Live Data Network Retrospective: 16th November

Live Data SiG Nov 16 CartogramThe first Live Data Network event was hosted by the OeRC on Monday 16th November with presentations from nine researchers from across the University and introduced by Professor of Visualisation, Min Chen. An enthusiastic audience of 27 brought the room over capacity, evidence of the wide interest in building interactive visualisations at the University.

Talks were invited from researchers with existing visualisations or datasets they would like to visualise, and from the developers of specialist visualisation tools built here at Oxford.

  • Dr. Alexandre Tessier (visiting the Faculty of History) discussed his study of Early-Modern European Mail services and his interest in visualising how the network developed and changed across the three centuries in his field of study. This project is part of the Cultures of Knowledge program.
  • Marilou Polymeropoulou (Faculty of Music) presented on using networks and social network analysis (SNA) as a method for visualising data in the social sciences and humanities with amusing clips from the Europe in 8bits documentary accompanying her work on visualising the ethnography of 8bit music across the world.
  • Rowan Wilson (IT Services) has a project to visualise data using Blender 3D and demonstrated the capabilities of Blender for photo-realistic rendering, rigging and animation.
  • William Allen (Migration Observatory) provided an overview of how the Migration Observatory has used interactive visualisations to give the public a window into the 2011 Census.
  • Daniel Haley (Materials Science) demonstrated the fascinating 3Depict software for visualising 3D point clouds, with integrated visualisations for charge/mass and spectroscopy data.
  • Benjamin Hennig (Geography) is pictured top-right discussing his work with cartograms on and
  • Ben Jeffery (Wellcome Trust Centre) works on the impressive Panoptes tool for exploring and visualising research data, with a particular focus on genomic data.
  • Stephen Taylor (Computational Biology) gave an excellent overview of the Oxford developed Zegami tool for image collection categorisation with integrated analysis and visualisation tools.
  • Andrew Stretton (ChemBioHub) is the web developer for ChemBioHub, building a platform for researchers to organise and collaborate on chemical biology research with built-in visualisation.

Note: In the interest of openness, Martin Hadley’s introductory presentation and the results of the cake survey available through this Shiny app,

Cake preference chart

Cake preferences for the Live Data SiG held on 16th November

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First Live Data Network Event on 16th November

In just less than a fortnight we’re hosting the first termly meeting for researchers interested in interactively visualising their data to meet and discuss ideas; everyone (undergraduate, postgraduate, research fellow and academic staff) is invited to attend.

Date: Monday 16th November
Time: 2:00pm – 4:00pm
Refreshments: Coffee and cake
Venue: OeRC Conference Room, OeRC, 7 Keble Rd, Oxford OX1 3QG

These meetings support the Live Data Project which has the goal of “making visualisation a service” to researchers at the University by promoting the use of interactive visualisation technology and developing training courses in a variety of software packages and programming languages. The project was inspired by the growing numbers of researchers at the university with an interest in either visualising their data or building software for visualising their collaborator’s data. One of the problems we’ve found is that researchers are often interested in similar problems and data visualisation tools, but unaware of one another. We hope that through these meetings we can connect researchers across all the University divisions and foster a collaborative community of researchers building interactive visualisations.

Each meeting we’ll invite two types of talks, and in the future will invite external speakers to discuss their experience in creating interactive visualisations:

  • 10min presentations on example interactive visualisations
  • 5min presentations on datasets that they’d like advice in visualising

There are already a number of presentations lined up on Blender 3D, visualising and analysing music preference networks, and more. If you’re interested in giving a presentation, attending or just to find out more then please email

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EPSRC Readiness Project – Summary

By James AJ Wilson 

The ESPRC Readiness Project was undertaken to raise awareness amongst EPSRC-funded researchers of the new research data management Expectations that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Funding Council introduced on the 1st May 2015 ( The nine Expectations oblige researchers to document, preserve, and provide access to the research data that they create, and require research institutions to provide the services and support needed to ensure this can happen. Rather than simply asking researchers to comply with the new Expectations, the project sought to understand researchers’ concerns, and to improve the guidance and support offered by the University of Oxford.

More than a hundred EPSRC grant-holders were sent a letter signed by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research (Professor Ian Walmsley) informing them of the new Expectations and inviting them to meet with a member of the EPRSC Readiness Project Team. Over the coming months, the large majority of those invited participated either in a one-to-one meeting or a disciplinary workshop.

Reactions to the EPSRC Expectations expressed during the interview and group sessions were mixed, but generally negative. Many researchers felt that the Expectations would add to their already busy workloads and be of little value either to themselves or their wider disciplinary communities. Even when informed of the kinds of benefits the EPSRC envisaged arising from the Expectations, a degree of scepticism remained. The Expectations were, however, greeted more positively by researchers working in the fields of crystallography and aspects of biochemistry, where it is already common practice to share data and where the infrastructure to assist with this is already established at the disciplinary level. It will inevitably take time for all of the new data management requirements to become generally accepted practice in many disciplines, but responses also suggested that barriers to acceptance can be greatly lowered by the provision of simple, integrated, and easy-to-use tools and services by the institution.

Throughout the project, researchers sought clarification as to how the EPSRC Expectations would affect them in practice and what they needed to do to ensure compliance. These questions were addressed and added to a FAQ on Oxford’s Research Data website ( A checklist and decision tree where also developed.

Particular concerns included: what actually counts as data?; what should be done with the software underpinning datasets?; whether preference should be given to preserving raw or processed data; whether the effort required to intelligently share research data was worth it for some data types; and how the expectations applied to largely theoretical research outputs. The concerns raised by researchers have been relayed to the EPSRC.

A number of suggestions as to how University support could be improved were noted down and are now being acted upon. These have proved particularly important for understanding how researchers need to interact with the University’s data repository, ORA-Data ( As a result of the project, the data deposit workflow has been significantly improved, and the pricing model for the service is being reviewed.

EPSRC-sponsored researchers are now leading the field in terms of the number of data deposits they are making to the ORA-Data repository, suggesting that the project has indeed been successful in conveying the Expectations.

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3-month report: June to August 2015


Martin Haldley profile

Martin Hadley profile

We’re very pleased to welcome Martin Hadley to the research support team. Martin will focus on supporting academics in using a variety of tools for preparing and sharing data sets, and in particular academics interested in using data visualization to connect with potential collaborators, and engage the public in research.

DHOxSS 2015 was a great success, and coped well with the increased numbers. The DHOxSS is a collaboration between various units of the University of Oxford donating their time as DHOxSS Directors, Organisational Committee, Workshop Organisers, Speakers, and in the work of the IT Services Events Team. Speakers and Workshop Organisers are rewarded for their labours through attendance at the DHOxSS welcome reception and sometimes other events. The enterprise as a whole is financially underwritten by IT Services. For more information see the Digital Humanities website or a blog post report by Dr James Cummings (coming soon).

Adelina Tomovo, Suzy Shepherd and Rowan completed our latest set of videos for the openness at Oxford series on These videos are particularly impressive in terms of production values, and the academics involved: Ben Goldacre, Danny Dorling, Chris Lintott, Maja Založnik, Jacob Dahl, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Antoine Jerusalem to name just a few. The videos present an upbeat but realistic view on research data management and the challenges ahead.

The Live Data, Participant Data and Blender 3D project funding requests have all been approved for funding and will start September/October 2015.

James Wilson completed the EPSRC readiness report which is looking at ways to support academics who need to manage research data.

Rowan Wilson completed the lecture capture report which will be used to inform decisions relating to procurement of ‘cloud’ storage for recorded lecture recordings.

Martin Wynne completed the first phase of the WebCMS project (looking to create a service for members of the University to create websites using pre-defined templates using Drupal). We are now waiting to see what is proposed for the next phase.

We continue to support the Science Oxford STEM Ambassadors scheme by offering work experience to local GCSE students. We hosted Lukas Kaczkowski from St Gregory the Great, John Kafke from the Cheney School and John Albury from Deer Park school in Cirencester.

Progress against plans for last 3 months

ngagement statistics, June to August 2015

Engagement statistics, June to August 2015

  1. We met our budget target for 2014-15 and have a healthy pipeline of work for the coming year
  2. The ORDS software has been handed over to the Software Solutions service team and has 20+ academic projects on the go
  3. Martin completed his Clarin Eric and OeRC related work for 2015
  4. Rowan, Adelina and Suzy updated our openness series of videos on
  5. Martin Hadley has been inducted, (or is it induced?)
  6. We’re helping to form the RDM delivery group which will bring together Research Services, Bodleian and IT services staff
  7. We seem more relaxed after some holiday

Plans for next 3 months

  1. Start the Live data, Participant data and Blender 3d projects
  2. Start working with the Bodleian Digital Manuscripts Toolkit project which is in turn part of the Mellon funded International Image Interoperability Framework:
  3. Run the RDM delivery group meetings with teams at Research Services and the Bodleian Libraries i.e. maintain the RDM roadmap and producing a report for the RDM working group each term
  4. Agree next phase of Clarin work with OeRC and PIs in Utrecht
  5. Work with the ITLP to create a data science / RDM series of taught courses focused on tools and techniques for tidying, analysing, sharing and preserving data.
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3-month report: March to May 2015


With the end of the ORDS early-life support project approaching the project team have been working hard to iron out bugs and set up the support and maintenance for the ongoing service. The service will be offered by research support (working with researchers), software solutions (will own code maintenance and development) and sysdev (management of servers) teams in IT Services. We aim to make ORDS an important tool in the research data management lifecycle i.e. for storing and developing databases during the ‘active’ phase of a research project, and facilitating the deposit to a preservation service such as ORA-Data. ORDS is currently free for early adopters but in future we will need to ask researchers to add a cost line item to their research grants. It will therefore be important for us to continue working closely with the Bodliean Libraries and Research Services.

We’ve been advising the BRISSKit project based within the University of Leicester. BRISSKit is an open source software platform for conducting biomedical research. It is deployable either locally or in the cloud and it enables biomedical and translational researchers to securely manage and combine datasets. BRISSKit grew from funding provided by JISC and HEFCE, and is now a strategic project for the newly reformed Jisc, and will likely make use of the Jisc Shared Data Centre.

The OxGAME project has now been transitioned to the Shallows Seas project and we will watch and learn how Unity can be used to in active research projects i.e. as a novel approach to interviewing and questionnaires. There are already a number of academics at Oxford interested in exploring this technology at the Geography department.

We’ve worked FrontRange HEAT into our processes and are learning how to use this to coordinate our work with other teams in IT services.

We also hosted Rupert another local work experience student.

Progress against plans for last 3 months

Engagement statistics, March to May 2015

Engagement statistics, March to May 2015

  1. Service transition for ORDS is on track
  2. Live data PID completed and funded by the Research IT board
  3. FR Heat embedded in our MO
  4. Blender 3D proposal submitted to the Innovation fund
  5. Research data documentary film still underway

Plans for next 3 months

  1. Ensure we have met our budget target
  2. Finish ORDS ELS
  3. Finish this year’s Clarin Eric and Clarin OeRC engagement
  4. Publish research data video to iTunesU and along with other talks filmed as part of ‘things to do with data’ and ‘data visualization’ talks
  5. Welcome our new recruit
  6. Setup closer working practices with the Bodliean Libraries
  7. Enjoy annual leave
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Trying Apereo OAE in Oxford

Apereo OAE (Open Academic Environment) is an online collaborative tool for universities. It sprang from development of the virtual learning environment Sakai, which is the solution underlying Oxford’s VLE instance WebLearn. OAE is a more free-form, peer-to-peer online environment that Sakai, by necessity. It encourages informal collaboration and brainstorming. Documents can be shared and collaboratively edited within the system, and teams of users built dynamically to share resources. It’s the kind of place that you might throw up a partially completed project bid and invite a group to comment and collaborate.

Oxford has access to a trial instance of OAE and anyone with an Oxford SSO account can log in and use it right now. There is also a mailing list for people trying the system out.

OAE is an interesting tool in that it is useful within a single institution, but its usefulness is multiplied as more and more institutions take it up. It is a piece of free/open source software, so anyone can run their own instance of it locally, but it is also provided as a hosted service, in which institutions can co-exist with their peers, and collaborations between academics at differing institutions can be constructed.

Our team is investigating the possibilities of this tool by making it available to Oxford staff and academics, and seeing what happens. We would be very interested to hear of use cases that this solution might support, and also those it might not. Have a go, and let us know!

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3-month report: December to February 2015


ORDS title card with border

Click image to watch the new ORDS video (on YouTube).

Another great quarter for actively engaging the researchers: the Things to do with data, Data visualization and Corpus Linguistics seminar series, training in using ORDS, XML editing with Oxygen, the TEI Guidelines, XPath Searching,  agent-based modelling, and a new 3-hour practical course about using Blender for visualization. We have also delivered RDM training for the social sciences, MPLS, and Humanities divisions, for the NERC doctoral training programme, and via ITLP.

The IT Services ORDS early-life support team is approaching the final stages in terms of fixing bugs and formalising the application management with the software solutions and infrastructure teams. We also released a new ORDS demo video.

The IT Services Redds project has started to scope and specify the deposit interface to ORA Data.

Mark Johnson is a web developer, data wrangler and open source software specialist. Contact

Sadly, Mark Johnson left IT Services to join the Open University

The IT Services lecture capture project has started where we will lead on evaluating alternative software for recording and sharing presentations.

The EU VALS project is in the final phase and our contribution will be focused on evaluation and recommendations.

The IT Services Web CMS project is up and running again and we are leading the definition of user requirements and piloting templates with researchers.

The EU DiXiT project has delivered a number of training events across Europe.

We continue to contribute to the CLARIN ERIC network focusing on user involvement in language resources and tools, and to contribute to the setting up of a UK consortium of research institutions aiming to develop infrastructure for sharing digital linguistic data and tools.

We are providing IP expertise to the Jisc Brisskit project team.

We have begun the IT Services Live data to scope a set of data visualization services.

We have been given the go-ahead to investigate how to better support research who need to manage participant data (IT Services Participant Data project will start Sep 2015).

Sadly we had to say goodbye to Mark Johnson who has joined the Open University. Mark made an enormous contribution to the team over the last 3 years working on ORDS, developing Drupal, leading on open source advice and starring in several vodcasts. We saw Mark off at the local with a few games of DiXit (yes, he won) and Ergo (designed by Brian and Brent Knudson) – possible the nerdiest game ever invented.

Progress against plans for last 3 months

Engagement statistics, December to February 2015

Engagement statistics, December to February 2015

  1. Plans are still in formation regarding how we will report to the research IT committee (with the libraries and other service owners).
  2. We have agreed to drop the application for funding for the OxLangCloud project and instead support a pilot of the CQPweb software run by OeRC and Linguistics faculty
  3. We have started the Live Data project and been given the go ahead to run a project focused on participant data

Plans for next 3 months

  1. Hand over ORDS software maintenance to Software Solutions
  2. Finish the Live Data project PID
  3. Embed the FrontRange system in our team practices
  4. Write an innovation fund project focused on visualization of large data sets
  5. Finish a new documentary style video about research data and update the openspires website
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A Force to be reckoned with

Force2015 logoOn Monday and Tuesday of this week (12th-13th January) I attended the Force2015 conference on research communications and e-scholarship. The conference was the successor to two US-based events entitled ‘Beyond the PDF’ – but happily for me, Force2015 was handily located in Oxford, in a venue about five minutes’ walk from my office.

A major aim of the conference was to bring together people from a wide range of different sectors – researchers, publishers, funders, librarians, and more – so as one might expect, the programme covered a wide range of topics. Chris Lintott’s fascinating keynote on citizen science got things off to a strong start, but for me the most interesting discussion happened in the latter part of Tuesday morning, when there was a vision session (a series of flash talks where conference attendees had five minutes to present their idea for improving scholarly communication), followed by a panel session on academic credit.

Although these two sessions started from somewhat different perspectives, a common theme very rapidly emerged: that the way in which the outcomes of research are presented and assessed needs to change. The primary unit of academic communication (and the thing that matters most in terms of CV points for researchers) is still the traditionally published journal article. However, text-based articles aren’t the only result of scholarly endeavour, and we need to find new ways of enabling other research outputs – data, software, multimedia objects, and more – to become part of the formal research record. Alongside that, we need to rethink the way in which researchers are credited for the work they do (composing the actual text of an article is only one part of the scholarly process), and the value that is placed on each role. This echoes much of what the research data management community has been saying for some years now, though with an even broader scope – I hadn’t, for example, previously fully appreciated the importance of software as a research output in some fields.

However, while there was much useful debate, I was personally rather disappointed that non-science disciplines weren’t better represented, both here and elsewhere on the program. Social sciences popped up occasionally, but all too many of the sessions barely even acknowledged that the humanities existed. For a conference about the future of research communications to argue that the current model of scientific publishing doesn’t represent how research in that field actually works is entirely legitimate and much needed. But for much discussion at the same conference to proceed as if scientific research were the only sort that takes place is more than a little worrying.

At one point things almost seemed to be veering in the direction of claiming that papers weren’t really important at all, or that they were merely advertising for the real content. A question from the audience drawing attention to this produced some hasty backtracking, and assurances that the significance of the interpretation and conclusions provided by the text wasn’t being overlooked. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help feeling that the whole shape of the discussion might have been different if there’d been someone on the panel putting the perspective of the philosopher or the historian. (We were told a couple of times that Force11, the organization behind the conference, is making an effort to be more inclusive and to cover a wider range of disciplinary views: we can only hope that these labours will have borne more fruit by the time Force2016 rolls around.)

On a more positive note, I was at the conference with my Online Research Database Service (ORDS) hat on, with a poster and an accompanying demo. It was good to have the opportunity to show the system off to a group of interested people, and pleasing to get some excited responses. A major part of the reason for developing ORDS was to provide researchers with a straightforward way of sharing their data, both with collaborators and with the public, with a view to allowing the data to be recognized as a key resource in its own right – so it’s nice to feel we’re doing our bit to help bring about a revolution in scholarly communication.

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Is your software open or fauxpen?


Is your software project open or “fauxpen”? Are there barriers in place preventing external developers from contributing? Barriers to commercial uptake? Barriers to understanding how the software or the project itself works?

These are the kind of questions that the OSS Watch team, in partnership with Pia Waugh, developed the Openness Rating to help you find out.

Using a series of questions covering legal issues, governance, standards, knowledge sharing and market access, the tool helps you to identify potential problem areas for users, contributors and partners.

We’ve used the Openness Rating at OSS Watch for several years as a key part of our consultancy work, but this is the first time we’ve made the app itself open for anyone to use.

It requires a fair bit of knowledge to get the most out of it, but even at a basic level its useful for highlighting questions that a project needs to be able to answer. If you have a software project developed within your research group, then you can use the app to get an idea of where the barriers might be. Likewise, you can use it if you’re considering contributing to a software project, for example when evaluating a platform to use as the basis of work in a research project.

Some of the questions do require a bit more specialist knowledge, but you can contact our team via email at to get help.

Get started with the Openness Rating tool.

Photo by Alan Levine used under CC-BY-SA.

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Data Visualisation Talks

This information is now available here.

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