and leaders, increase in the size and diversity of contributor communities

OSS leadership development program

  • Rationale: Many small OSS projects underlie our collective scientific knowledge. The longevity of these projects is threatened by project leaders lacking time and resources for mentorship and lack of training and attention to OSS best practices.
  • Approach: Develop support systems for projects with fewer contributors, where many early-career researchers build skills.
  • Outcomes: Stronger project leadership, reduced burnout, new leaders who are sup- ported by the OSS community.

Advocacy skill development program

  • Rationale: The support of institutions (academic, industry, and government) is critical for the future of research-driven OSS.
  • Approach: Advocacy skill development programs — short term or cohort-based — targeted at developing specific skill sets needed to advocate for sustaining research-driven OSS projects in complex research-focused environments.
  • Outcomes: Researcher advocates for OSS investment within institutions, increased partnerships with and investment in OSS by institutions.

Read the full report.


Executive Director & President

Thank you for using our resources! We value your feedback to help us improve the quality of our documentation. Please share your thoughts on the resources you have accessed.

Share feedback