on the interaction of FOSS communities with EU research projects

The 7th Framework Programme (or FP7) is a well-known European program to fund research projects and promote the creation of the European Research Area. For some European countries, FP7-funded projects are so important that they can make the difference between an institution that has the resources to pursue its research & teaching activities and an institution that doesn't, which will then have hard time surviving.

As part of FP7 and its previous editions, the European Commission (EC) has been funding research into FOSS for a while now, with different degrees of "FOSS-involvement". Some projects routinely use FOSS products, some fund the development of relevant FOSS projects (e.g. PyPy), some try to address shortcomings of specific communities (e.g. EDOS and Mancoosi, on which you surely are aware of my bias ...), some others try to remove barriers to FOSS adoption in various contexts (e.g. FLOSSinclude). A nice overview of EU-funded FOSS projects is available as a leaflet.

As with all project funding initiatives: having a project funded does not mean it will be successfully. By analogy: the fact that the project (proposal) mentions FOSS does not mean it will be successful in interacting with FOSS communities. Luckily, the EC is well aware of existing difficulties and is now seeking input from FOSS communities to understand how to better interact with them, from the standpoint of FP7 research projects.

That is why last week I've joined, upon invitation and as a Debian representative, a meeting at the EC in Brussels on the above topics. At the table we were about a dozen people, including representatives of ongoing research projects (both from academia and large industries), EC commissioners, ... and Debian (i.e. yours truly). Beside joining the brainstorming, what I've brought to the table are some thoughts on best and worst practices on the interaction between research projects and FOSS communities, answering to some working questions.

There is probably little to see in the slides for people belonging to FOSS communities, as all suggestions would seem fairly obvious (e.g.: do not invent/use yet another FOSS license, do not jail people into specific forges, do not expect people to work at your place, etc.). Still, I assure you that most of them were not obvious for EC commissioners and that they have been very much interested in hearing Debian feedback, which is perceived has having no other interest than serving Free Software. I'm personally very proud of the fact that Debian was there, as a purely community-driven project run by volunteers, whose opinion is clearly valued by an important program as FP7 is.

Various possible next steps have been discussed: from drafting guidelines that will help reviewers in evaluating the commitment of project proposals to FOSS communities, to create a scenario-based license chooser based on the needs of FP7 projects. While I did not volunteer to take part in all such initiatives, I'll keep you posted of advancements.