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Governance by Membership: The Open Book Collective

The OBC Governance model has been designed to put members in charge of the charity and its operations.

Published onJul 06, 2022
Governance by Membership: The Open Book Collective
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The governance of the Open Book Collective (OBC) has been designed in consultation with a wide variety of stakeholders. Over the past 2 years, members of the OBC development team and COPIM project leaders have met with representatives from the ScholarLed publishing group, university libraries, Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB), Jisc, and members of the governance working group assembled by COPIM. In addition, the OBC governance team conducted research into the governance of community-focused open knowledge organizations within the landscape of scholarly communications, culminating in two reports, “Exploring Models for Community Governance” and “Towards Better Practices for the Community Governance of Open Infrastructures.” Our consultations and research have informed us every step of the way as we have developed a governance model that has been uniquely tailored to the mission of the OBC.

Our key concern is that the governance of the OBC is membership-shaped, community-led, democratically representative, equitable, and transparent. Most paramount is that the OBC is and always will be directed and managed in accordance with the key values of the COPIM project and that it can never be co-opted by for-profit entities. The Open Access (OA) landscape has been encroached upon by ‘platform capitalism’ (Srineck 2016), whereby for-profit companies operating in both similar and different areas expand, converge, and monopolize in order to extract, redeploy, and capitalize upon the increasing centralization of data and data-based platforms. We’ve seen this occur in the academic publishing world more largely (such as with Clarivate’s acquisition of ProQuest) and within the OA landscape in particular, with the acquisition of Knowledge Unlatched by Wiley, bepress by Elsevier, and F1000 by Taylor and Francis. COPIM’s statement on the corporate acquisition of OA infrastructure can be found here.

In the terms of the UK Charity Commission, the OBC adopts an ‘Association’ model. As opposed to the ‘Foundation’ model, in which the only voting members are the Trustees, the ‘Association’ model has a wider membership that includes voting members other than the Trustees. The OBC defines itself more specifically as a community-led and membership-shaped organization. As such, even while its incorporation as a charity necessitates having a Board of Trustees (or Directors) with whom all final decisions rest (a hierarchical corporate model), the OBC’s governance model has been designed to ensure that the Trustees (or Directors) — here called Stewards — are partly selected from the members of the OBC: OA publishers, open publishing services providers, research libraries, and other research performing institutions. In this way, the governance of the OBC emphasizes a model in which the collective of members — here called Custodians — are also final decision-makers by virtue of their representation on the Board, and therefore the Board of Stewards has supervisory powers that are shaped by the member constituencies it serves.

At the same time, since the OA initiative members of the OBC are also its financial beneficiaries, with research library and research performing institution members serving as funders, the OBC’s governance model ensures that the OBC is fully responsive to and guided by its funder members as well as by external OA experts selected from the ‘community of communities’ sitting within the larger landscape of scholarly communications. The funders sitting on the Board, along with the OA experts, occupy a majority voting position so that the members who benefit financially from the OBC will not be able to unduly influence decisions made by the Board according to their own particular self-interests. Furthermore, this majority voting position creates a situation whereby the OA initiative beneficiaries will be responsive to the larger community of actors in the OA landscape.

Ultimately, the governance of the OBC has been designed to empower a unique collaborative community of OA creators, libraries (and other research performing institutions) with vested interests in growing the landscape of non-proprietary OA initiatives, and OA experts who have deep knowledge in the histories and theories of scholarly communications and open access. The OBC is thus not just a financial intermediary between OA initiatives and funders, but instead is an interdependent and mutually reliant community of persons and organizations with vested interests in the transformation of academic book publishing — working together to move the needle toward a more fully open public commons and away from the enclosure of knowledge brought about by traditional proprietary publishing.

The governance of the OBC is founded in three bodies:

  • General Assembly of Custodians (GAC)

  • Board of Stewards (BoS)

  • Membership Committee (MC)

General Assembly of Custodians (GAC)

The GAC is the heart and soul of the OBC as it constitutes the OBC’s collective membership as a community of persons and organizations who all share an investment in growing the landscape of OA book publishing, and related to that, developing better mechanisms for the long-term sustainability of OA book publishing initiatives. The GAC will consist of two types of custodians:

  • Full Custodians: members of the OBC who opt-in to being fully involved in the OBC’s governance and who cast binding votes in elections and in other matters voted upon by the GAC; and

  • Associate Custodians: members of the OBC who opt-out of having binding voting privileges but who still want to serve in an advisement capacity within the custodianship of the OBC and to cast non-binding votes which, although they don’t ‘count’ in final vote tallies, nevertheless signal to the larger GAC and Board of Stewards the prevailing opinions of associate members.

Custodians will be allocated into three caucuses: Publishers, Libraries, and Open Publishing Services Providers, and each OA member initiative will be represented in the GAC by a named individual. Full Custodians within each caucus elect two representatives to serve on the Board of Stewards (BoS), which means that the members of the GAC are also decision-makers on the BoS, which fulfills the mission of the OBC to be truly responsive to the communities that form the collective and also support its members.

Board of Stewards (BoS)

The BoS is the OBC’s primary management body and will be made up of 9 members: 2 each elected from the caucuses of publishers, publishing services providers, libraries, and 3 OA experts. The BoS will closely supervise the daily operations and management of the OBC and its membership programs, and will deliberate and resolves issues of managerial and other concerns of the OBC. As Stewards, board members will have a primary obligation to oversee and safeguard the mission, principles, and values of the OBC and to also ensure that the OBC follows all of the requisite protocols for a charitable organization in the UK. Stewards will serve limited terms, not to exceed 6 years, and it is the aim of the OBC to populate the BoS with a diverse range of Stewards from different national, geographic, and linguistic contexts. As described further above, the makeup of the BoS ensures that the governance of the OBC will be both responsive to the needs of its members as well as guided by the common knowledge and values of the larger community of open knowledge practitioners.

Membership Committee (MC)

The Membership Committee, made up of 5 persons, is a sub-committee of the Board of Stewards, and its members are drawn, as with the BoS, from the GAC, as well as from outside the OBC, to ensure that its work is shaped by the membership as well as guided by the larger community of OA publishing. The MC will comprise 1 publisher member, 1 publishing services provider member, 2 librarian members, and 1 OA expert drawn from the larger landscape of scholarly communications and OA publishing. Its primary functions will be to

  • assess and make decisions about incoming membership applications;

  • oversee, and revise as necessary, the criteria* for presses and publishing services providers (and collectives of such) who want to join the OBC; and

  • oversee, and revise as necessary, the pricing guidelines for incoming members.

*OBC membership criteria and pricing guidelines are in development and will be shared in an upcoming blog post.

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To stay up to date with the Open Book Collective, you can follow us on Twitter and you can also sign up for our mailing list via the form below.

The OBC social media channels are primarily run by Dr. Judith Fathallah (j.fathallah@lancaster.ac.uk), Livy Snyder (livy@punctumbooks.com), and Dr. Francesca Corazza (francesca@punctumbooks.com). Judith is primarily responsible for outreach within the UK, Livy within the US and Canadab, and Francesca within Europe.

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The images used in this post were created by Rainbird Digital as part of the OBC branding package.

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