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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 organisation and its operations.

Published onJul 06, 2022
Governance by Membership: The Open Book Collective

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 in the UK necessitates having a Board of Trustees (here called Stewards), the OBC’s governance model has been designed to ensure that there is a balance between the rights of the members (here called Custodians) to make decisions, and the Stewards' general responsibility for running the organization. The Stewards are answerable to the Custodians and are elected by them but are given control over the management of the organization at all other times. 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 presses and open services providers of the OBC are also its financial beneficiaries, with research library and other knowledge institution members serving as funders, the OBC’s governance model ensures that the OBC is fully responsive to and guided by its funder Custodians as well as by external OA experts selected from the ‘community of communities’ sitting within the larger landscape of scholarly communications. Together, the funders sitting on the Board, along with the OA experts, occupy a majority voting position, which, in addition to the comprehensive Conflict of Interest Policy established for the Board and its committees, enables the OBC to prevent, monitor, and manage actual and potential conflicts of interests that may arise where the interests of a Steward conflict with those of the OBC, to ensure the interests of the OBC are protected at all times. 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 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 organisations, all with vested interests in the transformation of academic book publishing — working together to move the needle toward a fully open public commons and away from the enclosure of knowledge of 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 have opted in to being fully involved in the OBC’s governance; and

  • Associate Custodians: members of the OBC who have opted out of being fully involved in the OBC’s governance or individual organisations within collectives that are OBC members (collectives only have one full Custodian allocated to them). Associate Custodians have or retain the right to serve in an advisory capacity within the Assembly of Custodians (meaning they can attend AGMs and cast a vote in non-binding matters and participate in OBC discussions).

Custodians will be allocated into three caucuses: Publishers, Libraries, and Open Publishing Services Providers, and will be represented in the OBC 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 of the UK Companies House and Charity Commission. Stewards will serve limited terms, not to exceed 9 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 is the primary body for overseeing applications for membership in the OBC. It will be made up of 5 members elected from within the BoS. Its primary functions will be to:

  • assesses and makes decisions about incoming membership applications;

  • sets and oversees the criteria* for presses and publishing service providers (and collectives of such) who want to join the OBC, to be ratified by the BoS; and

  • sets and manages, in dialogue with each incoming member, the pricing guidelines for offers, to be ratified by the BoS.

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

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The OBC social media channels are primarily run by Dr. Judith Fathallah ([email protected]), Livy Snyder ([email protected]), and Dr. Francesca Corazza ([email protected]). Judith is primarily responsible for outreach within the UK, Livy within the US and Canada, 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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