The Project Community Framework
: Towards Bridging the Gap between User Centred Design and Academic Scientific Software Development

  • Scott Loynton

    Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy


    Information technology has brought new ideas and ways to explore data in multiple fields of science such as biology, chemistry, and physics; they all have benefited through the opportunity new technologies afford for the development of new scientific techniques. This has brought major public investment in academic SSD projects, with £250 million invested in the UK e-science program between 2001 and 2006 alone. However, there is major underlying problem: scientific software and the process of academic Scientific Software Development (academic SSD) suffers with a lack of User Centred Design (UCD). Typically, their focus is largely on the scientific software development itself.
    This research investigates the gap between UCD and SSD, so that UCD may be more widely applied to the scientific software development process. The research explores how UCD may become more closely integrated into the development of scientific software, so that scientific software may have a stronger UCD focus and improved user experience for the scientists that use the software. Addressing the challenge of bridging this gap, this thesis presents insights into why this gap exists and how it might be bridged, based on a three-year field study undertaken within the context of two existing research projects – the OMERO Open Source academic SSD project (a software development team building tools for managing and analysing microscopy data in life sciences), and the Usable Image project, which was formed to investigate methods for introducing UCD into the OMERO software and to improve usability of this academic software.
    The research was constructed in three phases. The first phase of the work attempted to understand the UCD-SSD gap from the point of view of UCD, via an embedded perspective developed within the Usable Image project. The second phase of the project was designed to understand the scientific software developer perspective on the gap and was undertaken from within the OMERO developer team itself. The analysis of the outcomes of these first two phases reveals the imbalance of academic SSD. The fieldwork emphasises working between the cultural gap between UCD and SSD. The third phase attempts to tackle that challenge by proposing a framework and manifesto for moving towards a more balanced approach to bring UCD and academic SSD together.
    The insights arising from the deep observational fieldwork led to the development of a set of steps for SSD – the Project Community Framework. This Framework aims to support an awareness of an academic SSD’s wider ecology – and it encourages teams to develop a balanced and cognisant view of the SSD, UCD, and SSD project community, with the integration among them. The Project Community Framework was evaluated against two areas of functionality in the OMERO software from the perspective of the SSD project team, to question how the Project Community Framework as a concept may function against real SSD practice. The thesis supports the growing calls for more strongly UCD-oriented integration in SSD projects. In doing so, it proposes the Project Community Framework manifesto as a way to instil a new philosophy for academic SSD and to capture and integrate the core principles of the research of SSD, UCD, and the community of the project.
    This research places the foundations for a new, pragmatic, approach to helping academic SSD teams to bridge the gap – the Project Community Framework Manifesto. It also advocates that future work explores and develops the Project Community Framework within other complex software development environments where UCD project management is critical, such as the medical context.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorCatriona MacAulay (Supervisor)


    • User centred design
    • Usability
    • Scientific software
    • Project community framework
    • Scientific software development

    Cite this