FAIR Principles for Research Software - A growing area of interest for the NZ science community

Earlier this month REANNZ, with support from NeSI and Genomics Aotearoa, hosted eResearchNZ 2021. On the second day we held a Birds-of-a-Feather (BoF) session entitled ‘Best Practice for FAIR and Sustainable Research Software.

The FAIR guiding principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reproducible) were originally developed for research data. However, software has fundamental characteristics that data do not possess. Hence there is a distinct need to explore how the FAIR principles can be applied to research software. Work is now underway to create community-endorsed FAIR principles for research software and encourage their adoption via the The ReSA/RDA/FORCE11 FAIR for Research Software (FAIR4RS) Working Group.  

The purpose of this BoF was to raise the profile of the FAIR for Research Software work that is currently going on globally led by the FAIR for Research Software (FAIR4RS) WG, and try and pinpoint some local examples of research software which are doing well against the FAIR principles under development.

We started with a brief introduction into the work being undertaken by the FAIR4RS WG globally. This was followed by short talks from Nooriyah Lohani and Georgina Rae about why RSE-AuNZ and NeSI (respectively) thought Research Software was of importance. For RSEs, Research Software is their key output and so ensuring it is a first class citizen as a research artefact reflects on the success of the RSE in their role. For NeSI, Research Software is central to all aspects of our service - research software is the tool we apply to data on our platforms to do our research.

At the BoF we had about 30 attendees, the majority of which raised their hand when asked, ‘do you write Research Software’. Although, as is often the case, many of these same people did not raise their hand when asked if they considered themselves a Research Software Engineer (RSE). While many in the audience had heard about the FAIR 4 Research Software work through previous talks at eResearchNZ 2020 (Paula Martinez) and NZRSE Conference 2020 (Michelle Barker), there was a still a desire to talk about the importance of broader ‘Research Software best practice’ than purely FAIR. This seemed more a reflection of the community wanting more conversations in NZ on best practices in Research software in general - the FAIR element is one element of this - rather than a disinterest in the topic at hand.

The breakout sessions were used to identify NZ examples of software which aligned with the FAIR principles. These included EQcorrscan, Beast2 and Cylc. Further analysis would be required for each of these codes against the principles to really understand how closely they meet each principle.

We ended the BoF with an encouragement to the attendees to participate in this conversation and work. There are many ways to get involved, from receiving news, to co-writing, presenting outputs and leading your own events related to FAIR4RS. We are planning to continue the local NZ conversation around FAIR Research Software at this year’s NZRSE event planned for Spring.