* The description of many of these roles is taken directly or modified from Chapter 8: Designing the User Experience, Recording Science in the Digital Era: From Paper to Electronic Notebooks and Other Digital Tools, 2019,


In some organisations, an individual may choose to install an ELN/DRN on their own machine, without the support of anyone else. However, a more likely scenario for most research organisations and groups is that the ELN/DRN will be shared by multiple users and installed on an internal server or remote location such as a cloud-based service. In such a shared ELN/DRN scenario, an important (and often forgotten) user role is the administrator of the system. The administrator is likely to be the person responsible for installing, configuring, maintaining, and updating the system. Day-to-day administration activities may include user management, security, backup, database administration, training, and other support tasks. The administrator role may be held by a member of the research team, an internal IT-support team, or even an external contractor, depending on where the ELN/DRN system is hosted and who is responsible for its set up and maintenance. The concerns and needs of the administrator role are likely to be quite different to those of the other user roles, and quite different interfaces may be provided. Although this role might be considered a ‘power user’, holders of this role could have a range of technical ability, and in academia in particular, it may be a member of the research team without any specialist skills and only a part-time responsibility for helping others with the system.

Project Manager (PI / Supervisor)

The project manager role may be the principal investigator or supervisor, depending on the nature of the research group, or for industry a manager or project manager. This role is responsible for monitoring the research activities of the team, assigning tasks and providing feedback to individuals. They may also be interested in exploring the research of their team, including comparing experiments and results, and looking for patterns. The project manager may want to be able to extract information from notebooks and other resources and then use that information to hold discussions, create presentations, include it within other publications, or share it with collaborators and clients. The project manager is likely to be involved in coordinating and developing relationships with external collaborators and clients. Some project managers may be interacting with their researchers or members of their team remotely. When we investigated how ELNs were being used by real communities, we found that a large percentage of notebooks were used by PIs for project and team management purposes, acting as a tool for organizing meetings, distributing information to research teams, and for capturing personal thoughts and activities. The prevalence of this use suggests that project and team management are also important goals for the project manager role.


A primary role for the ELN/DRN is the role of researcher, acting as the author of the research information that is to be captured and utilized in the system. The researcher plans their own research, collecting data, processing and analysing data, and recording the processes they use to obtain them. They may create their own code for working with data produced by themselves or others. They may share their data and notes with only their project manager, or they may share them with a team, the community or even the public. They are likely to use the research they capture in their notebooks to produce reports or papers that may be shared with clients or the community.


Collaborators want to be able to access the research of staff using the ELN/DRN and to be able to collaborate in a variety of different ways. Collaborators may be other researchers, second supervisors, collaborators from other disciplines, or active members of the wider research community. Although in Open Science projects the notebooks may be visible to the entire scientific community, an individual is not counted as a collaborator unless there is a two-way dialog between them and members of the research team. This role is likely to want similar capabilities as the project manager to have an overview of the research but a much more limited capability to interact with the team.


This is a similar role to the collaborator, in that the auditor wants to have access to an overview of the research and be able to dig into individual notebooks to check how the research is processing or assess whether processes are being properly followed. They may have specific requirements to be able to indicate the audit status of a project or notebook and to be able to ask questions or add feedback for the benefit of project managers and researchers. Intellectual Property (IP) lawyers may belong to this role if they have access to the system to extract content, but do not actively engage with the researchers using the system.

Data Producer

A data producer has some similarities to the researcher role, but their primary focus is on the generation of data for use by others. For example, a night astronomer carries out observations on behalf of other astronomers and a scientist within an test laboratory prepares and analyses samples, but the results are passed onto someone else for interpretation and further work. The data producer role may create a plan to organise their data collection, and they may also be responsible for some quality assurance, cleaning and preparation of data. They may also be responsible for curation and standardisation of the data before it is shared with others. Data producers may also take data from other data producers and process it or transform it to create new data for others, for example the production of data catalogues in astronomy.

Data Manager

As with the administrator role. the data manager role may be a full time or part time role depending on the organisation and group. The data manager is responsible for helping to plan how a team will manage it’s data for the life-cycle of the project and beyond. They may also be responsible for defining the structure of data and selecting metadata standards. They may also be responsible for curating the data and for data preservation for an organisation. They may also be responsible for training researchers and others in best practices for data management.


In academic environments ELN/DRNs can be used as tools for both teaching science, and also for teaching data management skills that will later be useful knowledge for roles in industrial laboratories. Teaching can also be used to encourage the adoption of ELN/DRNs by researchers. Teachers need to be able to plan activities, create and share materials, monitor student activities and experiment records, and to provide feedback to students.


The student role is likely to be similar to the researcher role, although the information that they capture and how they interact with other materials and other students may be different. Students are more likely to need access to shared resources and are less likely to work independently, but they would likely need access to their own notebook so that they can record their own learning and have their own reference material.


If an ELN/DRN provides the capability to extend its functionality through the use of an SDK or API, then a developer may be needed to develop new functionality. As well as access to programmatic resources and documentation to instruct them on how to work with these features, the developer may need to have an account on the system and to be able to create resources on the system so that they can test their code.