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Who or what is COPIM’s community?

Published onApr 30, 2022
Who or what is COPIM’s community?

Defining Communities

For us as a project, establishing who our community is, or will become, was essential to us from the start, and we started the project from the outset with the idea that the main stakeholders that we felt should collaboratively create and maintain open infrastructures for scholarly communication and publishing, should be included in the project consortium itself, namely scholars, publishers, libraries, universities, and technology providers (and of course funders, who generously supported the project). We further set out to define who our community is as part of the first workshop we conducted together with external stakeholders, including representatives from the above mentioned groups as well as experts in governance, organisational theory, and critical management studies.1 The workshop participants discussed how community-led as a concept comes with a set of implied values or practices (such as inclusivity, informality and a values-driven approaches to organisation), often in opposition to top-down or market-led forms of publishing. Yet community-led often remains ill-defined and as a concept or model is rarely used ‘unfavourably’. This highlights the difficulty of defining what or who a community is in the abstract, even though, as mentioned earlier in this chapter, this might be the most important thing to establish for an organisation or project when starting up. In the case of a project for example, when do its individual participants become a community?

One solution to this conundrum is to work with a more pluralistic understanding of communities (such as the ‘community of communities’) to indicate different needs within a project or organisation consisting of different groupings: stakeholders, beneficiaries, and partners for example. Defining a community by identifying the groups it is made up might help determine a community’s interconnections and relationalities and can also help make more visible the inequalities within communities, for example around labour input: who puts in the work and who benefits from it? Establishing who this community is that we are supporting through our work at COPIM whilst at the same time bringing this community about through our ongoing development, research, advocacy, and collaborations, is therefore essential. As is exploring how best to involve this yet undefined and perhaps in some ways always contingent community in our governance structures.

Homogenisation, Diversity, and Exclusion

One important issue mentioned is how ‘community’ also brings with it certain homogenisation effects, as it can obscure the difference within by assuming a shared and common identity. We see this also when community-led projects rely solely on their private networks in way that may reinforce existing power structures. Many participants to the workshop therefore mentioned the importance of ensuring diversity within an organisation’s governance in order to move beyond these networks. Community definitions therefore require attendance to detail and difference so as to not homogenise such diverse contexts. Yet we need to remain aware how community also by definition implies exclusion: there will be those that are not part of the community. How then do we take on a welcoming stance as a community? See for example the issue of the anglophone and English language nature of many OA communities. How will we account for different linguistic and geographical contexts? This also reflects the importance of who has a say and who is able to participate in a project or community and who gets to speak on behalf of everyone else (which also feeds into how conflict is resolved and how labour is valued, for example). Within a publishing ecology we might also have to consider non-human actors and assemblages rather than just prioritising the human, as Chris Land (Professor of Work and Organisation at ARU), one of the workshop participants, reminded us.

Community Building

All of this again emphasised the importance of community building as one of the main findings that came out of the workshop. How as a project do we identify our stakeholders, beneficiaries and partners and how can we best support all of these groups? Communities need to be nurtured in a processual way, this work is never done. It is a matter of keeping an eye on both the community that is and the one that as a project we are involved in bringing about. And this involves how we can support communities in a continuous way through interconnections with many other communities, again following the principle of scaling small. It is important in this respect to remain open to the linkages and relationalities with other communities that themselves can be nurtured. Community then becomes less a standalone thing and more something that reveals the interconnectedness of our efforts. As Chris Land explained, ‘scaling small’ allows for the collective coordination of resources across a ‘diverse ecology of organisations’ that creates a meta community, or a community of communities, for the provision of diverse approaches to publishing.

In this respect one of our other takeaways from the workshop was that our understanding of community within the COPIM project must appreciate antagonism both within and outside what we are defining as our community. Being ‘community-led’ is not as simple as identifying a homogeneous group of people to whom we are answerable and/or steered by (which can lead to the exclusion of certain perspectives).

Community Governance Working Group

After our initial Community Governance workshop, which heavily informed our further research, we set up a Governance working group or advisory board on the Humanities Commons platform, which included participants of the workshop and other governance experts. We set up this working group to share (our) research around community governance, and to ask for community feedback on the governance elements we were developing. The working group has been incredibly helpful in providing us with a research direction while at the same time forming the kind of proto-governance community we would like to establish around the COPIM project and its various elements. Next to using the Humanities Commons platform to share our findings with the Working Group we also invited them to several of our internal governance workshops, which were devised by former COPIM project member Samuel Moore.

Models for Community Governance

Based on the above described workshop and our initial desk research, Moore wrote a research report, Exploring Models for Community Governance, outlining current models of community governance as explored both within scholarly communications and outside of it (looking more generally to frameworks relating to cooperativism, the commons, and community rule and how they can be applied) and the advantages and disadvantages of these different approaches to governance. The report serves as a resource for both COPIM and for the scholarly community, especially for authors and publishers interested in exploring alternative, community-led forms of governance for their research and publishing projects. It does this through 1) a landscape study of forms of governance within scholarly communication and 2) an exploratory study of the theoretical literature on alternative forms of governance appropriate for community-led organisations (Moore, 2021a). As the report outlines, thinking about community governance is ever so important in a context in which control of academic publishing has been largely ceded to or is being usurped by private firms within the market. As a consequence many researchers are now arguing for new kinds of governance by the diverse communities that hold a stake in the academic publishing industry (Fyfe et al., 2017; Moore, 2020). This, they argue, will allow the workflows and infrastructures for publishing to be accountable to a broader range of stakeholders, such as authors, librarians, early-career researchers, the broader public, and of course, publishers.

As Moore outlines, governance is not the same as management and therefore does not refer to the day-to-day running of an organisation, where it is instead more strategic and refers to the structures and values that shape an organisation’s work (which includes accountability to and oversight of these structures and values to a broader community in the case of community governance, i.e., via structures such as voting, boards, and bylaws (Crow, 2013)). Governance, Moore points out, is thus more holistic, comprising a number of different elements such as organisational structures (boards etc.) and their interactions, values (ethics that underpin the community), principles (actionable statements reflective of certain value propositions), norms (informal cultures that influence interactions within a community), mission and vision statements (one or two sentence summaries of what an organisation hopes to do), voting rights, and bylaws or rules for participation or resolving conflict (also named charters, constitutions, articles of association etc. often depending on the form of incorporation). Good governance then involves describing what these elements mean or involve in a specific project or for a specific community, and ensuring they are correctly applied and kept up-to-date. Describing what exactly these elements are for COPIM formed the basis of our internal governance workshops (which we will describe more in depth underneath and in the next chapters), which have helped us understand what kind of governance system we needs by asking ourselves the right questions about what kind of organisation we hope to be.

Internal Governance Workshops

Our workshops were structured on the basis of a model Moore describes in detail in his report. The Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) Framework was developed by Elinor Ostrom in the 1980s and has been further updated since in the context of the knowledge commons by Frischmann et al., which, as Moore outlines, is a framework designed to study commons rather than governance but is still helpful for exploring what it is that makes a commons successful (Frischmann et al., 2014). Attributes to explore in this context are:

  1. Resources – what is being shared and consumed, and by which actors?

  2. Community – which actors make up the community and what are their roles?

  3. Goals and objectives – what is the commons trying to achieve?

  4. History and narrative – how did the commons come about, and where is it heading?

Determining what these elements are for COPIM also again aids in determining how the project and its community are situated, and this situatedness can be crafted in terms of a rich narrative of the various actions, interactions, actors, and resources at play, creating a narrative around the project, seeking to capture who COPIM and its various elements are, what it is producing, what its goals are and where it is heading, which will feed into the governance models that the project is developing. This, as Moore outlines, also means that governance is an activity of community co-development, not just decided by one group at one time but continually evolving as the organisation itself evolves. 

Based on Moore’s research we took a holistic approach to governance and the various elements that make up governance, from mission and vision statements to bylaws and more formal governance structures. We then translated these governance elements into initially three internal workshops to further explore these elements with the COPIM project members (a further three internal workshops — up to the date of writing — were organised after this, in which we applied this holistic co-designing approach to the development of governance structures for the Open Book Collective (OBC)).

During our first internal workshop we tried to develop COPIM’s mission and vision statement, as well as the values and principles that guide the project, which we will discuss more in depth in the next chapter. During our second internal workshop based on the approach outlined in the Knowledge Commons framework by Frischmann et al., we set out to determine what makes up the basic attributes of the specific knowledge commons we are creating and contributing to with the COPIM project. This workshop challenged us to ‘think like commoners’ especially in relation to the three parts to the commons, following De Angelis and Stavrides, i.e. common resource(s) (what is being shared); the commoners (who is sharing and how?); and commoning (the social relations that sustain the commons) (De Angelis & Stavrides, 2010). This included determining what our resources are, who make up our community, what our goals and objectives are and what the history and narrative of the project is. We will describe our findings around what our resources, goals and objectives, and the history and narrative of the project are in the following chapters. Here we will shortly focus on what we defined as our community.

Co-design and Co-development

During each workshop three groups were formed that each tried to formulate the various governance elements we identified during our initial research followed by a discussion between the three groups. We subsequently colour-coded the notes made by each group and when we wrote-up these governance elements we took an active effort to keep the voices of the different groups alive by ensuring not one voice or colour became dominant, something that easily happens when writing up qualitative research. We then shared these co-designed governance elements with the COPIM members to further incorporate feedback via a co-development method, which involved various rounds of feedback on these draft elements, also from the members of the Humanities Commons Governance Working Group. Several rounds of feedback and development of these processual or ‘living’ governance elements have led to the elements we will discuss here in this report.

Community – Which Actors Make Up the Community and What are their Roles?

Before we tried to list who made up our community we discussed several issues related to this exercise. First of all we emphasised that there is a difference between stakeholders and community. Stakeholder as a term might not always capture the individual in any meaningful way. For example, the term ‘librarian’ designates a lot of complex positionings within the library itself. How do we account for different types of librarians? Does this mean we need to reach out to and involve a mix of different types of librarians? Or different library advisory boards reflecting different stakeholders within libraries?

We also wanted to highlight who we are currently missing in our consortium, and who is currently being excluded? Although our consortium is international, the context we are predominantly working in (e.g., championing alternatives to BPCs) is that of the Global North and the presses involved in the consortium publish mostly English-language books (with the exception of Meson Press). We also highlighted that perhaps we were missing researchers as a specific group: many of us are researchers within COPIM and we run scholar-led presses but we maybe do not represent them as such, in the same way as e.g. a scholarly association would.

Finally, we discussed how to capture relevant stakeholders who are not tied to institutions in our governance models. Is it the values of the person or the values of the institution we are after in the end (of course this might differ according to the context)? We need to recognise people’s roles, the fact that they have multiple (work) identities and the difference between people, their opinions, and their institution. How much are we bound in this respect by institutions as stakeholders within our communities?

In the end we came up with the following list of actors, who will play different roles at different stages of the project, also corresponding to and in relation with COPIM’s different work package activities. We will also continue to update this list throughout the project.

  • The book as an agential actant around which everything centres itself

  • Presses (and publishing roles: typesetters, copyeditors etc.). What is the main publishing community we engage with? The OA Book Publishing Community: non-commercial , university presses, and scholar-led presses, small or medium-sized publishers, not-for profit publishers, independent publishers.

  • Authors and content creators. Researchers/(para)academics/scholars/, including ECRs, senior researchers in unis, teaching and research staff.

  • Readers (academics/students/non-academic)

  • Infrastructure providers and technical experts (including platforms). The open source software community (open-source tools and the developers around them). Also as a service (on top of the book) that we are providing to libraries, for example DOAB.

  • Students as readers and ‘funders’ of universities (in a fee-based system) and as scholar-led publishers to come.

  • Librarians. Libraries are very heterogenous in their organisation and the term librarian aligns a lot of complexity within the library itself.

    • Scholarly communications librarian; in some libraries the scholcomm library is better able to direct spending strategy than in others. Scholcomm librarians often have more of an advocacy role.

    • Collections/acquisitions librarian; the collections librarians typically have more financial heft (often by committee).

    • Digital initiatives librarian (also digital resources librarian)

    • Repository Managers and Digital Assets Managers

  • Archivists & preservation experts (long term preservation)

  • Universities/Faculties/Research Institutions

  • Consortia: universities, libraries, other scholcomm organisations, etc.

  • Aggregators

  • Funders

  • Policy makers (at the level of government and also within/extending from institutions)

  • The Alt-ac community

  • Non-human actors and relationalities: machine readers, reading machines. Also reflects planetary issues around climate change etc. Who speaks on behalf of the book and non-human actors and how can we create accountability for that? 

  • The entire publishing ecosystem. Everyone who takes out data from COPIM.

  • Other projects and organisations in the open access realm we are engaging with (and/or which we might engage with more).

COPIM subsequently colour-coded the notes made by each group and when these governance elements were written up, the team took an active effort to keep the voices of the different groups alive by ensuring not one voice or colour became dominant, something that easily happens when writing up qualitative research.


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