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Developing Community Governance for COPIM

Published onApr 30, 2022
Developing Community Governance for COPIM

COPIM, as a project, has from the outset argued for the importance of developing and maintaining community-owned and -led open infrastructures to support scholarly communication—or in our case the publication of open access books. This report, which outlines better practices for the governance of open infrastructures, also includes documentation about our governance practices as developed within COPIM, including the lessons we learned along the way as a (largely) horizontally governed community-led project developing forms of community governance for its infrastructures, workflows, and platforms.

During the first half of the project, based on a mixed methodology that included desk research (resulting in an article (Adema & Moore, 2021), a report on models for community governance (Moore, 2021a), and a series of blog posts), internal and external (stakeholder) workshops, interviews with project members, and exchanges with similar like-minded projects, we developed a process to support the governance needs of the project. With this process we aimed to cover the needs of the project as a whole as well as (in applied form) the various open digital infrastructures, platforms, workflows, and financial models that the project is developing in support of the enduring resilience of open access book publishing. As we will outline more in-depth underneath, this process is based on a methodology of co-design and co-development, which structures and continues to inform the development of our community governance. The research and methodology that has informed this process has been developed, conducted, and performed by a core subgroup of current and past COPIM work package members, including Samuel Moore, Patrick Hart, Janneke Adema, Eileen Joy, Sherri Barnes, Lidia Uziel, and Judith Fathallah.

As the article Moore and Adema wrote during the first half of the project outlines, the project as a whole works according to the overarching principle or philosophy of ‘scaling small’. Scaling small is an alternative organisational principle for governing community-led publishing projects based on values of mutual reliance, care, and other forms of commoning. This principle eschews standard approaches to organisational growth through economies of scale—which tend to flatten community diversity. Instead it puts forward the idea that scale can be nurtured through intentional collaborations between like-minded community-driven projects that promote a bibliodiverse ecosystem while providing resilience through resource sharing and other kinds of collaboration. This principle contends that through establishing strong relationships between existing independent organisations, as well as by sharing open source tools, infrastructures, resources, skills, and best practices amongst each other in a non-competitive environment, organisations can together grow stronger and scale both horizontally and vertically whilst becoming more resilient and retaining their independence. Organisations such as ScholarLed and the Radical Open Access Collective (ROAC) exemplify this principle and our aim has been to extend this even further through the services, infrastructures, and platforms provided through COPIM.

COPIM is both decentralised and distributed across a variety of geographical contexts (albeit predominantly concentrated in and focusing on a US, UK, and EU context, as this is where the project partners are situated). As a project we favour horizontal modes of collaboration that foreground non-hierarchical structures, cooperation, and coordination between groups of pre-defined stakeholders (Moore, 2021a). Drawing on the philosophy of scaling small, COPIM has been setting up an open, community-led governance system for its infrastructures and processes, a structure that we have been developing together with the community of stakeholders that is involved in the project more broadly, including scholars, publishers, librarians, technology and infrastructure providers, researchers, and knowledge managers. One thing that stands out is that the COPIM project consists of multiple partners that themselves have different governance structures and values as do the numerous libraries, publishers, scholarly societies and other stakeholders that form its community to come, and which will contribute to the overall community-led governance models we are developing. These stakeholders are either active participants of the project (i.e., as project members of COPIM) or they may be representatives of stakeholder groups which we have consulted through our research and outreach efforts. In this process we have also been learning a lot from and have been actively collaborating and exchanging knowledge with several other scholarly publishing projects and organisations that have been exploring issues of governance or have inspirational governance models, including, most notably, the OPERAS-P project and the Next Generation Library Publishing (NGLP) project.

What we want to outline underneath and as part of the following chapters, is some of our findings and the processes we have developed and followed to explore what community governance means for COPIM, and how we have been and will continue to implement this for the project and its various elements. We are currently finalising this process for one of the main outputs to come out of COPIM, the Open Book Collective (and platform), and next to writing up our experiences and findings as part of this better practices report (which again includes our governance practices and the lessons we have learned in establishing community governance), we will continue to monitor and document the implementation of community governance for the OBC via a soon to be released working paper and blog posts.

In our initial desk research, which also informed Moore’s report, we explored and tried to define what community governance is by looking at the variety of approaches to and models of governance that are being used within like-minded not-for-profit open scholarly communication organisations (such as SciELO, CLACSO, SPARC, AmeliCA, OPERAS, Humanities Commons, OpenAIRE, Redalyc, and Educopia). Many of these organisations are also in their own way scaling small by supporting each other and closely working together.1 Based on this initial research we identified a number of features and considerations that are important to consider when a community or project wants to determine what good governance is. These included: the scale or scope of the organisation; the formality of the governance system required; and the extent to which governance relates to the mission of the project.2

When looking at different forms of more formal and informal governance, it became clear how scale and collaboration might further influence how formal governance models are. For example, one of our findings was that many organisations rely on simple advisory board structures for their governance, where actual procedures can remain quite opaque. However, we also looked at how perhaps in some cases ‘good’ or ‘better’ governance involves less formalised and hierarchical structures, rules, and procedures, for example where it concerns smaller scholar-led and not-for-profit entities. Following these insights, we therefore asserted that governance is situated, which is to say it depends on the kind of organisation, network, project or infrastructure being governed, the community governing it, and the scale of its operations. The situatedness of an organisation therefore is vital to consider when devising systems of governance, especially also considering the approach to horizontality and community governance we are exploring for COPIM.

Workshopping Governance

Building on and extending our initial desk research we organised a half-day workshop focused on community governance which brought together governance experts, key stakeholders in OA book publishing, and representatives from allied large community-led projects, to collaboratively explore what the governance procedures of COPIM’s open publication ecosystem for monographs should look like and to begin thinking about developing models to sustain the governance of the infrastructure as a community-based OA service organisation. The discussions with the workshop participants focused on two key questions (‘What does good governance mean?’ and ‘Who or what is our community?’) and we further explored with the participants how scale or scope, formality, and the values and mission of an organisation influence its governance.3 Underneath some of the main findings that emerged from the discussions during the first part of this workshop, which focused on the question ‘What does good governance mean?’. In the next chapter we will focus on the second question.


Situatedness or the situated nature of governance, includes a consideration of how good governance provides accountability to a specific community or range of communities. This involves mapping that community’s norms, values, and practices to inform decision-making powers based on the resources being managed. This situatedness also determines how to promote equity and fairness in a specific community or project and is at the same time what makes it difficult to assess objectively what good governance is as this is always context-specific. This context-specificness also brings with it certain expectations about governance, which might inhibit experimentation with different models (e.g., when organisations rely on existing models rather than experimenting with new structures—this also relates to how they can be bound by rules and regulations around incorporation, which don’t always offer as much flexibility to try out different structures as these are governed by specific regulating institutions: in the UK the Charity Commission and Companies House for example). The situatedness of an organisation or project thus influences the kinds of normalised governance models in a particular field. For example, as explained earlier, as part of our initial research for COPIM when we analysed the governance models of a selection of scholarly communication organisations and projects, we found that most of them follow a quite standard governance structure with general meetings, advisory boards, and bylaws, a set-up which then becomes an expectation of good governance.


Good governance can also involve developing more formalised rules around how to govern. Yet formality can also create issues, especially also in the realm of small, community-led scholarly communication organisations, which we at COPIM consist of. Governance has often been an afterthought here, something that will come later as there are more pressing issues at hand when for example setting up a press. Especially when they start off, many of these kinds of organisations rely on forms of benevolent dictatorship (a term used by media theorist Nathan Schneider in the context of online communities (Schneider, 2021)) or on a few individuals initially running an organisation on their own. If and when an organisation grows or develops, who then gets to design the systems of governance? Yet there is also an issue with the imbalance of labour in more horizontal and informal organisations that needs to be acknowledged, where governance often comes down to those who have time to actually do the work.


Given the above, good governance can best be seen as an ongoing process. Reggie Raju (Director of Research and Learning Services University of Cape Town Library), talked in the workshop about a ‘flexible tenancy’ mode of governance that adapts as stakeholders change and organisations develop. Still, a solid foundation from which to grow is very useful, meaning it was advised that governance needs to be part of the conversation from the outset of a project and needs to be continually re-assessed when an organisation adjusts its processes and assumptions. Joe Deville (editor at Mattering Press and COPIM project member) argued that organisational growth and greater financial sustainability necessitate dynamic models when an organisation moves from an informal to a formalised system of governance. As mentioned earlier, more formalised structures can also pose a risk to the more informal relationships and community norms that have been developed within a community or project, but on the other hand, good governance might also imply setting up formal structures for long-term governance that allows the founders of a project, for example, to step away without it falling apart, where the systems that are in place will in that case allow it to continue to function smoothly.


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