A JISC-funded Managing Research Data project

Posts tagged Orbital

I’ve been quiet—too quiet—about the Orbital project recently. While I’ve not been blogging, Joss, Nick and Harry have overseen several fairly important developments:

As Orbital-the-product (coherent set of products, really) develops, my own focus between now and the end of the project (March 2013) will be on Orbital-the-servicetraining, support, documentation, and implementation of RDM policy at the University of Lincoln. I’ll work closely with the Research & Enterprise department on these aspects.

Four level hierarchy of documentationAs part of this strand of the project (which cuts across workpackages 7, 11, and 12), I want to consider the following:

  1. The current usability of ownCloud, CKAN, EPrints, etc. – what ‘sticking plaster’ help materials do we need to provide right now (if any?).
  2. How the production of documentation fits in to the software development release cycle (“change management“?) – particularly so in an agile/iterative environment, and how we ensure we meet our responsibility to ‘leave no feature undocumented’ as well as provide adequate contextual information on RDM. Related: I’m thinking about a four-level hierarchy of documentation (see right): how do the different levels relate to each other (how do we ensure internal consistency?), and how do we ensure all four levels are covered?
  3. [How] should we contribute to an (OKFN-co-ordinated) open research [data] handbook initiative (c.f. the Open Data Handbook; Data Journalism Handbook) instead of—or as well as—writing our own operational help guides? Contributing to and re-consuming community-written RDM materials will be more efficient than writing our own guidebook from scratch, but we need to make sure our local documentation is relevant to Lincoln.
  4. I’ve already started collated a list of other peoples’ RDM help materials (Joss has collected many more) – I’ll publish the list to this blog soon. I’ll be looking to see what we can re-use. There are some very good, openly-licensed training materials available, but I don’t want us to use them uncritically.
  5. How do we use our (still not-yet-accepted) RDM policy as a jumping-off point for training events?
  6. What did we learn from our recent(ish) Data Asset Framework exercise? How can we use researchers’ priorities as identified in the DAF to inform training? Should we re-run the exercise and/or follow it up with more detailed discussions?
  7. It possible/likely that we will shortly have a new member of staff to work with the Lincoln Repository and the University’s REF submission. What responsibility might that person have for RDM training and support?

Next I need to organise a meeting with the Research & Enterprise department to plan our ‘version 0.1′ training programme, possibly consisting of (i) a discussion of the issues raised in our DAF survey and people’s current RDM practice, (ii) a discussion of the RDM policy, and (iii) presentation of the various VRE tools available (CKAN, ownCloud, EPrints, DataCite, DMPOnline). We’ll probably pilot this on a group of willing PhD students in the School of Engineering.

On Wednesday, we hosted three people from the Open Knowledge Foundation, to discuss the Orbital project and their software, CKAN. It was a very engaging and productive day spent with Peter Murray-Rust (on the Advisory Board of OKFN), Mark Wainwright (community co-ordinator) and Ross Jones (core developer). We asked them at the start of the day to challenge us about our technical work on Orbital so far and I described the day to them as an opportunity to evaluate our work developing the Orbital software so far. We didn’t touch on the other aspects of the Orbital project such as policy development and training for researchers.

To cut to the chase, the Orbital project will be adopting CKAN as the primary platform for further development of the technical infrastrcuture for RDM at Lincoln. This is subject to approval by the Steering Group, but the reasons are compelling in many ways and I am confident that the Steering Group will accept this recommendation. More importantly, the Implementation Plan that was approved by the Steering group and submitted to JISC remains unchanged.

The raw notes from our meeting are available here. Remember these are raw notes written throughout the day, primarily for our own record. They probably mean more to us than they do to you! Thanks to Paul Stainthorp for his fanatical note taking :-)

Here’s the list of attendees and our agenda:


Peter Murray-Rust (OKFN)
Mark Wainwright (OKFN)
Ross Jones (OKFN)
Joss Winn (University of Lincoln, CERD)
Nick Jackson (University of Lincoln, CERD)
Harry Newton (University of Lincoln, CERD)
Jamie Mahoney (University of Lincoln, CERD)
Alex Bilbie (University of Lincoln, ICT services)
Paul Stainthorp (University of Lincoln, Library)


09.30 Introductions
10.00 Orbital introduction and context: Student as Producer, LNCD; Orbital bid and pilot project; Discussion of Orbital approach, the data we’re using, user needs etc.
10.30 CKAN introduction and context
11.00 Technical discussion – Orbital
12.00 LUNCH
12.30 Technical discussion – CKAN
13.30 Discussion – should Orbital adopt CKAN?
14.00 data[.lincoln].ac.uk
15.00 Next steps; Opportunities for collaboration/funding?

What is probably of most interest to people reading this are the pros & cons of the Orbital project adopting CKAN. I’ll provide more context further into the post, but here’s a summary copied from our notes:


A few notes on some of the new features in the latest version of Orbital: these were presented to Dr Bingo Wing-Kuen Ling on 15 June 2012.

  1. ‘Your Projects’ now includes an Activity Timeline of comments and file changes aggregated across all projects in Orbital; each project page also displays a timeline for that project.
    Screenshot of the Orbital timeline
  2. Files from the File Archives can be organised using Collections (which are ‘tag-like’ rather than ‘folder-like': i.e. a file can belong to more than one Collection).
    Screenshot of Orbital project
  3. You can now edit project information and add new members to a Project. To do this, go to the Project within Orbital, click on the ‘edit’ button, and scroll down to Project Members.
    Screenshot of the Orbital project page
    Screenshot of the Orbital add members section
  4. Finally, a bug which was preventing the upload of files using Internet Explorer has now been fixed.

The Orbital project team met today (24 May 2012) and agreed the following:

  • Documentation
  • User documentation will focus on the “why”s of Research Data Management, rather than being a point-and-click guide to the Orbital UI (which should not require detailed explanations).
  • JW will create a changelog (human readable text file) for each major release of Orbital, so that documentation for each feature is review if that feature is updated.
  • PS will lead on writing documentation (as HTML pages, stored in the GitHub repository), with documentation for release v0.N completed and available by the launch of v0.N+1
  • PS will email colleagues from the Library and Research/Enterprise for assistance on writing documentation.
  • Training
  • JW will invite Melanie Bullock and David Sheppard on to the Orbital working group. He is meeting Annalisa Jones to discuss RDM training for staff.
  • Releases/development
  • Orbital v0.1.1 (including bug fixes) met all of the initial ‘minimum viable product‘ requirements specified by Dr Tom Duckett, and also includes the basics of project administration.
  • v0.2 will include improvements to the file upload/management, project management, and license management interfaces, as well as clearer distinction between language files and operating code.
  • NJ demoed the current version of Orbital to Siemens staff. He now has access to Siemens machine data for testing within Orbital.
  • The group discussed the LNCD plans for internal servers/private cloud, and about the disk space requirements and costs.
  • Integration
  • The current version of the DMPOnline tool has been installed on a test server. The group discussed our approach to integration between external tools/software (such as DMPOnline, R, Gephi) and Orbital.
  • NJ is going to email Adrian Richardson at the DCC to ask when the DMPOnline APIs will become available.
  • RDM policy
  • JW presented the draft policy to the University RIEC committee. The committee have been asked to send comments to Joss. (One comment at the committee meeting was that our having a policy too geared around the requirements of the Research Councils may not be appropriate for Lincoln, which generates a lot of non-RC income. However it was noted that the good practice specified by the RCs is good practice for management of all research data, whatever the funding source.)
  • Conferences and meetings
  • The group discussed the recent DAF survey which we conducted at the University of Lincoln.
  • JW will convene a sub-group to consider the responses in detail, and plan follow-up interviews.
  • Business case
  • JW is currently gathering costs for long-term data storage. This will form the first strand of the Orbital business case, which will be presented to University SMT (along with the agreed RDM policy) in September 2012.

Orbital v0.1 was released on 16 May 2012. Every two weeks, staff working on Orbital meet with Dr Bingo Wing-Kuen Ling and Dr Chunmei Qing to discuss their research and RDM practice. Until now these meetings have been all about requirements-gathering – today was the first opportunity for some real, hands-on user testing with the alpha release of Orbital.

The notes below have been turned into tasks on the Orbital project Pivotal Tracker site.

BL = Bingo Wing-Kuen Ling.

  1. BL successfully viewed Orbital v0.1 in Internet Explorer 7 on the UoL corporate desktop and was able to sign in and grant access to the application using his UoL credentials. BL was able to create and describe a new project.
  2. BL tried to upload a file from his desktop to Orbital using IE7 and received an error (this is a known bug with Orbital in Internet Explorer). He was then unable to delete this file.
  3. Switching to Firefox, BL uploaded multiple files from his desktop to his project in Orbital (it wasn’t clear from the page that this was possible). This completed successfully: but because the files sizes were small, he did not receive any feedback on his upload.
  4. Returning to the original file upload screen, BL had to manually refresh the page to view the changes made (files uploaded). Files scheduled for processing are marked as ‘queued’ however this status does not update automatically without refreshing.
  5. Joss Winn demonstrated the file and project metadata pages, citable URLs for files, and Google Analytics on projects. The display of file metadata needs to be more complete, and G.A. needs a better explanation and links to sources of help.
  6. The group discussed BL’s requirements around project calendars/timelines. BL wants to be able to view project events (meetings, deadlines, etc.) for each project (but not aggregated) and is not particularly concerned about notifications on activity/changes to files. The group discussed this and will explore ways of presenting timelines made up of three sorts of events (project events, activity stream, and comments) with each type of event suppressible in the timeline. A timeline overview will be displayed on the Orbital ‘front page’ once a user has logged in.
  7. BL also would like to be able to organise project and data files in all Orbital workspaces using folders/tags, and to allow bundled file download by organising files into collections.

You can read about Orbital v0.1 in this blog post, and about the roadmap for development and release of future versions, here.