Open source software supported in the French open science policy

France recognises open source in its National Plan for Open Science 2021-2024

Published on: 30/07/2021

The French Ministry of Research shared its Second National Plan for Open Science for the years 2021-2024 on 6 July. The Plan foresees several initiatives aimed at increasing the reach of open science principles, and, for the first time, includes open source as a critical component of scientific research that needs to be recognised and supported.

The first Plan was announced in 2018 and was so far coordinated by the Committee for Open Science bringing together the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, research and higher education organisations and scientific community. Throughout the three years since the introduction of the policy, the percentage of open access scientific publications rose from 41% to 56%.

The new Plan builds on the progress made within the first national plan, the 2016 Digital Republic Act and the 2020 Research Programming Law. It extends its scope to include source code associated with research and aims to address open science challenges opportunities and challenges in a more overarching manner.

The Plan is divided into four themes, including: generalising open access to publications; structuring, sharing and opening up research data that, among others, foresees creation of a federal national platform for research data Recherche Data Gouv; and most notably the third theme - opening up and promoting source code produced by research.

Main measures include:

  • Showcase and support the dissemination under an open license of source code from publicly funded research programmes.
  • Highlight the production of source code from higher education, research and innovation.
  • Define and promote an open software policy.

As the document states within this theme, “software plays a key role in scientific research, and it can be a tool, a result, and a research object”. The National Plan aims to ensure that the source code and software produced in the framework of French public research are developed, maintained, preserved and treasured. Open source code published under licenses recognised by the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative will be prioritised in dissemination activities and France will put effort into development and preservation of source code and provide support to the Software Heritage Foundation’s archive.

Additionally, the Strategy aims to make the French national open archive HAL, the research data platform Recherche Data Gouv, and Software Heritage a more collaborative ecosystem connecting code, data and publications within the broader scientific community. Some other concrete goals of the strategy foresee that:

  • A software catalogue will be created to increase visibility of its contribution to research and an open software research prize will be set up to highlight exceptional work in the domain,
  • A College of Experts for source code and software will be created within the governmental Committee for Open Science and a closer connection with initiatives such as the Interministerial Directorate for Digital Technology (DINUM), the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), the Research Data Alliance (RDA), the Research Software Alliance and FORCE 11 will be made,
  • A National Charter for Open Software will be developed by higher education and research actors and a set of recommendations for funding open software will be proposed,
  • More recognition will be provided for software production in researchers’ careers and while assessing research proposals.

Roberto di Cosmo, Founder and CEO of Software Heritage, Computer Science professor, researcher and a long-term advocate of open software is positive about the strategy and its goals:

"The French Plan for Open Science recognizes that software is an essential component of academic research, and a precious product of human creativity. It contains a broad panel of groundbreaking measures designed to ensure that software will be on a par with publications and data: priority to dissemination as open source, provisions for long term archival and reference in the Software Heritage universal archive, a prize for distinguishing remarkable projects, collaboration with the French OSPO, and the creation of a dedicated software committee in the National Open Science Committee. It is the first time that such an organic, clearly designed strategy for (open source) software in research is laid out in an official national strategy document: we hope this may serve as a model for similar initiatives in other countries."

Full National Plan for Open Science is available in English on French government’s site ‘Ouvrir la science’.