REF 2021 Software Output Guidance

Posted by j.laird on 18 November 2020 - 9:30am

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Photo by Aryan Dhiman on Unsplash

By Caroline Jay, Neil Chue Hong, Simon Hettrick, Robert Haines, Stuart Grieve.

On 21 October 2020, the Software Sustainability Institute published its Good Practice in Submitting Software Outputs for REF 2021. This was developed in consultation with Research Excellence Framework (REF) sub-panel 11 and has been approved by all other panels, so it can be used by the whole research community.

Software is significantly under-represented in the REF. Despite around 70% of research being reliant on software, in the last REF only 0.02% of research outputs were related to software. One of the barriers preventing the submission of software is the lack of understanding about how to judge software submissions. The guidance was designed to help both the panels who are assessing outputs and the institutions who are submitting them. It’s important because it recognises, firstly, that software is an important output of scholarly research, and secondly, that software is not the same as an academic paper and therefore needs to be assessed differently.

Producing the guidance was a team effort which began at our 2019 All Fellows meeting in Brockenhurst, in a group discussion that included the authors of the blog. Following this, the guidance has had input from or been reviewed by people from across the software sustainability landscape, and been approved by the Society of Research Software Engineering.

For those of you submitting software outputs to REF, we hope the guidance is useful. We are also optimistic that, more generally, it will raise the profile of software as a research output that is different to a journal publication, but just as valuable.


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