The report of the "Electronic Laboratory Notebook" (ELN) working group provides a common vision on the definition, framing, uses and functional scope of the ELN, which must be able to integrate into existing IT and institutional environments. It makes recommendations on the requirements for the choice of a tool and includes a comparative list of existing tools.

Report by the French Committee for Open Science Working Group on Electronic Lab Notebooks

Septembre 2022

Read the report on HAL

1 Document background and objectives

1.1 Background

The laboratory notebook is a logbook used to record the day-to-day activities of research projects. It serves to track experiment descriptions and employed protocols, as well as log individual contributions. Using it ensures that requirements in terms of quality and scientific integrity are met by guaranteeing the traceability of the scientific methods employed and the reproducibility of research data and results. It therefore provides patent offices with proof of an invention, of its inventors, and thus of its rightholders.

The electronic lab notebook is the dematerialised digital version of the lab notebook. The term “electronic”, often replaced by “digital” in other fields, is the most frequently used adjective for lab notebooks.

Due to its crucial place in research activities and its role in the management and protection of scientific knowledge, the electronic lab notebook is an essential strategic tool that is fully in line with open science. Moreover, it must meet the same scientific objectives and challenges as the physical notebook, which is why the choice of tool, its configuration, and how it is used are so important.

In order to inform scientific teams in choosing between the various solutions currently available, a working group was set up as part of the Research Data College of the Committee for Open Science within the French Ministry of Research and  Higher Education.

Terminology: In the remainder of this document and in a ll the work produced by the working group, the Electronic Lab Notebook is referred to by the acronym ELN.

1.2 The working group’s objective

The group’s mission statement (in the appendices) specifies the objective of the working group, which is to propose an analysis method to scientific teams that have to choose an electronic lab notebook to meet their specific needs. To carry out this study, the working group defined the following objectives:

  • Establish a shared vision of the definition, framing, uses and functional scope of the “electronic lab notebook” (see section 2).
  • Produce a set of recommendations for interoperability between different electronic lab notebook tools and other tools or information systems already in use. Laboratory notebooks must be able to seamlessly merge with existing computer environments (including data repositories), especially in a French academic multi-funder[1]especially in France where academic research is driven and funded by different bodies and organisations. context (see section 3).
  • Produce a set of recommendations on the criteria for choosing a tool, based on functional needs, disciplines, and fields of research, as well as institutional requirements (see section 4).
  • Draw up a comparative list of some existing tools based on the recommended criteria in order to measure their effectiveness in and/or suitability to different usage contexts (see section 5).
  • Produce a set of recommendations to successfully implement an ELN (see section 6).

Note that the group’s objective is to propose decision-making support criteria and not to provide definitive methods of comparison between different tools, nor to advocate the choice of a single tool for the entire higher education and research community.

1.3 Group composition

The working group is composed of 16 people from different institutions, representing the scientific diversity of higher education and research. Each member, according to their discipline and experience, was able to contribute their expertise, from the following points of view:

  • Scientific/experimental: with a hands-on view, as a user
  • Legal and strategic: consideration of aspects related to scientific integrity, intellectual property, and content promotion.
  • Technical: both in terms of infrastructure and tool hosting, and of issues relating to data management, interoperability and

1.4 How the WG worked

The working group carried out its work between November 2020 and July 2021.

Discussions took place by videoconference only, in the following format:

  • plenary meetings held monthly for a duration of one
  • workshops that were offered to WG members, to work on particular
  • Exceptionally, external participants took part in sessions or were asked to discuss certain topics or contribute their thoughts on them. The list of persons concerned is provided in the appendices.

In addition, the work was coordinated with that of the “Successfully appropriating open science”1 working group led by Anne Vanet at the Committee for Open Science and with the “Electronic Lab Notebooks” project which is underway at the CNRS, led by Nathalie Léon and Domenico Libri. To this end, the working group included a member appointed from the Data College, a member of the “Successfully appropriating open science” working group, as well as the two CNRS project co-leaders.

1.5 Purpose of the report

The working group has drawn up recommendations for electronic laboratory notebooks in two forms :

  • Firstly, this report, which sets out the working group’s approach, presents the tools and examples of their use.
  • Secondly, a methodological tool: a grid of criteria to help choose an electronic lab notebook (editable table, with calculation formulas included); these criteria are accompanied by proposals for weighting according to use.

See the criteria grid

 Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under


Table of contents

1.Document background and objectives

1.1 Background

1.2 The working group’s objective

1.3 Group composition

1.3.1 Leaders

1.3.2 Members

1.4 How the WG works

1.5 Purpose of the report

2. Definition and scope: a shared vision of the Electronic Lab Notebook

2.1 Definition

2.2 Scope

2.2.1 Persons involved

2.2.2 Uses

2.2.3 Related tools

3. Recommendations for interoperability between different tools

3.1 Interoperability

3.2 Recommendations

3.2.1 Joint supervision

3.2.2 Integration

3.2.3 Access to data

3.2.4 Backup and archiving

3.3 Summary

4. Recommendations for the tool selection procedure

4.1 Needs

4.1.1 Determine the wishes of stakeholders

4.1.2 Take research discipline and practices into account

4.1.3 Consider the level of security required

4.1.4 Consider the extent of the tool’s deployment

4.1.5 Identify the systems that will interact with the ELN

4.2 Establish the selection criteria

4.2.1 Technical and functional characteristics

4.2.3 Other criteria

4.3 Identify commercial options

4.4 Assess options based on stated criteria

4.4.1 Scoring

4.4.2 Weighting

4.4.3 Presentation of results

4.4.4 Relative importance of different criteria

5. Comparative list of tools

5.1 Selection of tools studied

5.2 Results


6. Successfully implementing an ELN implementation project

6.1 Introduction

6.2 Project stakeholders and leadership

6.3 Pre-project

6.4 Pilot phase

6.5 Call for proposals

6.6 Deployment

6.7 Change of tools

6.8 Change management

6.9 HR profiles and scaling

6.10 Joint supervision

7. Conclusion

A Appendices

A.1 Non-WG contributors

A.2 WG mission statement

A.3 Detailed look at uses – observational approach

A.3.1 Ethnographic approach and “qualitative” analysis (sociology, anthropology, design, participatory research, etc.)

A.3.2 Data collection and recording in challenging environments (archaeology, environmental sciences)

A.4 Description of the criteria

A.5 List of tools analysed and not analysed

B  Glossary and abbreviations