Project Management with the OSF

OSF logo

The Open Science Framework (OSF) is a free and open source project management tool that connects researchers to the tools they are already using to make ongoing management easier through the research cycle. It was made and maintained by the Center for Open Science, a non-profit dedicated to increasing the openness, integrity, and reproducibility of research. You might know them as the organization that conduct meta-research studies, including the one that said about 37% of psychology research is not reproducible (they’ve expanded those studies to cancer biology, social science, and others, which you can view at: cos.io/services/research.

The reason that I really recommend the OSF is because of its connections to many other tools that are widely used for different parts of the research process. It allows you to preserve your current workflows, file types, and standard operating procedures, while setting you up to succeed with your RDM practices at the same time!

Along those lines, the OSF adds the connection between all the disparate services, allowing you to share one link to a project space that contains your code (either in Github, GitLab, or Bitbucket), data (S3, Dataverse, figshare, One Drive, Google Drive, Box, Dropbox), citations (Mendeley, Zotero), and documentation (in the OSF Wiki space, provided with each project). This also helps enhance your workflows with better documentation, sharing, and discovery of your research materials. If you choose to make your OSF project public, it is indexed widely in places like Google Scholar.

Some other important aspects of the OSF is that it allows you to:

  • Effectively collaborate among group members using disparate services and platforms
  • Add collaborations of all permission levels and track their contributions
  • Keep up-to-date documentation with the built-in wiki for every project
  • Publish and get credit for the materials underlying your research (e.g. code, data)

New York University is an institutional member of the OSF, and you can see all the public scholarship hosted on the OSF affiliated with NYU here: https://osf.nyu.edu. You can also create an OSF account using your NYU credentials, so let’s get into it!

Setting up your OSF account

Let’s get started with using the OSF. If you have an OSF account, go ahead and log in already (see how to get affiliated with NYU on the OSF via our guide). If you don’t have an OSF account, you can log in with NYU SSO and an account will be created for you. If you need to leave NYU, then you can just make another email address the primary one on the account and you can take everything with you, which is nice.

From osf.io, select “Sign in” on the upper right corner, and then select “Sign in via institution,” and then find “New York University” in the dropdown menu. You should be redirected to SSO and prompted to log in with your NYU netID and password. You’ll be brought to the dashboard page of the OSF, which will look empty because you just made your account!

From there, click your name in the top right corner and then click Settings. This brings you first to your profile information page, where you can fill in any social links you want (like your ORCID, Twitter, personal website, etc.), change your name to what you’d prefer on your citations, and add any information about where you work/where you studied (if you want).

Next, go to the Account Settings which you’ll see in the left sidebar. This is where you can set primary and secondary emails, export all your account data, and change your password. I would recommend setting one institutional address and one personal account. This way, folks reading your publications with your institutional address can find you easier, and also if you leave your institution you can quickly change the primary email on your OSF account to your personal one to maintain access to your account (all your projects will stay with you as well).

The next tab, Configure Add-on Accounts, is where we can authorize the accounts we’d want to link into the Open Science Framework. This is basically the reason we want to use the OSF over other tools – the ability to link together these add-ons in to one project. I have quite a few that are linked to my OSF account, including GitHub, GitLab, Google Drive (both my NYU and personal drives), and Zotero (which I use for my bibliographies).

Screenshot of the OSF configure add-on page

TO DO: take a minute now to click “Connect or Reauthorize Account” on 1 platform that you use frequently in your research.

Setting up a Project

Now that you have a few accounts linked into the OSF, let’s set up a project. Click “My Projects” on the top bar of the OSF. This will bring you to a list of all your OSF projects.

TO DO: click the bright green “Create Project” and fill in the form that pops up. Fill in a project title at the minimum, and keep the storage location at United States. You may notice it’s auto-affiliated with NYU!

A screenshot of a new project modal in the OSF

If you click the “More” button, you’ll see some extra options we can have at the start of our project. First is a brief description of the project – you can always fill that in later if you want to leave it blank for now, but it’s just meant to be an elevator pitch type description of the overall project. The other is a template – this is when you have an existing OSF project that you like the structure of (for instance: a lab template or a template from another similar research project) and want to duplicate. It duplicates the structure of the project, not the files. You can’t go back and add this in automatically later (you could do it manually, however). When you click “Create”, you’ll have the option of staying on the landing page or going to your newly created project. Let’s go to the project!

A screenshot of a new project in the OSF

When you get there, don’t be afraid of how blank it looks. This is the most common thing I hear when first getting into the OSF – that they have a hard time knowing where to start because it’s so blank. I am going to walk you through the best first steps in filling in your project!

All OSF projects start private, and you choose to make them public when you want. *A forewarning that all the project’s activities are logged in the activity log, and there’s no way to delete it, so if you delete, edit, or comment on something, it’ll be recorded in that log (not the exact text necessarily, but the action).

Adding add-ons

As I mentioned at the start of the tutorial, one of the best things about the OSF is the ability to link in files from lots of platforms that folks may use for one project. This saves you and your collaborators from having to dig through their “Shared with me” files on Google Drive, or searching through their repositories on GitHub, or combing through email to find where something is. Everything associated with one project can be viewed and discovered in one place, with one link, one tab! Collaborators can independently add add-ons to projects as well, so everyone’s materials can be present. So, to get started, click the “Add-on” tab in the project navigation. You’ll see first a place where you can decide what add-ons you’d like to add to the project.

A screenshot of a new project in the OSF

When you add an add-on to a project, it’ll take you through what each action on the OSF does in relation to the add-on. For instance, for the Google Drive add-on lists out permissions and what it means when users take certain actions on both Google Drive and the OSF:

A screenshot of Google Drive permissions in the OSF

Make sure you understand and are comfortable with these. Upon adding the connection, we can then we can configure the accounts that we’ve added to the project. That’s the next tab on this page, but you should see it right underneath the initial place where we selected what add-ons we’d like.

A screenshot of configuring add-ons in the OSF

If it’s the same add-on you authorized in your profile, you should see “Import account from profile”. You’ll then be prompted to choose an account, though most times it’s only one. For instance, I linked two Google Drive accounts in my OSF profile (both with my pre-married last name) – my NYU account, my Pratt account, my personal account (Irene is my middle name!). I have to choose which one I’d like to associate with this particular project:

A screenshot of authorizing an add-on in the OSF

The page will reload, and in Configure Add-ons you should be able to see radio buttons which you’ll use to select the folder, repository, or citation group you wish to import into your project space.

A screenshot of selecting which Google Drive folder to link to an OSF project

Add-ons work like a two-way door: if you change something in your add-on, those changes will be reflected on the OSF. If you change files on the OSF (only available for some add-ons), those changes will be reflected back in the add-on. Another quick note about add-ons: files are versioned very well in OSF storage, but versioning on the add-ons is up to them. For instance, Dropbox only keeps versions for 30 days unless you have a paid account. Exposing those files in OSF storage doesn’t change that.

TO DO: take a minute now to connect one platform to your current OSF project - the one you authorized earlier!

Adding Collaborators

You can use the OSF by yourself, but it’s really great when you can collaborate with others. So, the OSF has a few ways that you can let others see your work and collaborate with you. The first is giving someone permissions on the project! To add a collaborator, click Collaborators tab on the navigation bar of the project (not the OSF) and click the add button next to the title of the page.

A screenshot of the collaborators tab in the OSF

You can then search for your collaborators, and add them to the project. If you have a collaborator who isn’t on the OSF, you can still add them as a co-author or collaborator on the project, their name will just appear as text without a link. You have three options for permissions: Read (view-only), Read + Write (view and add content, but can’t delete anything), and Administrator (full permissions).

TO DO: go ahead and add me as a collaborator to the project you’re creating going through this tutorial! Search “Vicky Rampin”

A screenshot of the collaborators search in the OSF

You can also share projects via a view-only link, including an option to anonymize contributors for anonymous peer review.

A screenshot of making an anonymous in the OSF

Working with Your Files

You can have your files in add-ons, but you the OSF Storage which you can use. For private projects, the maximum is 5 GB for total storage, and for public projects and components the limit is 50 GB total. Files in add-ons do not apply to this limit. All the files, both via add-ons and OSF storage, show up in the Files tab in the project navigation. In the “Files” space, you can:

  • See all files from OSF storage and any configured add-ons
  • Drag and drop files into any kind of storage and also between storage types, OSF or otherwise
  • Rename files
  • Download all the files as a zip file
  • Create folders for better organization

When you click on a file in OSF, it renders right in-browser (even 3d images!). On the bottom right is the “tag” field, where you can enter tags to allow others to find your files easier. When you click on a file in OSF storage, you can also see and download all the versions of that file that have been uploaded. The file has to be uploaded with the same name into OSF storage to be able to see this.

A screenshot of the versions of a file in the OSF

However! If your add-on has good versioning than you can view and download past versions right from the OSF as well, with that same workflow.

One other unique aspect of working with files in the OSF is that users with “Read + Write” or “Administrator” permissions can check out files. This means that other collaborators cannot edit the file while it is checked out. When you click on a file on the OSF (you should see it render in-browser), on the file toolbar – click the “Check out file” button from the toolbar.

Documenting with the Wiki

The OSF has a built-in wiki page that you can use to document your project. A best practice is to use the “Home” wiki page as a table of contents listing project goals, personnel, sub-components, and links to important files.

A screenshot of the wiki tab in the OSF

You can have multiple wiki pages to use for different purposes as well. I know some labs have a wiki page for their meeting notes, another for their standard operating procedure, another to document the variables from datasets hosted in the OSF, etc. You can use the wiki to do whatever documentation you need!

The wiki has a robust versioning – and you can compare versions side-by-side to see what’s changed!

A screenshot of the tracked changes in the wiki in the OSF

Sharing Publicly

Everything (files, components, wiki docs) gets a short permalink in OSF. That makes it easy to share via e-mail, Twitter, pastebins, etc. You can even get a DOI for a project or a component, and include it in a “Supplementary Materials Section” of a journal article! To complement the easy sharing, public OSF projects also have access to some analytics about when people accessed their projects the most, which pages/files are the most popular, and where folks are referred from:

A screenshot of the analytics tab in the OSF

You can also share a snapshot of your OSF project, frozen in time, via a registration. You can have multiple registrations of a project, all getting unique DOIs, which is useful if your project evolves over time. If you publish multiple papers on the same project, but the data/methods evolve, you can register it at each point of publication so that the paper always links back to the relevant files, not just the most recent. When you register a project, it essentially means all the files, wiki, etc. are frozen into a separate space. The registration is a read-only copy of you project at a given point in time. It always links back to the editable, update-able project.

A screenshot of a registration in the OSF

Components

Everything you can do to an OSF project, you can do to a component. It’s basically a linked but standalone part of your OSF project. They are essentially “sub-projects” that can have their own set of collaborators, add-ons, and access controls. They can help you organize different parts of your research. A component’s privacy settings, contributors, tags, wikis, add-ons, and files are separate from the parent project. If you choose, components can inherit the contributors and tags of a parent project. You should not nest components within components – it can get confusing if you nest things too deeply!

In the “Components” part of your OSF project (right column, second box from the top), click the “Add Component” button. You’ll see some options in the screen, including:

  • Title
  • Add collaborators from the parent project (checkbox)
  • Add tags from the parent project (checkbox)
  • Description – short blurb about the add-on
  • Category – these help discovery of your work as well as helping you organize the different aspects of your research. You can pick one per component: Analysis Communication Data Hypothesis Methods & Measures Procedure Project Software Other Uncategorized

You can reorder components within a project by dragging and dropping them into the correct order from the parent project’s Overview page.

A screenshot of example project with components tab in the OSF

You can also link project in the “Components” section of a project “Overview” page. Links have a link symbol in front of them to distinguish them from components. To add a link to another project from within your project, click the “Link Projects” button in the “Components” section. The “Link other OSF” projects pop up will appear, and you’ll see all your projects listed first by default.

To find the project you want to link to, you can either enter a project title or project GUID into the search box. The GUID is the last part of a link in the OSF, those last 5 characters. You can either the “Search all projects” if the project you want to link to is not yours, or the “Search my projects” button if you want to link to one of your own projects. “Search all projects” takes longer to load since there are a lot of public projects on the OSF, just a warning.

A screenshot of the linking a project as a component in the OSF

After you get to the project you want to link to, click the green + icon next to the project to which you want to link. Then, click “Done” and the linked project should show up in the “Components” tab of your project now! If you want to ever remove that link, click the X icon next to the linked project’s title.

Drawing from Other Projects

If you see a project you like and want to duplicate it’s structure, you have two options:

  1. Forking, which creates a copy of the structure an existing project and its components. It will not copy the files. The fork always points back to the original project.
  2. Duplicating does the same thing as a fork, but it doesn’t have the link back to the original project.

To fork or duplicate, find a project you like and click the fork icon in the upper right hand side and select which type of copy you’d like to make:

A screenshot of the ways you can duplicate another's project in the OSF

When you try to make a fork or duplicate a project, a pop up will appear asking you to confirm whether you want to create a new project using this project as a template. Any add-ons connected to the project will not be copied into the template. You then have the project under your account, and you can do whatever you want with it! But no matter what, you’ll still need to add collaborators, add-ons, write in the wiki, and the other skills we’ve covered previously in the tutorial.

Further Resources

You can always contact Vicky Rampin, the Librarian for Research Data Management and Reproducibility and also an OSF ambassador, at vicky dot rampin at nyu dot edu if need support in using the OSF at NYU. In addition to these tutorial materials, here are some other great resources you can reference: