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7. Conclusion

Published onApr 30, 2022
7. Conclusion

Governance is not only or even primarily a procedural or administrative matter. Like infrastructure, it is always situated in relation to prevailing power structures, always political, as its name suggests. This makes any attempt to lay down overarching rules, guidelines, or best practice difficult and perhaps inadvisable. In this report we have nevertheless attempted to set out some recommendations that any open infrastructure organisation may find useful to consider when planning or revisiting its governance structures and procedures. The first among these, as discussed in the introduction and at greater length in chapter 1, is recognising the character and scale of the risks and challenges that confront any attempt to establish genuinely open infrastructures that would bring about some kind of systemic change, as well as the forms of backlash and attempts at co-optation that are likely to follow any kind of success. This report’s position, however, has been that rather than seek to build open alternatives that are wholly independent of existing hegemonic, largely corporate-capitalistic infrastructures (something almost impossible to do), open infrastructure projects need to employ a form of constructive complicity, operating within the ‘pockets of contradiction and possibility’ that exist within and between them (Joseph-Salisbury, Remi & Connelly, 2021: 3). It is in this context that governance does much of its most important work, and within which the role of governance in such projects needs above all to be situated.

This in turn involves a more thorough-going thinking through of what we might mean by any given open infrastructure project’s ‘community of communities’. As we explore in chapter 2, open infrastructure projects are likely not only to bring together different professions (librarians, publishers, authors, and infrastructure providers, for example, within COPIM’s field of scholarly communications) but also participants sitting in a wide range of personal and structural positions in relation to that gap between the hegemonic and the open, between the more reformist and the more revolutionary. How any given project’s governance structures and mechanisms address the tensions and opportunities these alliances bring about must, ultimately, be a matter for the individual project and its members to determine. Best practice will depend upon its particular situation, and the particular character of the pockets of contradiction and possibility it can exploit. But an acknowledgement that any project or organisation is constructed through alliances and coalitions is crucial to good governance, and any governance model needs to find ways not only of accommodating difference and disagreement but of turning these into strengths. COPIM’s model of ‘scaling small’, we suggest, offers one way of doing this.

Dwelling on questions of community also pushes to the forefront the relationship between openness and inclusion, diversity and equity, still surprisingly often underplayed. Projects in the global North in particular are struggling (in both positive and negative senses) to address gaps between their stated values and their governance practices: chapter 3 has highlighted some of these gaps, and pointed to a number of ways of addressing them, drawing on a range of pre-existing literature and guidance and pointing to existing models and resources that can help organisations establish better practices. This is an area in which COPIM too is acutely aware that it too has urgent progress to make and lessons to learn. 

Incorporating Sam Moore’s COPIM report Exploring Models for Community Governance, published last year, chapter 4 surveyed some of the basic governance and organisational structures employed not only by open infrastructure projects but by a wide range of community-led groups. Here too the situated nature of governance makes clear ‘best practice’ is difficult or impossible to establish. Instead, by documenting the challenges and quandaries that COPIM has encountered in establishing its own governance and that of its offspring projects, we hope to have offered the benefit of this experience to other organisations as they build and develop their own models. 

Whatever structure is adopted, decisions will need to be taken and conflicts and creative tensions resolved. Community-driven projects commonly look to promote consensus-based decision-making, but as we saw in chapter 5, what this means in any given case needs to be clearly defined. The search for consensus brings its own risks in terms of both inclusion and equity and effective decision-making (risks that are also, of course, intertwined). If in preceding chapters it has been difficult to give concrete, specific best practice recommendations, here we hope to have come closer to doing so, proposing that consensus decision-making and voting be seen as complementary rather than as alternatives. We have also both suggested particular principles that should govern the selection and implementation of consensus decision-making and voting practices, and presented a number of models that we believe are likely to be especially well suited to open infrastructure organisations. Here too, though, there remains a need for us to perhaps be more adventurous in our search for solutions that will embed our values in our governance, and make claims to be community-led or -driven more meaningful: combining direct and representative forms of democratic process, liquid democracy is one promising option that we think especially merits further exploration.

One of the central purposes in compiling this report has been to take stock of our own governance: to take in the lessons we have learned from our successes, our mistakes, and our failures, and to make these lessons available to our wider community of communities. Revisiting, assessing, maintaining, and revising governance structures and procedures is key to the enduring success of any project, and we have therefore closed by discussing some of the tools available for doing this, noting in particular the worth but also the dangers of employing external assessment criteria in carrying out such evaluations.

Looking Forward

As described earlier in this report, COPIM as a project will continue to develop its governance structures, both for the project as a whole, for the Open Book Collective, and for the other infrastructures, tools, and platforms the project is and will be developing. We have further documented (and will continue to do so once it is up and running) the development of a governance model and community for the Open Book Collective, which will be made openly available as part of future working papers, reports, and blog posts. But looking forward we also wanted to reflect back on the underlying principle of ‘scaling small’ that we developed to highlight what we do as a project (Adema & Moore, 2021). Scaling small in many ways already implies a form of community governance, where the various organisations and projects that scale together by collaborating and sharing expertise and knowledge on a non-competitive basis, also need to be fairly represented in any governance model. But where we have tried to reflect this principle in COPIM’s governance models, we are also eager to explore in the future how this could be reflected in our collaborations with other like-minded projects invested in creating and maintaining infrastructures for open access books and for the open scholarly commons. Referring back to Anna Tsing’s work is important here, especially to how we need to pay particular attention to articulations between the scalable and the nonscalable (Tsing, 2017). Many of us are already involved in each others’ governance structures as (advisory) board members or advisory committees, but it would be interesting to explore in the future how community oversight over this developing open scholarly commons (often localised and situated) and the connections between it can be managed, but maybe most importantly of all, how new forms of collaboration in this context can be imagined (Schneider, 2010). As such we would want to put forward a challenge to those of us involved in developing community-governance for our organisations and projects, and that is to think through how these forms of community governance can be extended (or not) to the scholarly commons as a whole, or to the developing ecosystem of not-for-profit open infrastructures developed to support scholarly communication. What would be our answer to the ‘vertical integration’ and consolidation of key infrastructures that the commercial behemoths are orchestrating?

A significant part of this challenge will involve difficult questions about what we mean by community, as this report has already highlighted. Many open infrastructure organisations are already closely engaged with the ‘para-academic’ and ‘alt-ac’ communities: several emerged from those communities themselves. But the 'short term uptick' in open research practices brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, however cynically motivated for the most part, brought home to many with little knowledge of open access the potential of open infrastructures to radically extend scholarly communities. (Moore, 2020) For a more detailed discussion of the impact of Covid-19, and in particular of the likelihood of its furthering the corporate control of scholarly communications without stronger investments in community-led infrastructure governance, see Moore, 2020, and Van Gerven Oei, 2020. Many of those previously shut out by exclusionary, proprietorial infrastructures from scholarly resources, activities and engagement, usually as a result of geography, class, wealth or educational background, suddenly found themselves able to listen to and join in with a new range of academic and scholarly discussions. These new members of the scholarly community (in truth always already there) often include not only those outside the academic establishment, but people in quite different circumstances and from quite different backgrounds to those we typically associate with the para-academic and alt-ac.

There are obvious practical obstacles to incorporating these much wider, more disparate communities into the governance of open scholarly infrastructure projects, but greater efforts could and should be made. But this also ties into the need, given the corporate threats to open infrastructure, to think more carefully about governance as politically situated, as engaged and committed. Those looking to open up scholarly communication in the face of openwashing (Waugh & Carlisle-Johnston, 2022) and buyouts by the big publishing conglomerates, for example, may need to define their positions, ambitions, and governance procedures in more explicit relation to the values of what Remi Joseph-Salisbury and Laura Connelly define as anti-racist scholar-activism. Ultimately, ‘open access only makes sense as part of a project to imagine a world beyond capitalism’ (Moore, 2020). Scholarly open infrastructure projects and anti-racist scholar-activism share a common ‘repudiation of the locking of knowledge into the university and the simultaneous mechanisms of exclusion that function to lock communities out' (Joseph-Salisbury & Connelly, 2021: 15); but as we saw in chapter 3 many open access ventures have failed to make connections between openness and broader issues of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (Hudson-Ward, 2021; Bourg & Levy, 2021); or to build such concerns into their governance structures and procedures in meaningful ways. We have offered some guidance for those looking to do so in this report, but further work remains to be done here. 

This work is likely to entail thinking more adventurously and critically still about what we mean by governance. Much of the focus on governance within the field of open scholarly infrastructure to date has understandably been upon the procedural and administrative, given the urgency of putting in place functioning processes and structures for new projects. For reasons discussed in part in chapter 2, this has been largely concentrated in turn upon possibilities framed by the legal requirements of processes such as charitable incorporation. But we need to remain open to the possibilities of other, radically different ways in which infrastructure organisations’ governance might be structured and enacted, learning from a wide range of groups and projects, looking beyond the academic world (in the case of scholarly infrastructures) and the Global North.

Ultimately, this might also mean giving serious consideration to some of the more radical criticisms of the whole notion and language of ‘governance’, such as those made in Harney and Moten’s essay ‘Blackness and Governance’ (2011). This seems especially urgent given the sometimes impressive but equally often somewhat patchy commitments of open infrastructure organisations to racial equity, to addressing imbalances between the global South and North, and to overcoming economic segregation in the scholarly and intellectual realms. This is a discussion that lies beyond the limits of this report, but one that needs to take place. Its implications for how we think about ‘governance’ might prove as fundamental and far-reaching as the idea of ‘open access’ has been for how we think about not only scholarly publishing and communication but the whole infrastructure of scholarly endeavour.


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