Providing data and data products that meet user needs depends on more than verified, reliable algorithms and efficient delivery mechanisms. When it comes to the more than 17.5 petabytes of archived data under the responsibility of NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) and managed by NASA’s Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) Project, knowing and understanding what end-users want is critical.
EOSDIS and the ESDIS Project continually evaluate user needs, both formally (through annual customer satisfaction surveys and User Working Groups at each of the EOSDIS Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs) and informally (through individual requests to DAAC User Services representatives, discussions with EOSDIS and DAAC staff at conferences, and other interactions). This constant assessment ensures that ESDIS is delivering the highest quality products, providing the best delivery mechanisms for these products, and is prepared to adapt quickly to new technologies, data access methods, and user requirements.
In August 2016, DAAC representatives, ESDIS Project managers, and systems engineers met to discuss current user needs, review how these needs are being addressed, and explore potential future user needs. The result is a framework of recommendations that will further help enhance and develop systems to better benefit EOSDIS data users and contribute to a more efficient user experience.
Sources for Determining User Needs
EOSDIS relies on numerous methods to assess user needs throughout the year, from an annual survey with participation from more than 7,100 EOSDIS data users from around the world to personal discussions with more than 120 individual science users. These methods can be summarized in the following graphic that plots the size of the assessment (small to large) against the depth of information provided (shallow to deep) by the assessment:
ACSI Survey and Survey Comments
EOSDIS participates in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey, and has conducted this survey annually since 2004. The survey identifies key aspects of EOSDIS that can be leveraged across the DAACs to continuously improve customer service, and assesses trends in user satisfaction with EOSDIS in areas including customer support, product selection and order, product search, product quality, and product delivery. In 2016, EOSDIS received a Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) score of 77, which is very strong based on the ACSI methodology and indicates high customer satisfaction with products and services (the federal government 2016 ACSI score is 68). All EOSDIS ACSI survey results are available on the Earthdata website.
The ACSI survey sample size is large (for the 2016 survey, 285,795 survey invitations were sent out worldwide and 7,133 responses were received—a 2.5% response rate that allows for valid assessment, based on the ACSI methodology), however the depth of detail into specific user needs is relatively shallow. Along with detailed questions, the ACSI survey also includes a section for free-form comments. The survey comments provided by respondents are very interesting to ESDIS and the DAACs, since these relate to specific data products, delivery mechanisms, and data formats.
Applications Workshops, Conference Encounters and Webinar Feedback
Falling in the center of the graphic, and indicating moderate sample sizes and a higher level of insight into specific user needs, are the more individual contacts that occur in workshops, at conferences, and through individual feedback from the NASA Earthdata webinar series. User input received through these encounters often is related to specific data, products, and delivery mechanisms (such as the format in which data are delivered), and often apply to specific research conducted by the user. While the sample size in these assessments is not as large as through the global annual survey, the comments are more targeted to specific user needs.
Advisory Groups and Trouble Tickets
The most specific assessments of user needs come from direct interaction between advisory groups at individual DAACs (such as the User Working Groups, or UWGs, at each DAAC whose diverse discipline-specific membership provides continual recommendations for new DAAC data, products, and services) and from individual trouble tickets submitted through the internet (such as indications from users that a specific data product is not downloading correctly). These advisory groups and trouble ticket contacts provide a deep level of insight into the needs of individual users, although the sample size represented by these types of contacts is relatively small.
User Needs Focus Group
In 2016, ESDIS chartered a User Needs Focus Group to look more deeply into user needs and address specific tasks or issues related to these needs. The objective of the User Needs Focus Group was to review user issues that are cross-discipline or cross-DAAC in nature, identify best practices across the DAACs, and develop strategies to effectively address user needs.
To assist this group in their analysis and evaluation, ESDIS created a detailed spreadsheet to document known reported user needs. This spreadsheet incorporates ACSI survey comments, trouble tickets, and DAAC-specific interactions with data users. Continuously updated, the spreadsheet allows staff from the DAACs, the ESDIS Project, and other designated individuals to enter, update, and explore ongoing user needs and track their disposition 24/7.
The User Needs Technical Interchange Meeting
The work of the User Needs Focus Group culminated in the User Needs Technical Interchange Meeting, or UN-TIM, which was held in August 2016. The UN-TIM brought together members to discuss user needs and develop a set of prioritized EOSDIS user needs issues. The UN-TIM also fostered greater cross-DAAC understanding of overall ESDIS and EOSDIS user needs challenges along with issues pertinent to multiple DAACs. Most importantly, UN-TIM participants developed a framework for implementing recommended user needs improvements at individual DAACs.
Based on the UN-TIM recommendations, specific actions were assigned to ESDIS Project systems engineers for implementation. As these recommendations are implemented, some of the enhancements data users can expect include:
- The registering of more digital object identifiers (DOIs) for data sets, which will enable more efficient data product documentation and retrieval as well as make it easier to cite EOSDIS data used in research;
- The development of a more robust download manager to better utilize Earthdata Login;
- The development of common interfaces across the DAACs and throughout EOSDIS to create a more seamless user experience;
- The availability of better metrics for EOSDIS services; and
- An increase in the download limit for EOSDIS data to enable more data and larger data sets to be downloaded at one session (the current limit was set to 2000 files).
Managing the wide range of NASA Earth science data products that data users need and delivering these products in formats that best serve a worldwide user community remain top EOSDIS and ESDIS Project objectives. Through annual surveys, personal interactions, trouble tickets, and DAAC User Services representatives, information is constantly collected to determine what these needs are and how they can be most efficiently and effectively addressed. In addition, Earthdata user forums provide new workspaces for greater interaction between users, DAACs, and EOSDIS to address specific data, products, and concerns. Additional UN-TIMs will be conducted as needed to further assess developing user needs and continue the dialog among users, DAACs, and ESDIS managers.
The needs of our data users is what drives EOSDIS and ESDIS Project development plans, and data users can expect continued enhancements to services and products based on user input gathered from a wide range of sources. More importantly, data users will reap the benefits of new, improved technologies, services, and data products that will enable new research and provide faster, more efficient access to the data and products necessary for this research. When you receive your annual ACSI survey participation request, attend a webinar, or contact a DAAC, know that your opinion matters—and helps make EOSDIS data, products, and services better for everyone.