Open Workflows in Practice

As we learned in What is an Open Workflow?, a workflow can include many tools during the lifespan of the research project. For example, if we review the OSF Research Life Cycle image (below) we can see that one research project could include the use of Zotero, DMP Tools, Evernote, GitHub, Zenodo, and more depending on the stages of the project.

Workflow managers, like OSF, can help to manage and organize various tools, content and documentation during the lifecycle of the project in one place, as well as allow you to publicly share the material in a meaningful way.

  OSF Research Life Cycle from NYU Libraries CC BY NC 4.0


OSF, formerly known as the Open Science Framework, is a free workflow management application that provides a central landing place for project components that may be scattered across many different digital work spaces and might be owned by different people. OSF provides a central place to bring together collaborators, project files, and to track versions of things.

Benefits of OSF

  • Version control across the whole project
  • Server locations in multiple countries, including Canada
  • Ability to establish a project structure or clone an existing project
  • Sustainable access to your project (read-only at least) guaranteed for the next fifty years 
  • Control over project access at the project, folder, or file level with a highly granular level of control for projects that may not be able to be fully open
  • Ability to easily add collaborators outside of your institution
  • Digital Object Identifier (DOI) creation at the project level
  • Ability to “pre-register” a project, which essentially takes a snapshot of a project details and provides useful information for future researchers who may be interested in building on the work

What does OSF not do?

OSF does not enforce decisions on thoughtful project structure (e.g., best practices around file naming conventions). While OSF can be a one-stop-shop for working on a project, it should not be the only final location for data and other project artifacts. Final outputs should live in a data repository and in some cases, it makes much more sense for working files to live elsewhere (e.g., when datasets are bigger than 5GB), which can then be linked to and accessed via OSF.

While OSF provides a variety of benefits to researchers, it’s important to understand the potential risks when using the tool. These risks include:

  • All information is public, it requires the user to make decisions on what is appropriate to share (e.g., sensitive participant information, preregistration details)
  • Server locations defaulting to the United States which is not appropriate for all types of data (i.e., sensitive participant data)
  • Uncertain longevity: if the funding model changes (currently guaranteed for 50 years), all information could be lost

Dig Deeper

Learn more about OSF:

Read about the preregistration revolution: