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Published onApr 30, 2022

Structure of the Report

This report starts with this introductory chapter that situates its overarching argument in relation to a current rise in interest in forms of community governance in open infrastructure projects.  Arguing that there is a danger in some of the literature around community-driven governance of over-emphasising procedures and processes, this introduction suggests that we need to acknowledge the essentially political character of the drives towards both open infrastructure and community-led governance. It discusses what this might mean, and also emphasises the extent to which, in any given case, both open infrastructure organisations and their governance are embedded in particular histories and in a frequently inhospitable political, social, and economic environment. It then explores some of the most significant governance implications of this for attempts to establish open (scholarly) infrastructures.

Picking up on one particularly important implication, the next chapter asks how we might best understand and deploy that loaded term ‘community’ in relation to governance practices. Building on the preceding chapter, it points in particular to the importance of paying attention in ‘community-led’ and ‘community-driven’ open infrastructure projects to the building up of coalitions and alliances between radical and reforming impulses.

The subsequent chapters outline best and better practices relating to some of the main factors that need to be taken into consideration when developing community governance, and provide links to existing literature, tools, and resources that will help you or your project develop your own governance. These chapters discuss the establishment and articulation of values and principles and their embedding in governance structures and processes, in particular in relation to diversity, equity, and inclusion, not least of the Global South; decision-making processes, and the relationship between consensus-seeking and voting procedures; questions of representation and ‘direct democracy’; and measures for ensuring the maintenance of and ongoing, iterative development of governance procedures, for carrying out governance ‘health checks’, and for evaluating and deploying external assessment criteria and tools. 

This report also includes chapters that document the development of COPIM’s and the OBC’s own governance structures. These chapters are designed to be read either separately or alongside and in relation to the better practices chapters.

Motivation: On the Importance of Community-owned Open Infrastructure

The issue of the governance of (open) infrastructures for scholarly communication has grown ever more urgent over the last few years with the ongoing corporate acquisition of (critical) scholarly communication infrastructure (see for example the shock that was caused by Elsevier’s acquisition of, the provider of the popular Digital Commons repository platform; or by Wiley’s acquisition of Knowledge Unlatched, and Taylor & Francis’ acquisition of F1000). This movement towards the ‘enclosure of the commons’, is evidence of attempts at the vertical integration of academic infrastructure by the big commercial publishers, leading to the further corporate consolidation of the publishing industry, with potentially severe implications for knowledge equality and equity (Chen et al., 2018; Chen, Posada, and Chan, 2019; Larivière, Haustein, and Mongeon, 2015; Joseph, 2018; Moore, Gray, and Lämmerhirt, 2016; Bilder, Lin, and Neylon, 2015). This has resulted in ‘an increased role of private sector actors, and more specifically big publishers such as Elsevier and Taylor & Francis, in the design and governance of scholarly communications infrastructure’ (Chen et al., 2018: 7). This loss of control and ownership over the key infrastructures that support the research lifecycle has led to calls for a reinstalling and reclaiming of academic oversight of these infrastructures. According to SPARC’s Heather Joseph, with these calls for community governance comes ‘the need for us to more clearly articulate our vision for the future of scholarly communication, the principles associated with that vision, and to take action to ensure that research communications is a community supported and owned enterprise’ (Joseph, 2018: 427).

In relation to this community-led vision for the future of scholarly communication, the ongoing consolidation by commercial players of crucial infrastructure has created an unease within the community on two fronts: first of all, the values of the commercial players are seen to be radically misaligned with those of the scholarly community. The logic of commercial revenue is perceived as being odds with scholarly, intellectual and scientific needs, especially in terms of open access publishing (Joseph, 2018: 427; Fyfe et al., 2017). In addition to that, Jeff Pooley argues that it is specifically the for-profit nature of these consolidating enterprises (which he calls ‘full-stack publishers’ who are using predictive analytics services on their platforms to skim ‘scholars’ behavioral residue on the prospect of monetization to come’ (Pooley, 2022)) that is problematic for the further development of open infrastructures. For him (and others) it is essential that beyond infrastructures being open, they are nonprofit and community-governed too, as for-profit open entities will simply continue to extract resources (e.g., volunteer labour) from academic communities and/or will be taken over at some point by the big commercial publishers (Pooley, 2017: 2). Beyond the need for open infrastructure, there have therefore been calls to develop governance mechanisms that ensure that community control over infrastructure is maintained, and hence that it cannot be bought out by commercial interests (Joseph, 2018: 428)

Governance and Sustainability 

But beyond ensuring open infrastructure projects cannot be bought out, there are further issues that concern the governance of open infrastructure projects that need to be in place to ensure their ongoing sustainability or resilience. Pooley increasingly sees two ecologies developing, one made up of venture-funded infrastructures driven by the large commercial publishers, and one made up of grant-funded open infrastructure projects (funded in the US for example by foundations like Andrew W. Mellon and Alfred P. Sloan), the latter consisting of ‘open source projects of various sizes and capacities’ (Lewis, Roy, and Skinner, 2018: 1; Pooley, 2017). Katherine Skinner has highlighted that community-led governance of these open source projects comes with various challenges to take into consideration (Skinner; 2019: 2). She lists several, including most prominently a lack of funding for ongoing infrastructure maintenance. Skinner highlights how ‘academy governed’ tools, platforms, and services have been well trained to run on as little (grant) funding as possible, but this does not allow them to invest in further maintenance and R&D. A further challenge is the lack of training around governance issues, including, as she states, for governance groups and officers ‘charged with protecting and guiding our programs and organizations’ (Skinner, 2019: 7). Skinner also highlights the ongoing competition amongst community-led projects for scarce grant funding. With respect to this latter issue, a focus on alignment and coordination and the development of collective investment strategies is therefore seen as crucial (Joseph, 2018: 429, Skinner, 2019: 6). This would require close cooperation between scholarly communication stakeholders, most importantly libraries. In this context of collective investment David W. Lewis has previously proposed the ‘2.5% commitment’, which puts forward that ‘every academic library should commit to contribute 2.5% of its total budget to support the common infrastructure needed to create the open scholarly commons’ (Lewis, 2017: 1), a collective pledge that would prevent the free-rider dilemma1 in the creation and support of these kinds of open scholarly commons. Over the last few years projects such as Invest in Open Infrastructure, SCOSS, and of course COPIM’s soon to be launched Open Book Collective have started to coordinate these kinds of efforts as part of collaborative consortial funding approaches for the support of open infrastructures for scholarly communication, where funding towards this is still lagging seriously behind the funding available for open access content. 

Governance and Scale

To resist the enclosure of the scholarly commons, alternative community-led open infrastructures are increasingly being proposed and developed, not only in the sciences but also in the Humanities and Social Sciences. There remains however a tension around strategy, and whether the focus should lie on developing (top-down nationally or regionally funded) meta-infrastructures or more situated local ones. On a European level there are calls for, as Maryl et al. describe it, the development of a ‘dedicated, inclusive infrastructure that can streamline the fragmented initiatives’. (Maryl et al., 2020) This is evidenced by the current drive by the European Commission towards the creation of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) for example, which, Maryl et al. state, is accompanied by a vision of a pan-European meta-infrastructure ‘federating existing resources across national data centres, European e-infrastructures and research infrastructures’ (Maryl et al., 2020: 3; European Commission, 2017: 3). As Budroni et al. outline, the governance of this infrastructure will be explicitly community or stakeholder driven (Budroni, Claude-Burgelman, and Schouppe, 2019: 130).2 

But with these meta-infrastructures, the need to ensure all ‘stakeholders’ are indeed considered remains important. Maryl et al. argue for the importance of evaluating closely what is meant by ‘community-driven’ in this context. This involves investigating closely and throughout the whole research process what user needs in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) are with respect to open infrastructure: ‘otherwise, there is no guarantee that the infrastructure will address the existing needs of a scholarly community, or that scholars are going to use it’ (Maryl et al., 2020: 10). What is needed in this respect, they argue, is a scholar-led, transparent and research-oriented (rather than profit-oriented) infrastructure. Chen et al. and Okune et al. have additionally argued that from a geopolitical perspective there needs to be space for multiple actors to be taken into consideration, to ‘reflect critically on who is being both included and excluded in the design and use of knowledge infrastructures’ (Okune et al., 2019). Infrastructural initiatives such as those being developed by the European Commission, they claim, are part of a global European strategy to take up a leading role on the international stage and develop a competitive advantage in science and technology R&D in relation to other global north regions. This strategy, as they state: 

exerts pressure on peripheral less powerful actors, for whom the risks of non-alignment and non-participation in the “global and interoperable scholarly commons” as envisioned by the European Union - which can include loss of access to potential funding, loss of legitimacy, and non-consideration for global partnerships and memberships - are much larger than the loss of autonomy in developing open research infrastructures in a more contextualized manner, adapted to local barriers and needs (Chen et al., 2018: 9)

As they point out, we need to keep a critical eye on the ‘collateral implications’ of the development of open research infrastructures and the power imbalances that they reproduce. What they argue for instead as part of their collaborative work for the Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network (OCSDNet), is a focus on more ‘inclusive knowledge infrastructures’, that look at the socio-technical mechanisms behind the development of open infrastructures, are inclusive to multiple stakeholders and epistemologies, and seek ‘to redress power relations within a given context’ (Okune et al., 2019). As an alternative to top-down development projects there is a need to therefore redirect funding and resources ‘towards the development of alternative localized infrastructures that bolster the right to research of diverse epistemic communities’ (Albornoz et al., 2018: 13).

It is important to highlight in addition to geopolitical scale, how the definition of research infrastructures can be both more narrowly or more broadly perceived.3 We would argue in this respect, especially within the context of the HSS, for infrastructure to be perceived more broadly, where scholar-led not-for-profit open access presses and publishers should be seen as an integral part of the infrastructure for scholarly communication, especially where it concerns the publication and dissemination of OA monographs. Maryl et al. see in this respect an opportunity in the HSS for the development of both inclusive infrastructures (both physical and digital) with a focus on bibliodiversity and the needs of specific research communities, and a more generic e-infrastructure to support the more widespread needs of the HSS disciplines (Maryl et al. 2020: 8). Similarly, what we within the COPIM project have been arguing for in the form of the governance principle of ‘scaling small’, exemplified for example by COPIM, the ScholarLed consortium, and the Radical Open Access Collective, might also form an alternative here, where ‘scaling small involves the creation of infrastructures that allow many presses to thrive at multiple scales, instead of taking up a competitive model in which some presses grow stronger in expense of others, or by usurping others’ (Adema and Moore, 2021; Barnes and Gatti, 2019).

The politics of infrastructure

As this report will testify, we need to remain aware of the politics of our infrastructures, which run beyond issues such as whether they are open or closed. Moore et al. outline how open platforms and infrastructures, when owned by for-profit entities, are still predominantly focused on monetising the open content on their platforms and the interactions around it. In this respect ‘use data and impact analytics are a commodity to generate profit from free scholarly platforms’ (Moore, Gray, and Lämmerhirt, 2016: 4). The main issue here is that the research community does not own this data but also does not control how it is being used, measured, and analysed (also see the recent partnering of ArXiv with Elsevier Scopus, to ‘optimise’ their publication data).

As Angela Okune argues in this respect, it is essential to question who makes the decisions about the way in which our research is produced and communicated. To radically reshape this we need to have those (difficult) conversations about ‘what might decentralised, non-hierarchical and locally controlled forms of scholarly communications and knowledge look like? From that vision we can help pluralise forms of knowledge and bring its stewardship and care closer to the communities it most concerns’ (Okune, 2019). As Moore et al. warn in this respect, as a community we need to nurture the kinds of infrastructures that operate in the service of research itself, instead of ceding control of its to large commercial publishers ‘for whom the research community is not the customer, but the product itself’ (Moore, Gray, and Lämmerhirt, 2016: 9).

Header image / illustrations: COPIM remix, photo by Matthew Brodeur on Unsplash.

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