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3. The Importance of Values, Missions, and Visions

Published onApr 30, 2022
3. The Importance of Values, Missions, and Visions
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This section opens with a discussion of some of the contexts that community-driven open infrastructure organisations may need to be especially aware of when identifying and articulating their values and principles, and some of the issues that they may encounter when attempting to embed these in their governance. It then looks at some recent examples of how scholarly open infrastructure organisations have addressed these contexts and issues, identifying examples of good practice. It also identifies a number of very useful practical resources and tools. This is followed by a discussion of mission, vision, and value statements, which also includes some helpful resources and examples. The section closes a summary of recommended procedures and practices.

Identifying the values and principles on which a community-led open infrastructure organisation is founded is widely recognised as an important first step towards good governance. The values motivating open scholarly infrastructure projects will in many cases also entail a broader opposition to what Janneke Adema calls ‘the current attention system and politics of valuation in academia’, which is predominantly based on metrics, brands, and individualised outputs (Adema, 2021: 33). In light of the considerations discussed in the preceding chapters, we suggest that this should also mean relating values and principles clearly and explicitly to the organisation’s situatedness, its embeddedness in a concrete context. Values and principles gain meaning and have a practical effect when articulated in relation to a particular political, cultural, and socio-economic ecosystem.

Most community-led open infrastructure projects arise from a shared commitment on the part of their participants to a ‘relatively consistent’ set of values and principles (Skinner & Lippincott, 2020). This commitment is usually accompanied by a common frustration at how existing infrastructures cement structural inequities and injustices. However, there are increasingly urgent concerns across diverse fields of practice that the drive towards openness, rather than fundamentally challenging these inequities, risks merely reproducing them: both inwardly, within open organisations’ internal power structures, and outwardly, through their external impacts upon their wider communities. In this context, the manner in which the values and principles of any open project are not only identified and articulated, but reflected in (and, insofar as is possible, guaranteed by) its governance becomes especially important.

Openness and Global Inequity

A long-established aspiration of the open access movement has been to narrow the gap between rich and poor institutions and individuals, and to facilitate intellectual, scholarly, and educational exchanges and flows between the Global North and the Global South.1 Yet as Albornoz, Okune and Chan demonstrate, there is ‘growing evidence that “openness” or open research practices—when decontextualized from their historical, political, and socioeconomic roots—rather than narrowing gaps, can amplify the over-representation of knowledge produced by Northern actors and institutions and further the exclusion of knowledge produced by marginalized groups’.2 Open systems ‘may potentially replicate the very values and power imbalances that the movement initially sought to challenge’ (Albornoz et al., 2020: 65).

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility

This has led activists for open infrastructure to identify a need for a more comprehensive and contextualised understanding of how and where it fits into a wider framework of values. Writing in a parallel vein to Albornoz, Okune, and Chan, for example, Alexia Hudson-Ward describes as ‘head-scratching’ the fact that the open access community has not made more affirmative statements about the connections between openness and DEIA, ‘especially given the fact that ‘the “A” in DEIA stands for accessibility and the “E” for equity’ (Hudson-Ward, 2021).3 Rather than being a surprising, incidental failure, however, the apparent neglect of these values by some open organisations may be a consequence of their specific historical and cultural roots.

The Tyranny of Openness

Precisely because organisations promoting openness conceive of themselves as value- or mission-driven, there is a risk of assuming that these values will automatically underwrite the organisation’s practices, or can stand in place of governance structures and processes. Moreover, the anti-authoritarian, ‘open’ impulses that often render the cultures around open infrastructures distinct can also in certain circumstances make them liable to become inhospitable to habitually marginalised groups. As Christina Dunbar-Hester puts it, writing of open-technology organisations,

they are largely convened in places where human resources departments or equal opportunity legislation do not hold sway, as they are voluntaristic, and they are (or traditionally have been) governed relatively informally. This means that participants have historically had little formal recourse to redress instances of either abuse or subtler unequal standing. Moreover, specific cultural barriers to addressing these issues, including the belief that these communities are open to whoever “wants to be there,” have tended to perpetuate the notion that if some people are not there, it is because they do not want to be (Dunbar-Hester, 2019: 2).

Dunbar-Hester is in part building here on arguments put forward in the early 1970s by the feminist activist Jo Freeman, most notably in her essay ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’. This essay drew attention to how supposedly leaderless, horizontal, open forms of organisation can allow pre-existing, implicit structures of power and prejudice to remain embedded, making them harder to recognise, challenge, and root out. Freeman’s arguments have found a new resonance in the context of debates around the governance of commons-based open-source and open-scholarship infrastructure projects, and have recently been rediscovered in Silicon Valley, leading Nathan Schneider, for example, to write of ‘The Tyranny of Openness(Schneider, 2021).

In the first of COPIM’s Community Governance workshops, held in May 2020, Katherine Skinner (Executive Director of the Educopia Institute), made a related point when she articulated the widely held concern that community-led projects can tend to rely largely or wholly on private networks, thereby reinforcing existing power structures (Moore & Adema, 2020b). Community-driven open infrastructure projects such as COPIM may differ from the hacker cultures that are Dunbar-Hester’s main focus in that many of their members are situated within or representing HE institutions such as universities and libraries, each with their own HR departments and regulations. Nevertheless, participants within a multi-agency infrastructure project can come to occupy an ambiguous, liminal status in relation to those institutions and their rules and regulations. This can lead to similar problems to those described above, where access to help and support is either poorly defined or entirely lacking, and trust in shared principles at the expense of more formal governance can also end up undermining these principles. Issues arise, for example, when conduct breaches happen between project members who work across different institutions. How can a cross-community project guard against subtler, often unintended inequities, and to what extent can and should these be addressed through formal project governance? Matters may be further complicated by ambiguities over the extent to which a project member is acting as an employee and a representative of an institution rather than in a personal, voluntary capacity. Collaborative work, community-focused work, and work on open access and open source projects has all been particularly liable to be undervalued by institutions, and consequently performed in a liminal grey area between professional activity and personal interest.

Against the ‘Opt-in’ Approach

Accounts such as Dunbar-Hester’s and Schneider’s offer important warnings regarding the blindspots in common interpretations of terms such as ‘openness’. Take, for instance, the Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure (or POSI), which at the time of writing is in a position to become one of – if not the – most influential set of principles governing open infrastructure projects within the scholarly world (POSI is discussed in more detail in chapter 6). One of POSI’s seven principles of governance is that of ‘Non-discriminatory membership’. On the face of it, this is an admirable and uncontentious principle. However, what may be more problematic is its ‘opt-in approach’:

Non-discriminatory membership – we see the best option as an “opt-in” approach with a principle of non-discrimination where any stakeholder group may express an interest and should be welcome. The process of representation in day to day governance must also be inclusive with governance that reflects the demographics of the membership.

The opt-in approach has obvious attractions, not the least being that it requires no outreach work beyond the (often already substantial) investment necessary to make a project viable. However, it risks throwing up precisely the kinds of cultural barriers to inclusivity that Dunbar-Hester highlights, perpetuating the belief that ‘these communities are open to whoever “wants to be there”’ and that ‘if some people are not there, it is because they do not want to be’. This risk becomes worse when the ‘opt-in’ approach is explicitly held up as best practice, and being able to point to its existence is taken as evidence of equitable and inclusive behaviour. As punctum books’ vision statement notes, ‘commitments to and care for diversity, equity, and inclusion’ are ’often expressed but without meaningful follow up’. The ‘opt-in’ approach is in danger of leaving in place a closed loop, where an organisation appears to be inclusive and to reflect the demographics of its membership because it is making no attempt to extend its community to those habitually excluded. To those on the inside, the door appears to be wide open; to those on the outside, without active outreach, the reasonable assumption is likely to be that it is closed. Again, as Skinner and Wipperman (2020) argue, commitments need to be linked to specific, measurable outcomes, and to be evidenced: punctum books’ vision statement, for example, points to its Directorship and staff, its catalog and the make-up of its Editorial Advisory Board.

What to do: Models and Resources for Better Practices

Several open infrastructure organisations in the Global North have recently begun both to make statements of the kind Hudson-Ward calls for, and to take meaningful action to embed accessibility, anti-racism, inclusion, equity and diversity in their governance structures. Punctum books’ aforementioned vision statement is one notable example. Another is DORA’s move to revise its governance. As it set out in a blog post in January 2022 (‘Why DORA’s Governance is Changing’), ‘we must live up to our own standards of inclusion’, reviewing our operational structures in order ‘to see how we can better live our values as an organisation’. DORA noted that while it had ‘global aspirations to accelerate research assessment reform’, its governance had ‘effectively limited participation in the Steering Committee to representatives from organizations in Europe and North America’. Building on work by Invest in Open Infrastructure and Code for Science & Society on developing anti-racist governance, DORA implemented a number of changes to its governance procedures, detailing specific, concrete, and measurable steps to distribute power outside of Europe and North America on the Steering Committee; to reduce financial barriers for organisations in developing or transitional economies that wish to support DORA; and to ensure that leadership positions on the Steering Committee reflect the wide diversity of academia.

In setting out clear, measurable actions to be taken, DORA’s statement outlining its revisions to its governance practices is in tune with Katherine Skinner and Sarah Wipperman’s report on Living Our Values And Principles: Exploring Assessment Strategies for the Scholarly Communication Field (2020), published by Educopia as part of the Next Generation Library Publishing (NGLP) project. This report analyses 120 values and principles statements and manifestos in use within scholarly communication organisations in order to provide recommendations to academic stakeholders on how to ‘more concretely define their values and principles in terms of measurable actions, so these statements can be readily assessed and audited’ (Skinner and Wipperman 2020: 4). Although we feel there is a need to remain critical of and keep our distance from using language such as ‘auditing’ and ‘measuring’, we agree with the authors that more clearly outlining their values and principles not only helps organisations with their self-assessment (see chapter 6), but also helps funders make informed decisions around whether the organisations that they want to or are investing in support the values they subscribe to.

Although there are drawbacks to too rigidly setting principles and standards—which as the authors also note, runs the risk of creating barriers and of excluding organisations that for different reasons are not able to comply with these standards (for example because they are small and structurally understaffed and underfunded, which is often the case with open community-led projects)—it does help organisations understand better what kind of expectations (different kinds of) funders could have of them. At the same time, having more broadly defined values and mission and vision statements can also enable an organisation in certain contexts to be more flexible and open in its responses to changing conditions, which might be helpful if an organisation is still in a start-up phase and trying to define itself. (It can also facilitate the forging of coalitions and alliances of the sort we have argued for in chapter 2.) As the authors of the report also state, it is a tough balance to strike to ‘provide enough structure and information to engender trust, guide investments, and incentivize alignment with shared principles and standards, but not so much structure and information that it creates artificial barriers to entry for these marketplaces’ (Skinner & Wipperman, 2020: 31).

This is all the more important in the context which we have described in our introduction, and which Skinner and Wipperman also refer to. Many of the manifestos and statements of values they examine have been developed in the open access and open source landscape to differentiate between those projects that are mission-driven and those that are profit-driven (Skinner & Wipperman, 2020: 6). The transition or buying up of several former non-profits (such as Knowledge Unlatched and bepress) within this landscape to or by for-profit entities has affected the level of trust within the scholarly community, and especially notably within the library (funding) community. Therefore, as the NGLP report also states:

Many of the values and principles documents discuss how governance structures can help to build trust within the communities they serve. For these groups, a trustworthy governance system generally is one that a) cannot be co-opted or overtaken by the interests of a few players and b) puts the interests and voices of its community members first. There is consensus among these documents that user communities for products and services should have agency in their development and governance, including seats at the table and, ideally, decision-making power (Skinner & Wipperman, 2020: 9).

One issue that is also noticed in this report, and which also has been an ongoing struggle within the COPIM project, is how to align as best as possible our values and principles with our organisational structure, where differences in organisational structure and the legal designations that come with them might influence the implementation of previously defined values and principles and, as the report states, create explicit boundaries to how a wide variety of stakeholders ‘can respond to and enact certain values and principles’ and to how organisations can behave (Skinner & Wipperman, 2020: 25).

The Next Generation Library Publishing (NGLP) team, in connection to the report, also developed several tools and resources, to which the COPIM project was also invited to provide input and feedback as part of our regular meet-ups and knowledge sharing, including an Annotated Bibliography, a ​ ​Values and Principles Framework and an ​Assessment Checklist​, which we highly recommend. The report also discusses various principle-based accountability measures, including the ​ FAIR Guiding Principles (2016) and the ​Jussieu Call for Open Science and Bibliodiversity (2018), both developed by the scholarly community.

Mission, Vision, and Value Statements

Mission, vision, and value statements, where clear and concrete (and free of the hypocrisy and sloganeering that tend to accompany them in corporate environments and the neoliberal university), can serve a number of useful functions for open projects. They are often the first point of contact and an ongoing point of reference for potential new members, funders and partners, communicating concisely what your project stands for and what it is trying to do. For a group of partners that is trying to establish (or feels that it has lost) a shared sense of coherence or purpose, the exchanges involved in revisiting or establishing such statements can pull into sharper focus both key disagreements and common ground. This can make easier both practical (if sometimes painful) decision-making about a project’s future, and the fashioning of meaningful coalitions and alliances. But the process can also be especially useful precisely where all project partners appear to share a common goal and common values: in the process of making these explicit, hidden tensions, differences and potential grounds for conflict may emerge. Such underlying misunderstandings can be particularly common in open projects that bring together partners from diverse fields with differing vocabularies and objectives. In general, recognising and acknowledging such differences rather than eliding them allows them to become productive rather than disruptive, and can help truly common ground to be identified. This in turn can mitigate against future problems.

A common criticism of such statements is that preparing them costs time, effort and resources that could perhaps be better deployed elsewhere. However, when viewed as opportunities to clarify an entire project’s direction of travel and sense of cohesion, and to articulate these clearly and concisely not only for existing members but for prospective members, funders and partners, as well as a broader external community, they seem well worth the investment.

Ultimately, whether a project chooses to adopt such statements should depend on the views of members, and is something that should be considered, discussed, and, if necessary, voted upon. Unless there are clearly articulated reasons for not doing so (which as a default should also be publicly shared), however, we recommend as good practice that organisations:

  • (a) create a values statement, mission statement and a vision statement;

  • (b) publicise these statements prominently together;

  • (c) use these statements as touchstones for decision-making; and

  • (d) build in mechanisms for revisiting these statements on a regular basis (e.g. through a standing item on an AGM agenda, or as part of a three-yearly governance review).

Where a project decides against such statements, there should be a clear rationale behind this decision, and considerations should be given to providing some public-facing alternative.

Mission Statement

A mission statement is often a single sentence that describes what an organisation does, its raison d’etre. A good mission statement is Janus-faced: it communicates concisely to those outside the organisation your core purpose, while also speaking to those within, providing focus, direction, and motivation. The mission statement functions as a touchstone, a ‘guiding star’ when considering strategic priorities and new initiatives.4 Unrealistic statements which set up impossible goals are demotivating for those within and prompt suspicion and skepticism in those outside the project, and can put off potential new members.

It also tends to use concrete, simple language, avoiding jargon and buzzwords and strings of adjectives. One resource aimed at non-profit organisations recommends using 5-14 words (20 maximum): while organisations serving scholarly communities may find this overly restrictive, others may find this a useful target to aim for. The same resource provides 50 examples of clear, concise, and useful mission statements by non-profit organisations, evaluated for readability, reach, and reading level.

Vision Statement

A vision statement is usually considered distinct from a mission statement in describing the ideal future you are working towards, rather than what you do. The task of articulating imagined futures is an immensely complex, perpetual one, but the formulating of a concise vision statement can serve as a prompt to undertake that work, and the statement itself as both its articulation and a call to action. A vision statement gives expression to the necessary utopian thinking behind any worthwhile project.5

Vision statements, like mission statements, are often kept to a simple sentence or two. But they can also be a place for setting out a more extensive manifesto, and for situating an organisation in relation to the issues raised in the preceding chapters. The vision statement of punctum books, one of the founding members of ScholarLed, is a good example of this approach. Rather than seeking to encapsulate its mission, vision, and values in short, pithy slogans, it sets out in detail the intellectual, ethical, and political values that drive the publisher’s work, and also clearly identifies what it stands against (such as the ‘deception’ of ‘Gold Open Access’, and the ways the open access movement ‘is now being thoroughly co-opted and marketized by behemoth for-profit publishers’).

Recommendations

The following recommendations are for consideration and discussion: whether they are appropriate for any given organisation will depend upon many factors.

  • In many cases, it may prove helpful to set up one or more dedicated working groups or subcommittees, with explicit briefs to focus on identifying and articulating an organisation’s values and principles; embedding them in its culture and governance; recording and auditing progress; and/or identifying internal and external risks to the organisation’s principles and goals which might result in them being compromised, undermined or frustrated. Having such a group (or groups) in place can ensure that there is a powerful collective voice within the organisation focused on establishing, protecting and furthering its values. It can also shift responsibility for playing the important role of killjoy (see discussion in preceding chapter) from the individual to the group. Much of this work is time-consuming, and having a dedicated group can also help ensure that the work is carried forward – or at worst, that problems in doing so are clearly flagged.

  • Create mission, vision, and values and principles statements (we recommend It Takes a Village’s worksheet), and tie these to concrete, measurable goals and objectives.

  • Put in place a mechanism for revisiting these statements on a regular basis (e.g., through a standing item on an AGM agenda, as part of a three-yearly governance review (see chapter 6), or through a dedicated working group or subcomittee).

  • Establish a Code of Conduct that all members should sign up to and be expected to abide by. COPIM’s own Code of Conduct took inspiration from those of like-minded open source community-led groups and organisations such as the Ada Initiative, The Carpentries and the Contributors Covenant (see discussion above). Invest in Open Infrastructure’s code of conduct may also be of particular relevance. Like several of these organisations, COPIM set up a temporary Code of Conduct Committee to push this work forwards, something we’d recommend to other organisations.

  • Establish a Code of Ethics for those most involved in the organisation’s governance (often trustee board or council members) to sign up to. COPE’s ‘Code of Ethics’ is clearly and attractively presented, and strikes a good balance between providing enough detail to be meaningful, and being short enough to actually be read and digested not only by board members but anyone interested in COPE’s work and governance. This might be done by the same committee as discussed above.

  • No open scholarly infrastructure organisation from the Global North can pretend that its work does not have a global scope and implications.

Addressing issues of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Anti-Racism

  • Establish a separate working group, committee or task force focused explicitly on issues identified as of particular concern, making recommendations for practical actions to embed these values in the organisation’s governance and culture, and for recording and auditing progress.

  • Introducing genuine diversity and the involvement of the Global South in the governance of open infrastructure organisations originating in the Global North presents significant long-term challenges. This is something COPIM is wrestling with itself. Where a project’s membership and/or board are predominantly white, middle-class, tenured (or in stable, senior positions), the private networks through which new participants in governance are often attracted may be far from adequate. Put in place a practical, measurable medium- to long-term action plan to ensure the organisation’s governance is not reinforcing the values and power imbalances between North and South.

  • Sign up to a ‘Joint Statement of Principles’, such as that of the Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications (C4DISC), or the Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure (POSI). (This option, and some of the attendant risks to be aware of, is discussed in more detail below in chapter 6; see too the discussion of POSI above.)

  • Make an explicit public commitment addressing how your organisation’s governance will further diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility and anti-racism (see, for example, the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commitment’). Supplement this with an action plan. As with other such commitments, include concrete, auditable measures and a plan of action.

  • Log and make public the measures being taken and progress made to embed IDEAAR in your organisation’s culture and its governance structures and procedures. (Again, the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commitment’ is a good example of this, including a record of ‘Programmatic and Operational Efforts to Date’).

Board Nominations, Onboarding, and Best Practices

Address how the make-up of your Board(s), and your processes for nominating and onboarding new Board members, embed your values in your organisation and its governance. We recommend the suite of guidelines and tools for ensuring best practice for board governance produced by DeEtta Jones & Associates (DJA) for the Code for Science & Society (CS&S) and Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI):

  • Board Nomination: a defined, research-rooted method for carrying out board nominations and selections that prioritize equity

  • A template worksheet to help enact this nomination and selection process.

  • Board Onboarding: Connect new board members to the knowledge and colleagues they need to shepherd your organisation well, with an IDEAAR lens

  • Best Practices for Board Governance:  sets out ways to operate for inclusion, individually and collectively, that prioritise effective group process and shared understanding

Running Conferences and AGMs

Resources and Tools for Diverse, Inclusive and Anti-Racist Governance

The Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications has produced two excellent ‘Toolkits for Equity’: the Anti-Racism Toolkit for Organisations and the Anti-Racism Toolkit for Allies. While not explicitly focused on governance both have highly relevant bearings on governance practices and structures, as does the Discussion Document on diversity and inclusivity produced in late 2021 by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

The Society for Scholarly Publishing’s ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commitment’, already mentioned above, is a useful model. The discussions and resources on SSP’s Scholarly Publishing DE&I Resource Forum are also highly recommended to those who can access them (Society membership is required). The Library Publishing Coalition’s ‘Ethical Framework for Library Publishing’ includes sections on ‘Accessibility’ and on ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’, each of which contains recommendations, links to a number of useful resources (including guides to best practices), and a further reading list. Again, while not focused specifically on governance, these are highly relevant.

The theme of the 2019 Triangle Scholarly Communication Institute was Equity in Scholarly Communications. The Institute’s webpage collects a number of useful outputs, including:

Institution

Resource

Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications

Anti-Racism Toolkit for Organisations

Anti-Racism Toolkit for Allies

Society for Scholarly Publishing

Committee on Publication EthicsDiscussion Document

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commitment

Scholarly Publishing DE&I Resource Forum, particularly the sections on ‘Accessibility’ and on ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Triangle Scholarly Communication Institute

“The Labor of Open” zine & report

Feminist Framework for Radical Knowledge Collaboration, incl. editable version with translations in Español and Português

discussion of the work of one team working on toolkits for equity in scholarly communication

selection of videos, incl.

Selected Further Reading


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