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COPIM's Governance: Lessons Learned and Co-Development

Published onApr 30, 2022
COPIM's Governance: Lessons Learned and Co-Development

The methodology of co-design and co-development that we devised when designing the community governance models for COPIM and for the OBC, can be seen as a kind of self-assessment exercise, of ‘workshopping governance,’ and it is our intention to continue with this process in this way during the remainder of the project. In this report we are focusing on the development of our governance structures up until 2021, and what we will describe here next is some of the lessons we learned from these exercises about what we are as an organisation and what we want to become. This also relates back to the narrative or history that we formulate around ourselves as a project or community, and the future that we see at this point of time for the project. Underneath, as in the previous chapters, we will share our documentation of these processes again, a documentation that we as a project and community can also come back to at a later point to assess how much of this still stands or whether we want to take a different direction.

Key Points

From the discussions we had during the first three internal workshops we conducted with COPIM project members, several key points emerged that continue to structure our governance research and methodology, including the fact that we wanted these governance elements themselves to be a form of intervention into what they commonly are seen to be (by using different less-formal or legal language for example, but also by not resolving all the friction that came up in our discussions into uniform and consensus-based elements, but showcasing this friction). These points included:

  • A focus on intervention/friction

  • On processual and situated co-design/co-development

  • Recognising that there will always be hierarchical horizontal and cooperative element within the governance models we are designing

  • Creating a model that is flexible and can develop further once the project grows and the community further develops.

  • Community-led and inclusive (involving the HC Governance Working Group and future governance communities)

  • Knowledge exchange with likeminded projects (e.g. the NGLP project, OPERAS, the Continental Platform)

Future of COPIM

We also discussed in groups what we thought the future of COPIM as a project could be and what we would like to do in the near future. The underneath forms a reflection of that discussion and of the various suggestions that were brought forward of what COPIM could become (and note that there might be some contradictions or frictions between the suggestions underneath, as they were brought forward by different groups), also in the process of transitioning to ‘something else’, a topic we also discussed in our first external stakeholder workshop, how to transition from a project to an organisation? Although we liked elements of each model, in the end we felt the ‘incubator’ model fits COPIM best at the current point in time. One clear outcome of this process was also that within the project we set up a ‘Future of COPIM’ working group, which would continue to discuss some of the ideas offered below, would look at further connections to like-minded projects and communities, and would explore options for future funding.

As an overarching organisation

The question of what we want COPIM to be is essential and governance structure might depend on how we answer this question. If the various projects developed within COPIM remain within the organisational structure of COPIM – in other words, if COPIM is going to be the governing structure for the various outputs (OBC, Thoth, OtF) that spin out of COPIM – then it might become a very large and diverse and eventually watered-down administrative structure. This could be advantageous if COPIM can hold all these things together, as there is also a real power in that. Do we want COPIM then to be a large institutional structure that sits alongside something like OPERAS and works across a huge array of different entities and organisations to fit in within some sort of funding agenda? Do we want to be a big infrastructural entity?

As an incubator

The alternative is that COPIM is more focused on becoming a bit more radical, similar to where it started, in the form of an edgy incubator-type body. In this scenario, COPIM could spin things off that create separate identities, like an incubator for new projects that come out of it. And some of these projects might have their own aims and objectives and ultimate ‘products’ and have looser connections with COPIM (or not). This asks a fundamental question of what this COPIM structure is going to be that is separate from the outputs that are being developed within COPIM. Do we want to be a small group that builds up a reputation for developing projects and creating things with the types of values and objectives we have identified, creating communities around projects, knitting them together, and then moving on? This is similar to what, for example UKSG, has done in the past, creating COUNTER, Transfer and a number of other projects which are now completely separate, and nobody actually knows that they came from UKSG.

As an umbrella name

Instead of focusing on COPIM’s governance should we start by focusing on the governance systems needed by the different outputs that COPIM is creating? These are concrete outputs that need concrete governance. Can we then think of those specific products with their own governance structures as being some kind of satellites or franchise of COPIM so that we can then reconstitute COPIM on the basis of its outputs? This circumvents the problem of defining what COPIM is now by simply saying ‘COPIM is the umbrella name for whatever the outputs would be of the current project’. But this then needs to be made explicit. COPIM is the place where these outputs are together and in communication with each other and that group/layer, again in the direction of an incubator, could think about redeveloping other aspects of the book production value chain that need to be made open-source or community-owned, for example.

As a lab

COPIM could also function as a laboratory, or as a series of labs or incubators in which different projects or pilots are being made, generated, and launched. Again, it could be polycentric with very specific tasks and objectives being taken on by each group which should be left to themselves for the most part. These don’t have to have the most elaborate governance, but they would have to have a system for apportioning tasks, for deciding what each member of the group is responsible for, and they should have shared aims and objectives and sets of deliverables and a schedule to deliver these. These would all be aspects that that the lab itself determines and on top of that there is a very light managerial level to make sure the labs are keeping to their own tasks and schedules. This level also serves as an information sharing hub, for sharing and exchanging information and collectively troubleshooting issues as a mechanism for when a lab gets stuck, or has a personnel conflict for example, so there needs to be ways to arbitrate conflict. And the labs could multiply, e.g., if COPIM were to continue, there might be other things that COPIM members would like to see being made or other groups of people that would like to gravitate to COPIM could do so under our umbrella. The managerial level could also be there to ensure we are sticking to our key values and to determine what are the procedures and criteria for others to join. The question here is, does COPIM have resources to share with others or is it just working on very specific things and once those things are made, COPIM ends, and each individual group will have to figure out how to extend its work in the absence of COPIM as an umbrella group?

Further discussions

Beyond these clear visions for the future of COPIM, we also discussed some further points of interest:

Contingency of Formation

As the group of institutions that formed COPIM is contingent, does it need any (formal) governance system at all if it just ends when the current grant period ends? If we manage to get a follow-up grant, would the governance structure of COPIM not then be contingent on what the grant application would be for and who the partners or consortium are who are involved in this? How much do grants or funders determine our governance as a project and who we are as a project?

Brand Recognition

COPIM has some brand awareness already, which might be useful to draw upon. If we were to become some bigger structure, we need to think through whether that is useful for the objectives that we are wanting to achieve. Is COPIM a group of people that have been putting new initiatives and ideas together and do we want to use COPIM as a vehicle to achieve that? Would that be a good use of the COPIM name? What is the most productive role that COPIM could have in the future, which could build connections with funding agencies and other players? Also, looking at the original objectives of COPIM, to overcome barriers to the dissemination of OA monographs, there is still more work to do there.

Guarantor of values.

Could it be an option that COPIM has a light overarching meta-structure, which might also function as the guarantor of the value-based system that we want to implement, to keep an eye on the set of values that we want to subscribe ourselves to? This could even be a purpose of this overarching structure. It could also be a vehicle to bring the ‘scaling small’ principle into action by thinking through how we can align better with other similar like-minded organisations.

Business models

What is important for us to keep an eye on is how the business models we are developing for the various infrastructural outputs coming out of COPIM might really define for a very large part what our governance will look like. This also connects to the idea that we want to be community-owned; otherwise, what COPIM does might not be so different from what you see with very small start-ups which then are bought up by Wiley, Clarivate or Elsevier. COPIM could also in the future potentially be taken on by groups like OPERAS or Lyrasis, as long as their governance is a right fit, and everything stays open. Those kinds of decisions will have a massive impact on what the governance of COPIM and its various outputs will look like.


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