Research Data Workshops: Electronic Notebooks Summary of Feedback

In the spring of this year (March & May) the Research Data Service ran two workshops on Electronic Notebooks (ENs) where researchers from all three colleges were invited to share their experiences of using ENs with other researchers. Presentations and demos were given on RSpace, Benchling, Jupyter Notebooks, WikiBench, and Lab Archives. Almost 70 research and support staff attended and participated in the discussions.

This post is a distillation of those discussions and we will use them to inform our plans around Electronic Notebooks over the coming year. It was obvious from the level of attendance and engagement with the discussions that there was quite a lot of enthusiasm for the idea of adopting ENs across a variety of different schools and disciplines. However, it also quickly became clear that many researchers and support staff had quite justified reservations about how effectively they could replace traditional paper notebooks. In addition to the ENs which were the subject of presentations a number of other solutions were also discussed, including; LabGuru, OneNote, SharePoint, and Wikis.

It appears that across the University there are a very wide range of platforms being used, and not all of them are intended to serve the function of an EN. This is unsurprising as different disciplines have different requirements and an EN designed for the biological sciences, such as Benchling, is unlikely to meet the needs of a researcher in veterinary medicine or humanities. There is also a huge element of personal preference involved, some researchers wish a simple system that will work straight out of the box while others want something more customisable and with greater functionality for an entire lab to use in tandem.

So, within this complex and varied landscape are there any general lessons we can learn? The answer is “Yes” because regardless of platform or discipline there are a number of common functions an EN has to serve, and a number of hurdles they will have to overcome to replace traditional paper lab books.

Firstly, let’s look at common functional requirements:

  1. Entries in ENs must be trustworthy, anyone using one has to be confident that once an entry is made it cannot be accidentally deleted or altered. All updates or changes must be clearly recorded and timestamped to provide a complete and accurate record of the research conducted and the data collected. This is fundamental to research integrity and to their acceptance by funders, or regulators as a suitable replacement for the traditional, co-signed, lab books.
  2. They must make sharing within groups and between collaborators easier – it is, in theory, far easier to share the contents of an EN with interested parties whether they are in the same lab or in another country. But in doing so they must not make the contents inappropriately available to others, security is also very important.
  3. Integration is the next requirement, any EN should be able to integrate smoothly with the other software packages that a researcher uses on a regular basis, as well as with external (or University central) storage, data repositories, and other relevant systems. If it doesn’t do this then researchers may lose the benefits of being able to record, view, and analyse all of their data in one place, and the time savings from being able to directly deposit data into a suitable repository when a project ends or a publication is coming out.
  4. Portability is also required, it must be possible for a researcher to move from one EN platform to another if, for example, they change institutions. This means they need to be able to extract all of their entries and data in a format that can be understood by another system and which will still allow analysis. Most ENs support PDF exports which are fine for some purposes, but of no use if processing or analysis is desired.
  5. Finally, all ENs need to be stable and reliable, this is a particular issue with web based ENs which require an internet connection to access and use the EN. This is also an area where the University will have to play a significant role in providing long-term and reliable support for selected ENs. They also need the same longevity as a paper notebook, the records they contain must not disappear if an individual leaves a group, or a group moves to another EN platform.

Secondly, barriers to adoption and support required:

  1. Hardware:
    1. Many research environments are not suitable for digital devices, phones / tablets are banned from some “wet” labs on health and safety grounds. If they are allowed in the lab they may not be allowed out again, so space for storage and charging will need to be found. What happens if they get contaminated?
    2. Field based research may not have reliable internet access so web based platforms wouldn’t work.
    3. There is unlikely to be space in most labs for a desktop computer(s).
    4. All of this means there will still be a need for paper based notes in labs with later transfer to the EN, which will result in duplication of effort.
  1. Cost:
    1. tablets and similar are not always an allowable research expense for a grant, so who will fund this?
    2. if the University does not have an enterprise licence for the EN a group uses they will also need to find the funds for this
    3. additional training and support my also be required
  2. Support:
    1. technical support for University adopted systems will need to be provide
    2. ISG staff will need to be clear on what is available to researchers and able to provide advice on suitable platforms for different needs
    3. clear incentives for moving to an EN need to be communicated to staff at all levels
    4. funders, publishers, and regulatory bodies will also need to be clear that ENs are acceptable for their purposes

So, what next? The Research Data Support service will now take all of this feedback and use it to inform our future Electronic Notebook strategy for the University. We will work with other areas of Information Services, the Colleges, and Schools to try to provide researchers in all disciplines with the information they need to use ENs in ways that make their research more efficient and effective. If you have any suggestions, comments, or questions about ENs please visit our ENs page (https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/research-support/research-data-service/during/eln). You can also contact us on data-support@ed.ac.uk.

The notes that were taken during both events can be read here Combined_discussion_notes_V1.2

Some presentations from the two workshops are available below, others will be added when they become available:

Speaker(s) Topic Link
Mary Donaldson (Service Coordinator, Research Data Management Service, University of Glasgow) Jisc Research Notebooks Study Mary_Donaldson_ELN_Jisc
Ralitsa Madsen (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Cardiovascular Science) RSpace 2019-03-14_ELN_RSpace_RRM
Uriel Urquiza Garcia (Postdoctoral Research Associate, Institute of Molecular Plant Science) Benchling
Yixi Chen (PhD Student, Kunath Group, Institute for Stem Cell Research) Lab Archives 20190509_LabArchives_Yixi_no_videos
Andrew Millar (Chair of Systems Biology) WikiBench
Ugur Ozdemir (Lecturer – Quantitative Political Science or Quantitative IR) Jupyter Notebooks WS_Talk
James slack & Núria Ruiz (Digital Learning Applications and Media) Jupyter Notebooks for Research Jupyter_Noteable_Research_Presentation

Kerry Miller, Research Data Support Officer, Research Data Service

Share

Research Data Workshop Series 2019

Over the spring of 2019 the Research Data Service (RDS) is holding a series of workshops with the aim of gathering feedback and requirements from our researchers on a number of important Research Data topics.

Each workshop will consist of a small number of short presentations from researchers and research support staff who have experience of the topic. These will then be followed by guided discussions so that the RDS can gather your input on the tools we currently provide, the gaps in our services, and how you go about addressing the challenges and issues raised in the talks.
The workshops for 2019 are:

Electronic Notebooks 1
14th March at King’s Buildings (Fully Booked)

DataVault
1200-1400, 10th April at 6301 JCMB, King’s Buildings, Map
Booking Link – https://www.events.ed.ac.uk/index.cfm?event=book&scheduleID=34308
The DataVault was developed to offer UoE staff a long-term retention solution for research data collected by research projects that are at the completion stage. Each ‘Vault’ can contain multiple files associated with a research project that will be securely stored for an identified period, such as ten years. It is designed to fill in gaps left by existing research data services such as DataStore (active data storage platform) and DataShare (open access online data repository). The service enables you to comply with funder and University requirements to preserve research data for the long-term, and to confidently store your data for retrieval at a future date. This workshop is intended to gather the views of researchers and support staff in schools to explore the utility of the new service and discuss potential practicalities around its roll-out and long-term sustainability.

Sensitive Data Challenges and Solutions
1200-1430, 16th April in Seminar Room 2, Chancellors Building, Bioquarter, Map
Booking Link – https://www.events.ed.ac.uk/index.cfm?event=book&scheduleID=34321
Researchers face a number of technical, ethical and legal challenges in creating, analysing and managing research data, including pressure to increase transparency and conduct research openly. But for those who have collected or are re-using sensitive or confidential data, these challenges can be particularly taxing. Tools and services can help to alleviate some of the problems of using sensitive data in research. But cloud-based tools are not necessarily trustworthy, and services are not necessarily geared for highly sensitive data. Those that are may not be very user-friendly or efficient for researchers, and often restrict the types of analysis that can be done. Researchers attending this workshop will have the opportunity to hear from experienced researchers on related topics.

Electronic Notebooks 2
1200-1430, 9th May at Training & Skills Room, ECCI, Central Area, Map
Booking Link – https://www.events.ed.ac.uk/index.cfm?event=book&scheduleID=34287
Electronic Notebooks, both computational and lab-based, are gaining ground as productivity tools for researchers and their collaborators. Electronic notebooks can help facilitate reproducibility, longevity and controlled sharing of information. There are many different notebook options available, either commercially or free. Each application has different features and will have different advantages depending on researchers or lab’s requirements. Jupyter Notebook, RSpace, and Benchling are some of the platforms that are used at the University and all will be represented by researchers who use them on a daily basis.

Data, Software, Reproducibility and Open Research
Due to unforeseen circumstances this event has been postponed. We will update with the new event details as soon as they are confirmed.
In this workshop we will examine real-life use cases wherein datasets combine with software and/or notebooks to provide a richer, more reusable and long-lived record of Edinburgh’s research. We will also discuss user needs and wants, capturing requirements for future development of the University’s central research support infrastructure in line with (e.g.) the LERU Roadmap for Open Science, which the Library Research Support team has sought to map its existing and planned provision against, and domain-oriented Open Research strategies within the Colleges.

Kerry Miller
Research Data Support Officer
Library & University Collections

Share

Publishing Data Workflows

[Guest post from Angus Whyte, Digital Curation Centre]

In the first week of March the 7th Plenary session of the Research Data Alliance got underway in Tokyo. Plenary sessions are the fulcrum of RDA activity, when its many Working Groups and Interest Groups try to get as much leverage as they can out of the previous 6 months of voluntary activity, which is usually coordinated through crackly conference calls.

The Digital Curation Centre (DCC) and others in Edinburgh contribute to a few of these groups, one being the Working Group (WG) on Publishing Data Workflows. Like all such groups it has a fixed time span and agreed deliverables. This WG completes its run at the Tokyo plenary, so there’s no better time to reflect on why DCC has been involved in it, how we’ve worked with others in Edinburgh and what outcomes it’s had.

DCC takes an active part in groups where we see a direct mutual benefit, for example by finding content for our guidance publications. In this case we have a How-to guide planned on ‘workflows for data preservation and publication’. The Publishing Data Workflows WG has taken some initial steps towards a reference model for data publishing, so it has been a great opportunity to track the emerging consensus on best practice, not to mention examples we can use.

One of those examples was close to hand, and DataShare’s workflow and checklist for deposit is identified in the report alongside workflows from other participating repositories and data centres. That report is now available on Zenodo. [1]

In our mini-case studies, the WG found no hard and fast boundaries between ‘data publishing’ and what any repository does when making data publicly accessible. It’s rather a question of how much additional linking and contextualisation is in place to increase data visibility, assure the data quality, and facilitate its reuse. Here’s the working definition we settled on in that report:

Research data publishing is the release of research data, associated metadata, accompanying documentation, and software code (in cases where the raw data have been processed or manipulated) for re-use and analysis in such a manner that they can be discovered on the Web and referred to in a unique and persistent way.

The ‘key components’ of data publishing are illustrated in this diagram produced by Claire C. Austin.

Data publishing components. Source: Claire C. Austin et al [1]

Data publishing components. Source: Claire C. Austin et al [1]

As the Figure implies, a variety of workflows are needed to build and join up the components. They include those ‘upstream’ around the data collection and analysis, ‘midstream’ workflows around data deposit, packaging and ingest to a repository, and ‘downstream’ to link to other systems. These downstream links could be to third-party preservation systems, publisher platforms, metadata harvesting and citation tracking systems.

The WG recently began some follow-up work to our report that looks ‘upstream’ to consider how the intent to publish data is changing research workflows. Links to third-party systems can also be relevant in these upstream workflows. It has long been an ambition of RDM to capture as much as possible of the metadata and context, as early and as easily as possible. That has been referred to variously as ‘sheer curation’ [2], and ‘publication at source [3]). So we gathered further examples, aiming to illustrate some of the ways that repositories are connecting with these upstream workflows.

Electronic lab notebooks (ELN) can offer one route towards fly-on-the-wall recording of the research process, so the collaboration between Research Space and University of Edinburgh is very relevant to the WG. As noted previously on these pages [4] ,[5], the RSpace ELN has been integrated with DataShare so researchers can deposit directly into it. So we appreciated the contribution Rory Macneil (Research Space) and Pauline Ward (UoE Data Library) made to describe that workflow, one of around half a dozen gathered at the end of the year.

The examples the WG collected each show how one or more of the recommendations in our report can be implemented. There are 5 of these short and to the point recommendations:

  1. Start small, building modular, open source and shareable components
  2. Implement core components of the reference model according to the needs of the stakeholder
  3. Follow standards that facilitate interoperability and permit extensions
  4. Facilitate data citation, e.g. through use of digital object PIDs, data/article linkages, researcher PIDs
  5. Document roles, workflows and services

The RSpace-DataShare integration example illustrates how institutions can follow these recommendations by collaborating with partners. RSpace is not open source, but the collaboration does use open standards that facilitate interoperability, namely METS and SWORD, to package up lab books and deposit them for open data sharing. DataShare facilitates data citation, and the workflows for depositing from RSpace are documented, based on DataShare’s existing checklist for depositors. The workflow integrating RSpace with DataShare is shown below:

RSpace-DataShare Workflows

RSpace-DataShare Workflows

For me one of the most interesting things about this example was learning about the delegation of trust to research groups that can result. If the DataShare curation team can identify an expert user who is planning a large number of data deposits over a period of time, and train them to apply DataShare’s curation standards themselves they would be given administrative rights over the relevant Collection in the database, and the curation step would be entrusted to them for the relevant Collection.

As more researchers take up the challenges of data sharing and reuse, institutional data repositories will need to make depositing as straightforward as they can. Delegating responsibilities and the tools to fulfil them has to be the way to go.

 

[1] Austin, C et al.. (2015). Key components of data publishing: Using current best practices to develop a reference model for data publishing. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.34542

[2] ‘Sheer Curation’ Wikipedia entry. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_curation#.22Sheer_curation.22

[3] Frey, J. et al (2015) Collection, Curation, Citation at Source: Publication@Source 10 Years On. International Journal of Digital Curation. 2015, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 1-11

http://doi:10.2218/ijdc.v10i2.377

[4] Macneil, R. (2014) Using an Electronic Lab Notebook to Deposit Data http://datablog.is.ed.ac.uk/2014/04/15/using-an-electronic-lab-notebook-to-deposit-data/

[5] Macdonald, S. and Macneil, R. Service Integration to Enhance Research Data Management: RSpace Electronic Laboratory Notebook Case Study International Journal of Digital Curation 2015, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 163-172. http://doi:10.2218/ijdc.v10i1.354

Angus Whyte is a Senior Institutional Support Officer at the Digital Curation Centre.

 

Share

Using an electronic lab notebook to deposit data into Edinburgh DataShare

This is heads up about a ‘coming attraction’.  For the past several months a group at Research Space has been working with the DataShare team, including Robin Rice and George Hamilton, to make it possible to deposit research data from our new RSpace electronic notebook into DataShare.

I gave the first public preview of this integration last month in a presentation called Electronic lab notebooks and data repositories:  Complementary responses to the scientific data problem  to a session on Research Data and Electronic Lab Notebooks at the American Chemical Society conference in Dallas.

When the RSpace ELN becomes available to researchers at Edinburgh later this spring, users of RSpace will be able to make deposits to DataShare directly from RSpace using a simple interface we have built into RSpace.  The whole process only takes a few clicks, and starts with selecting records to be deposited into DataShare and clicking on the DataShare button as illustrated in the following screenshot:b2_workspaceHighlightedYou are then asked to enter some information about the deposit:

c2_datashareDialogFilledAfter confirming a few details about the deposit, the data is deposited directly into DataShare, and information about the deposit appears in DataShare.

h2_viewInDatashare2We will provide details about how to sign up for an RSpace account in a future post later in the spring.  In the meantime, I’d like to thank Robin and George for working with us at RSpace on this exciting project.  As far as we know this is the first time an electronic lab notebook has ever been integrated with an institutional data repository, so this is a pioneering and very exciting experiment!  We hope to use it as a model for similar integrations with other institutional and domain-specific repositories.

Rory MacNeil
Chief Executive, Research Space

Share