The "Report on the AHRC Digital/Software Requirements Survey 2021" is now available. The original survey run by the Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) on the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UKRI AHRC) community aimed to understand the views on digital/software tools, the experience of developing such tools, the practices, learning intentions and preferences around how to resource projects involving digital/software. Initially, the report intended to help inform the digital infrastructure funding developed by the AHRC. In its final form, we believe it will benefit the AHRC and other arts and humanities funders, the organisations which support arts and humanities research and practice, the communities of practice, the members of AHRC's community, and those wanting to learn more about these topics, whether to inform their own practice or to understand the field.
Although self-identified Digital Humanities (DH) practitioners constituted a significant majority among the survey respondents, we see this as a strength. DH scholars are early adopters of digital/software technologies and techniques, and we hope they will lead the way for others to follow in their path.
The report concluded that there was a clear demand - and need - to provide software training, improve recognition of software outputs, and expand resourcing for software skills and techniques in the arts and humanities communities. It suggests funders should tailor funding calls, proposals, the submission process and review protocols to encourage the development of skills and training by and for those at different career stages and support the recognition of software and digital innovation as high-value research outputs.
Furthermore, institutions should expand their support for software development and provide training in computational techniques and skills more obviously tailored to humanistic research questions, encouraging training attendance, and supporting the development of training pathways in relevant techniques and skills which signpost their relevance for arts and humanities researchers.
Communities of practice also have a key role in creating and raising awareness of learning opportunities and encouraging sustainable software practices via networking and collaboration.
In addition to the major conclusions of the report, there are other useful aspects to policymakers, researchers and trainers working in the AHRC space.
There is a review of digital and software literacy in the arts and humanities that contextualises the findings of the report and defines its place in the area's wider context of work.
The methodology describing the approach taken can help inform other investigations into software needs in various domains and fields of work – it’s a useful data point in putting together your own evidence-based investigation.
The results help highlight what people use and what people would like to learn next. This can be used to inform training programmes that cater for the arts and humanities, including computing techniques (e.g. data cleaning, statistics, topic modelling) and computing skills (version control, user experience, microservices).
The report also includes a comprehensive list of sub-stages that researchers go through in the various phases of the data analysis pipeline, from collection, processing, visualisation, and management of data to publications. We believe this information could be particularly useful in informing resources that allow the exploration of tools and techniques for community members.
Motivation for software use for different career stages is also covered within the report. This is a great checking tool for individuals and project teams, which can help trainers and those pushing for technology change in the AHRC space to understand the real motivations behind people’s choices.
We also explore responses around how software/digital practices and solutions could improve the area of work of those in the AHRC community, looking at what people want more of (e.g. training, sharing), what they feel could be better (e.g. techniques, interoperability), and what should be easier (e.g. digital conversations and the availability of more standard methods).
Towards the end of the report, we cover more discursive conclusions for three major stakeholders in the AHRC community: funders, institutions and communities of practice. Recognition of digital/software innovation is highlighted, alongside improving training opportunities and provision. If you want to find out what the journey of a researcher in this field might look like, we have pulled out personas for different career stages. The report offers a wealth of information about the kinds of training researchers have and need, the particular areas for development, and the next steps for better supporting software in the arts and humanities research community.
The report is available now, and its DOI is 10.5281/zenodo.7686347
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The survey for the "Report on the AHRC Digital/Software Requirements Survey 2021" took place earlier than the investigation the AHRC commissioned the SSI to do, which was led by Rebecca Taylor and Simon Hettrick and called "Shaping data and software policy in the arts and humanities research community".
The AHRC Digital/Software requirements was the forerunner to “Shaping data and software policy in the arts and humanities research community”. The former had a narrower remit, was undertaken as part of SSI’s core Phase 3 grant, used a quantitative survey instrument only, focused on software use, training and software resourcing, and was focused on the more digitally literate part of the AHRC community. Whereas the latter used mixed methods and a representative sampling of the whole AHRC community and focused on digital, software and data skills and practices.
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