DMTN-155: Interim Model for Community Support

  • Melissa L. Graham, Leanne P. Guy, John Swinbank, and the DM System Science Team

Latest Revision: 2020-09-16

1   Introduction

To date, the Rubin Data Management team has provided excellent informal and ad-hoc support to our early-adopter community of science pipelines and science platform users. This support, mostly via Slack #dm-* channels, and on occassion via the forum, has been on a best effort basis; Data Management is not scoped to provide community support in construction. As we move into pre-operations, with its program of Data Previews, and eventually into full operations, this user community will expand rapidly, and so too will the demand for support. The current best-effort support provided by the DM team will not scale.

In Operations, community support for science is the responsibility of the Community Engagement Team (see 6   Community Engagement Team). The community support model for Rubin Operations must be scalable, sustainable, and capable of serving an active user community of thousands of people with a wide variety of skills, background, expertise, and resources. We aim to achieve these goals by building a deep repository of openly available and searchable knowledge, and cultivating a global community of engaged scientists to crowd source problem solving.

This tech note provides an interim support model as a stepping-stone towards this future operations-era model, as well as a way to relieve the pressure on the DM construction team from the increasing demand for support. Its goal is to provide guidelines for the DM team in supporting and responding to questions from the community in construction, and to transition from the current informal and ad-hoc support provided via Slack, to the more sustainable model envisaged in operations.

2   Interim Support Model

The interim support model emphasizes use of the Community Forum for all interactions between DM staff and the science community, instead of Slack or email.

This interim model has two main components:

  1. DM staff are requested to not respond to emails or slack messages, either direct or to dm-* channels requesting support, but rather redirect questions to the forum.
  2. The DM System Science Team (SST) will monitor the “Support” category Community in a best effort to ensure all inquiries are acknowledged, and answered when possible.

It is recongized that switching from Slack and email to the Community Forum might create some additional short-term overhead as people adjust their workflows. The intended long-term result is that the Community Forum grows to host a repository of accessible Rubin-related expertise and serve as a resource for open and engaging interactions between all members of the broad Rubin community, thus reducing the overhead on Rubin staff in the long term.

As is the case now, there is no expectation that DM staff provide answers for questions they recieve, but all may continue providing support on a best effort basis as their time allows, with development work on the Rubin science pipelines remaining the priority of the construction team,

Additionally, to build up the content in the Community Forum, it would be helpful for DM staff to post internal questions and answers related to use of the LSST Science pipelines and Rubin Science Platform in the Community Forum as often as possible (as preemptive community support). DM staff participating in community support are encouraged to use the #dm-support Slack channel, which is linked directly to the Community Forum, to discuss Forum postings and coordinate responses internally.

As a final note, it is appreciated that the Community Forum might feel very formal compared with Slack, but please be reassured: responses do not need to be lovingly crafted perfections. To lower the bar and encourage use, consider it more like Stack Overflow, where people efficiently contribute the knowledge they do have. Partial casual answers and discussion are very much appropriate and appreciated.

3   Redirecting Questions to the Community Forum

It is appreciated that redirecting user questions that come by email or Slack message to the Community Forum could be socially awkward, especially during this interim time when usage of is still ramping up. Below are several phrases that we can all use to help us engage users in the Community Forum. Which of these phrases you might choose to use, and how much additional information that you supply, will of course depend on the nature of the question and its potential answer. You are of course free to use your own phrasing if you prefer.

  • You know the answer and will provide it.
    • “I’m sure I can answer this question for you, but it is DM’s policy that we answer questions in the open public forum at Would you mind posting your question as a new topic in the Support category, so that I can answer it there?”
    • “To make sure the answer can help others as well, I have posted this question and my answer in the Support category at Please do feel free to reply in that thread with any follow-up questions on this topic.”
  • You don’t know the answer or will not provide the answer.
    • “Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer off the top of my head. Could you please post it as a new topic in the Support category at Hopefully someone there will be familiar with this issue.”
    • “I’m not sure what the answer is, but this question would be perfect for the Support category at Please try posting in there as a new topic?”
    • As a side note, if you think a particular DM staff member has the answer, please ask them privately or in the #dm-support Slack channel if they are interested in responding, instead of mentioning them publicly on Community.
  • An answer is inadvertently posted to a question in a Slack channel, and now you want to move the discussion to the Community forum.
    • “This is a great discussion that I’m sure will be of interest to others as well. Would you mind posting your question as a new topic in the Support category, so that we can continue this discussion there?”
    • “This is a great discussion that I’m sure will be of interest to others as well. I have posted this question and responses so far in the Support category at Let’s continue discussion in that thread.”

Along with the redirect to Community, it might also be appropriate to supply direct links to a Forum category or existing topics (see below), and of course personal expressions like “great question!” or “thanks so much” are at your discretion.

3.1   Linking users to the appropriate category in the Community Forum.

Most questions that DM staff recieve from the user community will be appropriate for categories Science - Data Q&A or Support.

Science - Data Q&A:

Primarily used for questions about the planned data products (e.g., scientific applications).


Primarily used for questions about applications of the science pipelines (e.g., errors returned during attempts to process data from other facilities).

Support — Rubin Science Platform:

Support subcategory for questions relating to the Rubin Science Platform.

These categories are regularly checked by DM-SST members, and all new posts appear in the LSSTC Slack channel #dm-support to help us coordinate responses.

As a side note, there is a category for Data Management, but in most cases it would be inappropriate to direct a user to this category. This category is primarily used for discussion about the development of the science pipelines, and most of its sub-categories are private (visible only to Project staff).

3.2   Linking users to information about the Community Forum.

Users will need an account for in order to post, but all public content is visible without an account.

If users have questions about, direct them to the Meta category.

Here are some quick links to Meta topics for anticipated FAQs:

Additionally, a “tour” of was provided during the Rubin 2020 PCW session on Community Support. The tour starts at 25 minutes and 45 seconds into the recorded presentation. More information about that session is available in this Community Forum topic.

3.3   Cases in which the Community Forum might not be used.

The Community Forum is open and publicly accessible. Rare cases involving detailed questions about the science pipelines performance on proprietary data might be inappropriate to post if the question includes data or images or could reveal a potential scientific result. The first response should be to try and “anonymize” the question so that it can be posted to Community without revealing any proprietary data. However, if this cannot be done then the user should be accommodated and interaction should proceed privately.

Some members of the external community are active and important contributors to DM deliverables; their questions are usually not requests for user support and should not simply be redirected to the Community forum. We acknowledge that this is a grey area where a degree of judgement on a case-by-case basis will be required.

Slack should continue to be used as a chat platform during live events involving the community, such as workshops or tutorials where real-time communication is needed. Good examples of Slack used in this context include the #stack-club-course channel for real-time support during the Stack Club Course from May through August of 2020.

4   JIRA for DM Staff

There will be cases where difficult questions are posted to the Community Forum, or the ensuing discussions reveal bugs or desired new features. These cases might require scheduled work on behalf of DM staff to generate an answer. This work should be done with JIRA tickets to ensure it is trackable and accounted for. All DM staff should be sure to talk to their T/CAM if a support-related activity requires such work.

5   Documentation

This Tech Note is focused on dynamic modes of community support for science (e.g., providing explanations, answering questions), but static modes (e.g., tutorials, documentation, and the pipelines code itself) remain a very important and efficient component of DM’s community support. These aspects of DM community support are already well described in the DM Developer Guide.

Community support should be tied to user-facing documentation. DM Staff engaged in support discussions should provide feedback, e.g. via Jira tickets (see 4   JIRA for DM Staff), about where user-facing documentation should be improved. .. the DM Developer Guide:

6   Community Engagement Team

The Rubin Observatory Community Engagement Team (CET) within the System Performance department will be responsible for facilitating support for science users of Rubin data products and services during Operations and Pre-Operations Data Previews. The full model for community support during operations will be described in RTN-006. Pre-operations CET members will help to monitor postings to the Community Forum categories “Support” and “Science - Data Q&A”, and assist when possible with responding to questions. They will also be evaluating the effectiveness of this interim model in achieving its goals, and soliciting feedback about communications tools from both DM and the science community, to inform their plans for a community support model during Operations.