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Members of PenCHORD team makes switch to Open Source working

Posted on December 15th 2017

Members of PenCLAHRC's operational research team, PenCHORD, have been working towards transferring their work to Free Open Source Software (FOSS). Dr Mike Allen, Senior Modeller with PenCHORD, and Operational Researcher Kerry Pearn, have successfully made the switch to FOSS, which means everything they are doing is now free of any license or intellectual property (IP) considerations, and they can share their work freely for others to use.

With FOSS, anyone is freely licensed to use, copy, study and change the software in any way, and the source code is openly shared so that people are encouraged to voluntarily improve the design of the software. This is in contrast to proprietary software, where the software is under restrictive copyright and the source code is typically hidden from the users.

Dr Allen feels that they have set a precedent, which he hopes will inspire their colleagues to make the switch:

"Whilst this may not seem a dramatic shift, it has taken a year of hard work to achieve this complete switch of our work from commercial licensed software to FOSS, which anyone can use and apply. More importantly I think FOSS really does exemplify what research should be about - finding stuff that is useful to health-care providers that can be simply and freely used and shared with no ifs and no buts."

Dr Allen is currently working with the National Stroke Audit Team (NSAT), and it is hoped that the use of open source code will subsequently allow the transfer of PenCHORD's simulation models. This will enable NSAT to implement the models without having to buy any expensive commercial software licenses, and will better inform an understanding of clinical pathways in all hospitals.

FOSS has potential to bring innovations from PenCHORD into the Sentinel Stroke National Audit Programme (SSNAP). Dr Benjamin Bray, Research Director at SSNAP echoes his support for switching to FOSS:

"FOSS licensing makes it much easier to integrate innovative analytics into the SSNAP programme, helping us to rapidly scale up innovations to the whole NHS and address the notoriously long time lag of translating research into practice. I view FOSS as being a key driver of the future design and implementation of large scale clinical audits and registries in the NHS and our work with PenCHORD is already helping us re-think how we can use large scale data for healthcare quality improvement."

Dr Allen will be giving a seminar on his move to Open Science working on Monday 29th January 201811:00 - 12:00 at St Luke's Campus, Exeter (with videoconferencing to Plymouth and Truro). For more information, or to register attendance, please email Pippa Vilestra.

To find out more about PenCHORD's research, please visit the PenCHORD project pages