A JISC-funded Managing Research Data project

Posts tagged Research

With the Orbital project at its end, and plans for a University research information / research data service afoot, I’m reviewing the excellent work carried out by our (now-departed) developers Harry Newton and Nick Jackson – work which linked up CKAN, the Orbital ‘bridge’ application, and the Lincoln Repository (EPrints) using SWORD – described in earlier blog posts here and here.

“One important piece of work that we’re undertaking at the moment in Orbital is the facility to deposit the existence of a dataset, from CKAN and the University’s new Awards Management System (AMS), into our (EPrints) Repository via SWORD – at the same time requesting a DOI for the dataset via theDataCite API. The software at the centre of this operation is what we refer to as Orbital Bridge.”

This deposit workflow is now broadly working as it should – I think only a few tweaks would be necessary now to turn this into a working tool for the University of Lincoln.

Most urgent is the need for the University to sign up with the DataCite DOI service, which would secure a DOI for each dataset record deposited from CKAN and hence formally published by the University. This subscription should form part of the new research information service.

The underlying code could be used for other SWORD-enabled deposit from sources of metadata (e.g. the Library’s discovery system, Find it at Lincoln), to the Lincoln Repository as the University’s bibliographic ‘system of record’.

Warning: this is an extremely screenshot-heavy blog post! Click on any one of the screenshots below to view a larger image.

Here’s a step-by-step walkthrough of the entire process of adding a dataset to CKAN, and depositing it as a record in the Lincoln Repository.

  1. Go to the Researcher Dashboard at: https://orbital.lincoln.ac.uk/ and click on “Sign In”.
    Screenshot from the Researcher Dashboard
  2. Enter your staff accountID and password to sign in to the Researcher Dashboard.
    Screenshot from the Researcher Dashboard
  3. Once you have been signed in and returned to the Researcher Dashboard, click on your name (in the top right-hand corner) and then click on “My Projects”.
    Screenshot from the Researcher Dashboard
  4. You will see an overview of your research projects – both funded projects (derived from the AMS), and unfunded projects you have added locally. Click on the name of the project you want to add data to.
    Screenshot from the Researcher Dashboard
  5. You will be taken to a page for that research project. On the right-hand side of this page, under the heading “Options”, click on “Create Research Data Environment”.
    Screenshot from the Researcher DashboardImage7
  6. You will be taken to the University’s CKAN research data platform, where a page/group will have been created which corresponds to your project in the Researcher Dashboard. Sign in to CKAN using your staff accountID (there is currently no single sign-on between the Researcher Dashboard and CKAN) and password and you should be returned to the same page. However you will probably be sent instead to the CKAN home page, in which case you will have to look again for your project under the “Groups” menu.
    Screenshot from CKAN
  7. Toward the top of the project screen in CKAN, click on “Add Dataset” > “New Dataset…”.
    Screenshot from CKAN
  8. Fill in the form with information about the overall dataset, including the following fields:
    • Title
    • URL
    • License (N.B. US spelling!)
    • Description
      Screenshot from CKAN
  9. Then click on “Add Dataset”
    Screenshot from CKAN
  10. If you now click on “Further information” tab on the left-hand menu, you can add the following additional information about the dataset (this is not obvious from the initial dataset form):
    • Author
    • Author email
    • Maintainer
    • Maintainer email
    • Version
    • Summary [of changes]
      Screenshot from CKAN
  11. To attach individual data document(s)—which CKAN refers to as “resources”—to the dataset, scroll down the page and click on “Upload a file” (there are other options) > “Choose file” > “Upload”.
    Screenshot from CKAN
  12. Then fill in the form with the following basic information about the “resource”:
    • Name
    • Description
    • Format
    • Resource Type
    • Datastore enabled (ticked by default)
    • Mimetype
    • Mimetype (Inner)
    • “Extra Fields” (user-defined, or used by Orbital)
      Screenshot from CKAN
  13. To deposit a record for this dataset in the Lincoln Repository, go back to the Orbital Researcher Dashboard at: https://orbital.lincoln.ac.uk/ and navigate to your project. Toward the bottom left of the page you should now see a table containing the dataset(s) you have created in CKAN for this project. Choose which dataset you want to deposit, and hit the “Publish to Lincoln Repository” button.
    Screenshot from the Researcher Dashboard
  14. The Researcher Dashboard will then display a deposit form containing the following fields (some of which should be being autopopulated from CKAN fields but which do not appear to be):
    • Title
    • Description
    • Type of Data
    • Keywords
    • Subjects
    • Divisions
    • Metadata visibility [Show|Hide]
    • People
      Screenshot from the Researcher Dashboard
      “Publishing will publicly announce the existence of your dataset on the Lincoln Repository, as well as start the process of long-term preservation of your data.“Usually you should only publish a dataset either at the end of a research project, or if the data is being cited in a paper. Publishing a dataset will place some restrictions on the changes you can make to the dataset in the future, such as removing your ability to delete the data. It will also generate a DOI, which allows your dataset to be uniquely identified and located using a simple identifier.“Please check the information in this form and make any necessary changes, as this is the information which will be entered into the published record of the dataset.“If you have any questions about this process please contact a member of the research services team for advice or assistance.”
  15. When you hit the “Publish Dataset” button, the dataset record from CKAN will be used to create a record in the Lincoln Repository. The record will be submitted for review by the Repository team, who will then make it live. N.B. for the time being, you will see an error “Validation errors: [doi] is a required string” – this happens because the University does not currently have access to the live DataCite DOI service, which would secure a DOI for each dataset record deposited from CKAN. This should form part of the new research information service.
    Screenshot from the Researcher Dashboard
  16. Here’s an example of a record in the Lincoln Repository, created from a CKAN dataset and made live by the Repository team.
    Screenshot from the Lincoln Repository

Problems with the deposit process as it currently stands:

  1. Permissions are not correctly cascaded from a project the Researcher Dashboard to a group in CKAN.
  2. There is currently no single sign-on between the Researcher Dashboard and CKAN.
  3. When CKAN challenges a user to log in to a group, they should be redirected back to the group page after logging in – instead they get sent back to the CKAN home page, in which case they will have to look again for their project under the “Groups” menu.
  4. A minor one – in CKAN “License” (noun) appears in US spelling (should be “Licence”).
  5. In order to add all the information needed to deposit a dataset from CKAN, user has to click  “Further information” tab on the left-hand menu (this is not obvious from the initial dataset form).
  6. Some of the field labels in CKAN are a bit opaque or use technical terms (“Mimetype”) which could do with explanation.
  7. When depositing to EPrints, some of the deposit fields should be being autopopulated from CKAN fields – this does not appear to be happening. The fields affected are:
    • “Description” (could be derived from CKAN dataset/resource Description fields)
    • “Type of Data” (could be derived from CKAN resource Format field)
  8. Repository records created from CKAN have the data “Creator” attached, but not the “Maintainer”.
  9. Repository records created from CKAN don’t have a link back to the CKAN dataset (should go in the EPrints “Official URL” field) – this will be required to provide access to the data.
  10. After deposit, users see the error message “Validation errors: [doi] is a required string” – the University does not currently have access to the live DataCite DOI service, which would secure a DOI for each dataset record deposited from CKAN.

The final within-project version of the Orbital Research Data Management training materials are now live on the Orbital Researcher Dashboard website. They have been written collaboratively by the Orbital project team, and draw on a lot of existing RDM training and guidance material from across the web (in particular, from the DCC).

We intend that these materials will continue to be maintained and developed as part of the new University-wide research information service mentioned in a previous blog post.

Screenshot of the Researcher Dashboard

The training materials can be accessed at https://orbital.lincoln.ac.uk/ and cover the following areas:

  1. What is research data?
  2. The research data lifecycle
  3. Policies affecting your research data
  4. Data Management Planning (DMP)
  5. Data search and discovery tools
  6. Data storage and security
  7. Legal and ethical issues
  8. Tools for working with your data
  9. Data publishing and citation
  10. Licences for sharing your data
  11. Data curation and preservation
  12. Workshops and training events
  13. Help and support

The source text for each page is stored in an open Github repository (at http://github.com/unilincoln/rdm) in Markdown format. The page admin tools in the Researcher Dashboard can then be used to link to the source document, which is then formatted in the University’s Common Web Design.

These web pages will be used to support the ongoing RDM training for postgraduate students, which will shortly be rolled out to University staff.

I’ve been asked to highlight the benefits of running the Orbital project so far. We’re seven months or so into Orbital, which is an 18 month project. In our initial Project Plan, we identified the anticipated impact of the project and so I’ll use that list in this blog post to reflect on the impact and benefits so far. The headings and text in italics are copied from the Project Plan.

Research practices

Researcher’s data management practices will change, supported by technologies that encourage new processes in the administration and dissemination of data.

We’ve had very little impact in this area so far. It’s too early to impact on researchers’ practices when we’re still developing our own knowledge and the infrastructure to support RDM. Changing researchers’ practices takes time. However, there are indications that it will happen. Engagement with our user groups and ad hoc requests for help from researchers who know we’re working on the project has shown us that researchers do want to change their practices. Our recent DAF survey also told us that researchers know that their practices could be improved and where they need support to do so.

Internal auditing

Greater oversight and analysis of research data created by researchers will be possible.

We’ve had no impact here and won’t until the Orbital software is built. We will be working on this in the next version of Orbital and our recent effort at the MRD Hack Day around activity data was a precursor to this work. We are increasingly seeing activity data as a key component of Orbital and this was underlined early on in the project when Mansur Darlington from the ERIM and REDm-MED projects stressed the importance of capturing contextual metadata.

Research governance

Improved methods of auditing research undertaken by the university will be possible, enabling greater cross-disciplinary work.

This relates to the benefit above around capturing activity data and improving ‘business intelligence’. As yet no real impact, but we still anticipate Orbital being a useful tool for reporting and enabling greater cross-disciplinary collaboration though greater transparency. Related to this is the creation of RDM Policy, which we have begun and has resulted in a statement being made for the EPSRC RDM ‘Road Map’.

Integrated services

Research data management will be integrated into existing systems, such as staff profiles, the institutional repository, blogs and calendars. Towards a Virtual Research Environment.

We have had a direct impact on the creation of new staff profiles at the university. Nick Jackson, Lead Developer on Orbital has been working with Alex Bilbie in the ICT Online Services Team to create an aggregated profile for staff. We blogged about it earlier and you can see my example. Profiles of staff are now aggregated from different systems and stored as RDF Linked Data and we intend to pull in activity data from Orbital to further enrich staff profiles. In this way, our work is being recognised and valued by other teams in the university. Furthermore, the university has recently procured a new ‘Awards Management System’, which will provide data to Orbital about funded research projects and we intend to couple Orbital with EPrints using SWORD2.

What is clear from our discussions with users is that they expect Orbital to do more than simply store and publish research data. Without using the term, they are effectively asking for a Virtual Research Environment (VRE). This is something which we did anticipate and have always planned for Orbital to be a tool for both analysing and publish research data. When discussing ‘Research Data Management’, there is a fine line between DMP planning, research project management, team workspaces and public web publishing and while we need to be careful that the scope of Orbital does not creep, we are sensitive to on-going user requirements.

FOI compliance

Will make FOI requests easier to respond to or unnecessary.

We’ve had no impact here so far, nor are we yet in a position to.

Open Data

Will promote and enable the production of public data sets.

As I will discuss in a forthcoming blog post about our first release of Orbital, we have had some impact here and have witnessed the benefits. In summary, a researcher contacted us for help with publishing some data, the result of which was an invitation to write a journal article about the data, offers of collaboration and the strengthening of an EU grant application.

Our workshop on open licensing has also led to a further meeting between myself (Joss Winn, Orbital PM), and the university’s IP Manager. A further follow up meeting is planned to draft guidance for staff on the use of open licenses for source code and data. Furthermore, research staff are being directed to the Orbital team for informal advice on open licensing. In this sense, we are beginning to improve the awareness and understanding of open licenses among researchers.

The innovation cycle

Will embed new technologies and culture change among professional staff at the university and lead to further innovation in our services.

We are having some impact here and have had meetings with central ICT staff about integrating our server farm with cloud services. We are currently developing the Orbital software using Rackspace, but have recently ordered hardware, partly paid for by the project, to establish a private cloud, running on OpenStack, for research and development at the university. In addition to this, our development toolchain has changed and we now have tools and processes in place that we did not have six months ago. These are being adopted outside of the Orbital project by staff within the ICT Online Services Team and other projects we are running. In addition to this, we intend that the changes we make to our own R&D tools and processes, are made available to other researchers and students. Over the summer, we will set up and maintain a university-wide Gitorious source code repository service (similar to Github), where staff and students who write code can form teams, manage their source code, and publish it if they wish. We also intend to run a Jenkins server for similar purposes so that all staff and students can benefit from source code control and the quality assurance processes that we have implemented through Orbital. Orbital is now a driver for a general R&D infrastructure for Academic Computing that project members and wider members of LNCD  are building.

I will write more about this at a later date because, for someone who manages R&D infrastructure projects at the university and wishes to engage staff and students in our work, I am excited to be able to integrate this into academic programmes and the work of other researchers.

I want to also stress that like all of our projects, the benefits, however slight, spill into other aspects of our work. Being a large project, Orbital has allowed us to concentrate on developing our toolchain and development environment across other projects, it’s given us time to learn new skills and share our learning with colleagues. In this way, it has been pivotal in the way we work and the future direction of our work.


Will build capacity for local development of innovative services

Orbital has allowed us to recruit two full-time Developers (Nick Jackson and Harry Newton). We are therefore two staff up and it is my intention to try and keep it that way.

Staff skills

Will improve staff skills and experience

Yes, we are benefitting in this way. The Orbital project team are now the RDM ‘experts’ in the university and despite being novices in this regard, over the course of the project staff working in the Library, ICT, Research and Enterprise Office and Centre for Educational Research and Development, are each developing their understanding of the processes and implications of RDM.

Clearly an 18 month project (at least the way I run them!), allows for staff to learn new tools and skills, experiment with new methods of working and disseminate this learning to other staff. This is one constant that I value highly about our project work. Despite the stop and start nature of project work and that not all of our work eventually makes it into a fully fledged university services, the tools and learning, especially as we engage more with academic programmes, goes beyond the confines of the project and is most satisfying.

I have written more about my interest in how hackers learn and the university as a hackerspace.

Culture change

Will change the research culture of the university by improving the tools available for managing and sharing data.

From the point-of-view of RDM, this is closely related to the first anticipated impact/benefit. We cannot claim to have any real evidence of benefits or impact at this stage on how we manage research data. However, as I’ve noted several times above, our use of the cloud, our advocacy of open licensing, our implementation of new R&D tools and processes, are also part of ‘culture change’ at the university. Furthermore, due to the DAF survey, the Orbital project is now widely known by researchers beyond our initial user group in the School of Engineering, and through our reporting to the university Research, Innovation and Enterprise Committee, staff at all levels are made aware of our work. Gradually, the idea of ‘research data management’ is being understood.

Technology choices

Will influence future choices in technologies (both locally developed and outsourced).

Yes! See above.

HE sector R&D

Contributes to innovative R&D in the HE sector

Yes, I think we are beginning to do this and the benefits so far are around shared learning among developers across different projects. We were instrumental in early discussions about the DevCSI MRD Hack Day and three of us contributed to the two day event. We blog regularly on this site (around 50 posts so far) and share our work with anyone who is interested (see the links in the sidebar).

Public Sector data management

As yet, the Orbital project can only claim to have resulted in one research dataset being published (again, more on this soon as I want to explain it in more detail). However, Orbital has grown out of our work over the last couple of years around managing and re-using institutional data, resulting in data.lincoln.ac.uk. We are also active members of the data.ac.uk initiative and I chaired the data.ac.uk panel at Dev8D this year.

Efficient re/use of resources

Demonstrably re-uses and builds on previous work, both funded and non-funded projects.

Yes, this was an early benefit of the project. We are building on our previous work and what we have learned from it in past projects. Our use of MongoDB, our work on staff profiles, our use of OAuth, and our API-driven approach to development, all build on past projects, funded and un-funded.

Part of the Orbital project governance is that I report to the university’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise Committee. The Committee meets every three months and I send a short report to each meeting and attend every other meeting. Here’s my report for the February committee meeting.

The Orbital Project

Progress report to the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Committee

30th January 2012

Author: Joss Winn, PI/PM.

Progress since the last update to the RIEC on 13th December:

  1. The short-term focus for the project continues to be the development of the technical infrastructure for managing research data, while being mindful of the long-term requirements to develop policy and a supportive environment for research staff.
  2. Software development has begun. We have finished setting up the development environment for the Orbital system. This is a major software development project for the university and we have spent some time designing the server architecture and quality assurance procedures for development.
  3. Orbital will make use of ‘cloud computing’ and is working with ICT as a pilot project for integrating cloud computing into our local infrastructure. A meeting took place with Eduserv, a non-profit provider of cloud computing to the HE sector (running on Janet) and a further meeting is taking place with Rackspace, a major commercial provider of cloud computing services. This work sits alongside ICT’s need to refresh their server infrastructure next year and will provide ICT with a real opportunity to investigate the business case for cloud computing as well as issues around actual implementation.
  4. A full-time post for a Web Developer has been advertised and we expect the post to begin late March/early April. This is the second full-time Web Developer post on the Orbital project.
  5. We are pleased that Dr. Ling from the School of Engineering and his PhD student, Chunmei Qing, will work with closely with the Orbital project in the development of the software, policy and training materials. Similarly, we are working with Prof. Chris Bingham and Stuart Watson (Siemens), and have recently joined their fortnightly research meetings, which are extremely useful to the Orbital project. At this stage, we welcome involvement from any Researcher in the School of Engineering and further into the project intend to broaden our use cases to other research disciplines.
  6. A meeting has been held with Dr. Mansur Darlington from the University of Bath. Dr. Darlington led the JISC-funded ERIM project, which studied the Research Data Management (RDM) issues for the discipline of Engineering.[1] The meeting was very useful for the Orbital team, including partners at Siemens and Researchers in the School of Engineering, who attended. The ERIM project provides a very robust, theoretical basis, which Orbital will attempt to build upon and implement. Similarly, a follow-up to the ERIM project will provide prototype tools, which we hope to build on for Orbital.[2] This is a key external relationship for the Orbital project.
  7. One issue flagged by Dr. Darlington concerned national funding bodies’ RDM policies. Each funding body has an RDM policy which requires universities to have effective methods in place for managing, preserving and disseminating research data.[3] The EPSRC has told all universities that we must provide them with a RDM roadmap by 1st May 2012 and must be compliant with these expectations by 1st May 2015.[4]
  8. The Orbital project is required by JISC to produce an RDM Policy for the institution. A national meeting is being organised by JISC to assist with the development of such policy in March. Following this, I suggest that a workshop is held in March where the Orbital project and other key staff from the Library and Research and Enterprise Office begin to draft this Policy and the required EPSRC roadmap. This can then be presented to the RIEC for discussion and approval prior to submission to the EPSRC.
  9. A meeting has been arranged for March 7th, 9.30-12pm, to discuss the Business Case for Open licenses. This discussion will be of interest for anyone concerned with licensing research outputs (‘Open Access’), software development projects (‘Open Source’), and teaching and learning resources (‘Open Educational Resources’). Staff from the JISC-funded OSS Watch, University of Oxford, will present at this meeting. Andrew Hunter and James Murray will attend and members of the RIEC are also welcome. Please RSVP to Joss Winn by end of February.
  10. Joss is working with JISC to organise a national event focussing on issues around software development for Research Data Management, which will be held in May.