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Governance Structures for COPIM

Published onApr 30, 2022
Governance Structures for COPIM

As described above, to determine what our preferred governance structures would be for COPIM, we explored the IAD (Institutional Analysis and Development) framework as part of a series of workshops (looking at resources the project shares and consumes, who makes up its community, what are its goals and objectives, and its history and narrative, where is the project heading?). In the chapter on community governance we looked at how COPIM members identified the ‘community of communities’ they consist of, and in the last chapter of this report we will reflect on the narrative that informs the project and in specific looking at how project members envision where the project is heading, or what might be the future of COPIM. In this section we will first look at the remaining part of this exercise, namely, a reflection on what resources are being shared and consumed by the project, before moving over to a discussion on potential governance models for COPIM and its infrastructures.

Resources – What is Being Shared and Consumed, and by which Actors?

  • The book (and different elements related to it, e.g., metadata, an index, the publishing process + stakeholders connected to those elements e.g., copyeditors, typesetters, indexers etc.);

  • Best practices, (soft) skills, knowledge, and experiences/expertise (particularly unusual/uncommon/experimental). This includes sharing best practices via scoping reports and documents, toolkits, wikis, standards, methods, processes (workflows), governance models, legal frameworks (contracts with authors etc.), and financial resources;

  • New methods/new ways of doing things. Including

    • Sharing our process (in a way that is helpful and can’t be co-opted) - e.g., PubPub, processual reports, governance co-development and co-design;

    • Doing OA advocacy, i.e., from the researchers’ perspective opening the process up so more people see how (OA) publishing works in different ways (e.g., not just BPCs) and can learn about its underlying structures so they can make more directed, purposeful choices about how they publish or what types of publishing they support;

    • Highlighting our mission, vision, value and principles as they are guiding all underlying COPIM activities and resources;

    • New/alternative/experimental forms of publishing, giving permission thereby for others to experiment and do things differently;

    • Highlighting the forms of secrecy that we still need to deploy (no binaries between closed/open) e.g., you might not share an author contract with everyone;

    • Collaborating with other groups (scaling small). How we collaborate with different groups so that we can share openly

  • Technology: tools, platforms and services (to put in place a publishing infrastructure that helps us with access and discovery, with financial components, dissemination of open access content, and long-term preservation infrastructure, including any kind of software or technology involved in publishing). Infrastructures, software, code, data;

  • Our networks and our voices as a community. Which ensure we have a large voice and are heard and can support each other in a spirit or attitude of collaboration. Highlights the importance to share our voice and to communicate and collaborate across all the stakeholders

  • What are we consuming: funding, salaries, time/labour, financial support (revenue streams and grant).

Image 1

COPIM’s team explored the question of resources being used in the project. The screenshot shows the collaborative colour-coded collection of items mentioned by the team. Guiding question: “What is Being Shared and Consumed, and by which Actors?”

Discussing Organisational Structures

During the third internal governance workshop we conducted, based on Moore’s report, we discussed and asked for feedback on three organisational structures that we deemed most appropriate for COPIM to help the project move towards a representative structure for its governance: one that is polycentric and horizontal, another that is more hierarchical according to stakeholder groupings, and a final one that is purely cooperative. This workshop was guided by the following question:

  • Which structure(s) or mixture of structures would fit COPIM or its various elements best and why, also in relation to the mission, values, and narrative we have tried to formulate around the project previously?

Participants were asked to read Moore’s report beforehand and the three models were shortly presented as per the underneath descriptions – including the pros and cons of each – while at the same time remaining aware that they are ideal types, that there will always be hierarchical horizontal and cooperative element in each governance structure. Underneath a description of these models, followed by a reflection on the discussion that was subsequently had about these models and the questions they brought up for project members.

Polycentric Governance Model: this is a decentralised model which groups stakeholders into areas of particular expertise or representation (e.g., libraries, publishers, technical developers, etc.) and gives them autonomy to manage their own functions. Each stakeholder grouping is given one representative on a central board for deciding cross-COPIM matters. It is polycentric in that there are multiple centres of responsibility, each with equal weight to them. It is therefore broadly horizontal in that no one grouping has more power than another and that representation is equal within the central committee. As Moore explains, ‘For a complex community-governed organisation, polycentricity will be vital for avoiding simple hierarchies while still allowing for different areas of the organisation to control its own business. (…) Polycentricity responds to the fact that size and expertise matters in community governance. Smaller teams knitted together fare better than larger ones with single governance model’ (Moore 2021a: 24–25).

Cooperative Governance Model (direct democracy: everyone gets a vote): The cooperative model is based on organisational membership and democratic participation. There is a central body handling the administrative work of the project or organisation – alongside a democratically elected board if needed – and then all decisions are made through membership voting. Membership could be determined at the organisational level (e.g., through individual libraries), although this may tip the balance of the stakeholders with the most representation. For example, if there are 90 libraries, 10 publishers, and so on, library decision-making power would be greater.

Hierarchical Governance Model – a more hierarchical approach would be to have an executive board and then various stakeholder boards sitting underneath, along with community—interest groups that could feed into decision-making. This is a more participatory model in that it extends outwards to many different groupings, but also maintains the hierarchy that indicates how certain decision-making functions need to be preserved for people more actively involved in the project or organisation.

Overall, the preference amongst the COPIM project members was for a mixture of a polycentric and a hierarchical model. As such, we agreed that we are aiming at developing a hybrid model for COPIM. Perhaps a polycentric model with a (horizontal) hierarchy above it might be the most effective model because it combines communal governance with some co-ordination and steering, for example by a horizontal hierarchy that would connect all different polycentric entities (WPs/projects) and guide the cooperation according to a common purpose, on top of COPIM’s mission, vision, values, and principles. The entities would then be polycentric, with individual governance structures at the entities level, but each of the groups has an equal representation within a horizontal overarching structure. At the same time, we felt that the way we have set-up the current work packages and project(s) and the values that underlie them, really lines up well with a horizontal approach. Representation is important in this respect, to make sure there is equal representation within this horizontal meta-structure and within the different polycentric entities. It was felt that there is a need for COPIM in a next stage to determine who gets to be on the governing committees and to outline how they get there. Who makes up the polycentric circles? Collaboration between all entities remains key here, where it would work well if the basis would be a polycentric model with representation of various experts in different areas in polycentric groups that have autonomy and their own decision-making process. These different expert groups in this polycentric structure can then be connected in a horizontal hierarchy.

Cooperative Model

The cooperative model was not preferred. It was felt that a direct democracy model of ‘one member, one vote’ is not effective for the kind of set-up that we envision with COPIM. However, co-operation is important in the structure as a whole. If there are a large number of representatives, not everyone can have an equal role in governance, and in this sense even co-operatives have decision-making bodies (representative democracy). Hierarchical models can have advantages in this sense in that they can act quite nimbly, where with co-operative models it can take a long time to get to a consensus. One suggestion that was offered was that voting on certain issues can maybe be set up using the co-operative model.

Open, Flat, Horizontal

COPIM members felt that open horizontal flat organisations with no hierarchy, and no (clear) roles, work well when things are smaller and more informal (e.g., Occupy, many art groups). These organisations work fast and efficiently, and burden some people more, but those who do the most work also get to decide. It is maybe not the most stable model, and works for only a limited amount of time, which might not be good for creating long-term sustainability. There are also examples of paralysis where there isn’t a (clear) direction, so you need a clear purpose with this model; otherwise, it hampers you and people tend to fall back into specific roles or groups.

Flexible and Processual

COPIM as a project is developing something that emerges and evolves and that keeps on evolving and this element of process remains really important when thinking through what it will be that we are developing to ensure that it remains flexible. It might be that our governance starts off quite horizontal, informal, and flat and when it evolves, as some things do not scale, we might need more structure going forward, e.g., when we see divisions starting to appear. At that point some form of hierarchical structure might be useful to move things along. COPIM, for example, as a project, was set up as flat and cooperative as possible, but going forward this depends on what COPIM will be in the future. What is the governance whilst COPIM is being set up and what is the legacy of that governance once COPIM is running? COPIM’s purpose might still be changing a lot, so how can we match our governance with that?

Relation between COPIM and Individual WPs

Different parts of COPIM might also have a different make-up of their governance structure (and possibly also a different structure). For example, it might be appropriate for libraries to have greater representation in relation to the OBC’s activities compared to the activities of Thoth. Thoth, as an element/project within COPIM, already includes several components that together make up the project. Some of these need maintaining, and some are more processual and need more building out; in other words, they might need different forms of governance too. In this respect we are talking about COPIM as a project on the one hand with all kinds of elements/projects within it, but probably these elements within it might need different combinations of governance structures too. In this sense COPIM is a project consisting of different multiple elements with different forms of sustainability, or different sustainable models for their future development.

COPIM’s (base) identity is important too in this respect. It will sit on the top of the various WPs/projects (that will have their own identities) that need to be connected via a need to identify the mission, principles, visions, objectives, goals, ideals that tie them all together. If we have common objectives, they can serve as a base for a common identity, some "touch-base" to agree on. The values that COPIM agrees upon might be important to ensure COPIM will maintain its identity within a more democratic structure. We need to think through why we need a structure separate from individual entities. What do we want from the meta layer? How do we collaborate across our preferred horizontal-polycentric structure?

Creating Commitment in Community-Governance

Who is the community that has a stake in governing? Who are the insiders and outsiders in our projects, and who are the member-producers and the users? We need to think through who would actually want to be involved in our governance, which would also be the people and communities who would help to define the governance structure. For example, smaller libraries will have fewer time/economic resources to commit, and a lot of librarians aren’t all that interested in or quite clear on whether they want to be part of our governance structure. Would it then make sense to make, for example, a really big library advisory board if most of them are not actually committed to doing this work? The makeup of the various stakeholders for each project or work package may also be very different. In the end we want decisions being made by those closest to the actual use of the infrastructures we produce.

If governance is completely open, people won’t necessarily participate. Participation might also look different to different members (with potentially different resources in terms of time, etc.). For example, some might only want to stay informed via a governing body (and maybe have a say only in very major decisions), whereas others might want to participate directly, and to steer things more closely.

Design vs. Implementation of Governance

We need to bear in mind the difference between the design and implementation of governance (for example between our governance model and our form of incorporation). And that is before the participation question, which is where things start breaking down further, i.e., when you start adding people into the mix. How do we battle the lack of agency and impact of some individuals within governance structures on the decision-making processes, sometimes combined with a lack of understanding of how the governance structure operates? When governance consists of too many bodies, is too complex, and too intricate, the effect is disengagement and confusion. How can we empower individuals at different levels to make decisions, to be active participants in the decision-making process? How can a large number of people remain involved in governance? We need a structure that is clear enough, also for small players to understand it. Being understandable to your members is something to aim for. Otherwise, those with the most know-how of how the governance model works end up doing most of the governing.

Similarly, how do we address the constant tension that exists between the different horizontal entities and some sort of vertical/hierarchical structure that will keep all things together. How do we retain a clear focus on both the separate entities and on the mission and the base identity for COPIM as a whole?

The Agency of Platforms/Software

Next to thinking about our stakeholder communities (e.g., libraries and publishers), which already come with different ways of funding and different expectations and traditions of governance, we are also creating open-source software and infrastructures. This also already assumes forms of governance. For example, look at the way GitHub is organised (everyone can fork, pose issues, and contribute to a project) as an infrastructure for people to engage with how things are being developed, with certain people being moderators and certain people having the power to merge certain issues into the main branch etc. In this respect the way in which we have been developing some of our projects (for example, Thoth) comes with an implicit form of governance already in place, which might not be based on what, for example, publishers and libraries might want. We need to keep in mind that the way we develop our projects and the platforms that we use to do so already imply certain modes of governance.

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