Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Models of sustainability workshop

Yesterday, I went along to the workshop on Models of Sustainability, jointly organised by JISC and the Oxford eResearch Centre. It was an interesting workshop, with a keynote by Malcolm Read followed by presentations from eScience projects. Here are a few of the issues and ideas discussed:
  • Have eScience Programme outputs reached the level of sustainability needed? How long is a reasonable length of time to expect a step change?
  • Can we have generic tools given that research itself is not generic?
  • How much tinkering of tools and software do researchers actually want to do?
  • Although we have a culture of sharing software, there isn't the same culture of sharing data (file sharing does not equal data sharing!). The problem is not technological but cultural
  • In time, will current students bring their social networking skills into research?
  • What can be learned from Athens to Shibboleth move in terms of running a development programme to inform a production programme?
  • Sustainability = continuing efforts, changing culture, reducing duplication, encouraging sharing and discussion, open collaboration. Must not forget the broader sustainability agenda (e.g. HEFCE shared services programme)
  • The sofware engineering needs to be sound and built on a solid framework. Academia is perhaps not geared to developing robust software and middleware; funding agencies generally haven't funded software development; career progression reward for those developing software is difficult; staff recruitment and retention issues; sustainability not even on radar screen of many HEIs and most academics
  • One option is the spinoff company - in this instance, it is important to establish trust between company and university. Takes time to get technology to market. The DTI/Technology Standards Board follow on is a great bridge. Keep the team together as far as possible
  • The team needs a mix of scientific, domain, financial and business experience
  • Sustainability depends on users but need to promote long term view (vision of integrating compute, data and collaboration is not easy for researchers in a hurry with a short term view); new ways of working takes researchers out of their comfort zones
  • If you want to continue to innovate, maintaining what you have becomes more difficult – issues of scalability, competition for support. There is a tension between maintaining an infrastructure and innovating
  • Sustainability lessons – work with user community; constantly innovate and deliver; develop modular easy to use software; strong promotion, personal ownership; vision - many new ideas
  • Innovation has 2 strands – new technical capability, new science communities
  • Is there a role for Full Economic Costing in sustainability?
  • Need to get across that software and data are facilities and therefore need managing
  • What is the role of institutions in helping to sustain a project?

Slides will be available from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/programme_einfrastructure/modelsofsustainability

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