We caught up with Duke Office of Scientific Integrity – ASIST Team to learn more about why Duke decided to offer all institutional members access to LabArchives electronic research notebooks.

Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Why did Duke want to use an ERN (electronic research notebook)?

With the growing amount of digital data researchers collect, analyze and store many researchers and academic research institutions are looking for easier, faster and safer ways to maintain their data for years to come. Everyone benefits when research institutions can offer flexible electronic systems that store data from all disciplines with the objective of helping to maintain the integrity of the scientific record.

There are many commercial options available for storing and organizing electronic research data and documentation.  And every year, the landscape changes. Different offices at Duke reviewed potential ERN systems, including our office.  Based on the feedback from an initial round of notebook comparisons, Duke had five research groups spend a few months working in LabArchives. After careful evaluation, Duke signed an institutional license with LabArchives. LabArchives ERN is now available to everyone at Duke.

What were features/workflows Duke simply have to have when it came to an ERN?

We wanted an ERN that maintained data security while also providing a user friendly interface. The utility, features and security were key items we considered. If researchers couldn’t easily use a system to store, access and share their work- then it wouldn’t make sense to purchase an institution-wide license.  

Some of the features researchers were looking for were:

  • Automated version control
  • Automated provenance tracking for any edits made
  • Flexible system that could hold any file format and size
  • Options for data export and transfer
  • Ease of use and intuitive interface design
  • Bulk data import and file viewing options
  • Ability to easily share notebooks with colleagues and collaborators
  • Integration with as many research software programs as possible

Duke chose LabArchives to help researchers organize and secure their data.

What criteria did you use when choosing an ERN at Duke?

We looked at multiple ERN options and considered how researchers liked the interface, the overall costs, integrations with other commonly used software applications, flexibility of the systems to adapt to different workflows and the ability to handle different file formats and sizes.

Some of the LabArchives benefits for Duke researchers!

After you decided to use LabArchives what happened next?

Our team partnered with the Office of Research Informatics to develop an implementation and support plan.  Together we navigated the Information Technology components of implementing an ERN institution-wide. We also developed a comprehensive communications, outreach and support plan.

  • Examples of some of the IT components:
    • Duke Box integration for larger files
    • Single Sign on
    • IT security review
  • Examples of some of the larger communications pieces:
    • Customized guidance materials, postcards, digital flyers and blog posts
    • Dedicated ERN website with FAQs and support contact information
    • In-person demonstrations with LabArchives representatives.
    • Demo slide deck that describes the main features of the Duke ERN
    • Demo notebook so that our office could provide demos to departments and research units
    • Duke-wide support notebook

What did the early adoption phase look like?

The early adoption phase provided volunteer Duke research programs with an opportunity to set up LabArchives with unlimited storage and single sign on.  The research groups participated in demonstrations, filled out online questionnaires and participated in interviews. Their feedback was critical. Users noted several advantages and deficiencies – some of which are inherent issues in managing electronic research data in general, and other more specific questions about the workflow in the notebooks, some of which could be immediately resolved, and some of which could not be. When we came across issues that couldn’t be resolved immediately we submitted them to be added to the LabArchives development roadmap.

Workshops with the LabArchives team were held during the early adoption phase.

How did the early adoption phase go?

The researchers who volunteered their time and efforts to test LabArchives shared their insights on the adoption process.

The early adoption phase gave us insight into the start-up questions and decisions that researchers would encounter when trying out LabArchives, such as how to best organize notebooks for their research programs.

How have you let researchers at Duke know that LabArchives is available to them? How do you educate them on how to use it?

Research Town Hall meeting.

In general, we reached out to researchers and leadership through multiple channels to ensure that everyone was aware of LabArchives. Some of our initial communications included institution wide announcement emails to all faculty and staff, in addition to speaking at smaller unit and departmental meetings and larger venues.  One of the larger venues was a Research Town Hall on institutional resources for data management. In addition to our ERN website we offer weekly office hours and a support notebook shared with all new users.  

Communication is ongoing- as new researchers join the institution and we are always learning about new LabArchives functions and features.  When we learn about a potential shortcoming in the system’s functionality for particular research groups, we work to provide alternative solutions.

Biggest challenges of this process?

There is no single program that fits every researcher’s needs.  There are so many technologies that researchers use for communication and data storage and analysis. The big challenge is to figure out when it is important to choose one single system that handles most things adequately versus multiple systems that are each designed to do one specific thing very well. We have thought about the ERN as a system that can centrally house documentation and descriptions of how the data are collected, analyzed and stored.  It’s an important step forward to be able to provide a system with many automated security, version and control and provenance features. This doesn’t solve all data management challenges in the age of digital data but it can be part of the solution.

Duke’s dedicated ERN website.

Biggest rewards?

The most important reward of this process is that Duke researchers now have an institutionally supported resource which is quite flexible and secures their data and documentation in a searchable and version controlled format. We have also benefitted from the opportunity to meet with researchers, learn from them and see how they use ERNs.

LabArchives users at Duke often inform our office on how to advise other groups to leverage features of LabArchives that were previously unfamiliar.

Thanks to the entire Duke Office of Scientific Integrity – ASIST Team for their time and excellent work!

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