Governing the Scholarly Commons (part 2)

Back in July we surveyed members of the Radical Open Access Collective on a possible decision-making model of lazy consensus. To quickly recap, lazy consensus is the process by which decisions are taken when no one disagrees with a proposal within a short(ish) window that takes into account numerous time zones and weekends. Anyone can propose an action and this motion can be debated until there are no further disagreements.

The idea of lazy consensus was well received on the mailing list and an interesting discussion ensued about the future our collective governance. Kathleen Fitzpatrick highlighted the need for community building – what she terms ‘social sustainability’ – as crucial to radical forms of collaboration. This underscores the need for ROAC members to get to know one another and to extend generosity and care to one another as far as possible. Joe Deville emphasised this with particular respect to the tone of our discussions, which should be ‘conducted in open, generous, caring ways’. Yet, as Endre Dányi kindly pointed out, there is a ‘certain sense of violence implied in claims about commonness and the common good’. We must be wary of not imposing on each other a predefined set of identities and values that we all share, instead keeping in mind that community itself necessitates difference or un-commonality (what Roberto Esposito would term a ‘common non-belonging’).

Following on from this discussion, one of the first points of action we would like to propose for the ROAC, is to implement the idea of lazy consensus with a 72-hour window for objections, while we will also ensure to stimulate discussion as much as possible. In practice, we do not envision any huge decisions being made about the collective and so it is likely that lazy consensus, as a decision making model, will only be intermittently used . Nonetheless, please feel free to propose ideas for the collective to consider – we really want to keep everything horizontal and informal to the greatest extent we can.

Related to this, during the mailing list discussion Gary Hall shared some helpful thoughts from his experiences helping to run a local community football club (and his reading of Barcelona En Comú’s Fearless Cities). Gary’s advice can be summarised as follows:

  1. Don’t be afraid to take the lead
  2. Ensure a gender balance and diversity from the start.
  3. Have generosity as a key value – collaboration requires individuals to be generous (with their time, energy, attention etc.).
  4. Try to reduce vertical hierarchies by distributing authority among as many people as possible
  5. Try to make it possible for everyone to feel they can contribute

Given that everyone is busy, and it is easy for initiatives like ROAC to lie dormant in particularly busy periods, we felt it would be worth instigating some of these approaches through a member advisory board, which we would like to put forward as our second point of action. The board would help generate and moderate discussion, admit new members and generally be a face of the ROAC in their own geographical/disciplinary area. We are keen to have broad geographical coverage from all across the globe, but we are especially interested in representation from Africa and Latin America (where a number of our members are based). Please email Sam and Janneke if you would like to get involved (and we might also nudge some of you who previously indicated you would be interested in this)! Going forward, and once we have an advisory board established, we can discuss whether we want to formalise this structure more.

Related to this, we are still keen to stimulate discussion on the mailing list by having themes set and moderated by different listserv members each month. Please get in touch if you would be interested in moderating discussions related to the future of scholar-led open access. You do not have to be associated with a member press or project, just interested in what we’re trying to achieve. We would ask that you post a question or topic to the list once a week for a month and then moderate the ensuing discussion. Open access week is of course a good time to start the discussion. Our friends at ScholarLed have been posting daily blog posts on the future of scholar-led publishing infrastructures, so perhaps one of us would like to try to drum up responses to these posts or follow them up for further discussion?


Collaborative Open-Source Bookstand, ROAC flash drives and postcards

The Radical Open Access Collective is always looking for collaborative ways to promote and support our publishing projects. Our members are mostly working academics without the resources of commercial publishers, and so mutual reliance between member presses can be really beneficial. We have always envisaged the ROAC as being a space where we can share resources and cross-promote one another’s work – and conference attendance is the perfect place to try this out.

Our friends at the ScholarLed consortium have been developing resources to further support this. Recently Julien McHardy (Mattering Press) together with Cristina Garriga (My Bookcase), have ‘open-sourced’ the design templates and files they previously created to develop the ScholarLed bookstand. The ROAC have adapted this bookstand to promote both ScholarLed and ROAC member publications. Now that the design of the bookstand is openly available here, other members might be interested in duplicating (elements of) this design to promote their and other presses publications.

This is how the bookstand looks in the wild:

The downloadable zip file on Github contains InDesign templates for all the elements that make up the bookstand, including a template to promote individual books, event lists, info sheets and a template for a bookmark. These items are currently tailored for ScholarLed members but can be easily adapted to suit your own press or project. ScholarLed uses coloured paper maps to present their books on, along with plastic stands to display them.

Flash drives and postcards

To further promote ROAC members publications we have recently ordered branded Radical Open Access Collective flash drives and information postcards (see below). The flash drives will allow us to share member publications with attendees at various conferences. The way we envision this to work is similar to the set-up used for the ‘Book of Books’ in the ScholarLed book stand, in that Sam will send all ROAC members a Dropbox link to a folder where they can upload those of their publications they would like to make available via the flash drives. We will then copy the contents of this Dropbox folder to the flash drives, which we will share with conference attendees who visit the bookstand, allowing them to upload ROAC publications to their personal devices. You can add new publications to the Dropbox folder on a continuous basis if you like, as we will regularly update the contents of the flash drives.

Sam and Janneke will add these flashdrives to the ScholarLed bookstand version currently maintained on behalf of ScholarLed member Open Humanities Press at Coventry University.

In a similar vein you can create your own ROAC branded flash drives (logos available in the Dropbox) and use the Dropbox folder to load them with member publications to promote at your own iteration or adaptation of the ScholarLed bookstand. Similarly, if you would like to produce some ROAC postcards you can also find the InDesign files of the postcards in the Dropbox.

For those of you who lack the funds to create your own flash drives or postcards, we are happy to send some to you but note that we only have a very limited number available at the moment.

There is no obligation whatsoever for you to add your publications to the flash drives of course, but please do let Sam know if you haven’t heard from him (in the next week) and would like access to the Dropbox.

In doing this, the ROAC hopes to raise the profile of alternative forms of publication and share and cross-promote all the excellent work our members are doing. Please do get in touch if you have any other ideas on how we could explore this further!

Governing the scholarly commons: the Radical Open Access Collective

The Radical Open Access Collective (ROAC) is a community of 60+ not-for-profit presses, journals and other open access projects. One of the aims of the collective is to legitimise scholar-led publishing as an important alternative model for open access, while supporting our members and encouraging others to experiment with scholar-led publishing too. The ROAC therefore serves a similar function to other membership organisations such as the Library Publishing Coalition, the Association of European University Presses, and the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, all of whom support certain approaches to publishing or kinds of publisher.

Unlike these membership bodies, the ROAC has no formal governance structure, bylaws or committees to help organise our activities. This has made sense while the collective was in its infancy. However, we are particularly interested in further encouraging mutual reliance by experimenting with ways of supporting one another (beyond simple lip service). Perhaps we need a way to encourage this through some kind of light-touch governance.

Mutual reliance for us is more than the mere sharing of advice through the listserv (although this is a key part of it) but implores each press to think about one another as partners or collaborators rather than competitors. This is why the only requirement for joining is a willingness to share with other members of the collective in a horizontal, non-competitive manner. This could be through promoting each other’s activities and publications at conferences, open-sourcing our tools and sharing documentation and other resources openly with the community. In doing this, we hope to resist the general trend towards marketisation in publishing by experimenting with cultures of resilience through shared efforts, all while still maintaining each press’s unique identity.

But these experiments are more than just about publishing – they intend to reveal the possibilities of mutual reliance in higher education (and beyond) so that others may engage in similar practices of collaboration. Janneke Adema, for instance, refers to this process as ‘scaling small’ whereby members engage in practices of horizontal collaboration within the collective and look towards vertical collaboration with other collectives. All of these practices intend to maintain the individual autonomy and identity of each member project while allowing them to benefit from the relationships fostered within the collective.

So the question this blog post wants to explore is: what system of governance will allow the Radical Open Access Collective to best promote the kinds of mutual reliance described so far? Currently the ROAC has no official governance and describes itself as a horizontal and democratic collective. Perhaps this lack of governance is limiting our ability to proactively work with one another as members and to fully explore the potential of mutual reliance. How should we address this?

The membership organisations listed above each have different governance models including highly formalised systems of voting and boards of governance that oversee decision-making. But these organisations usually charge membership fees of hundreds or even thousands of pounds a year and they can therefore spend resources on coming up with adequate processes for accountability and staff to maintain them. While such formalised systems might be fitting for the future, right now it is difficult to see how the ROAC could practically devise, implement and maintain such a system bearing in mind we receive no resources for maintaining the collective (only occasional support) and our members as not-for-profits are not always in a position to pay membership fees. We should therefore look towards more informal collectives to see how they are governed.

One interesting concept I learned about recently was that of ‘lazy consensus’. This is the form of governance employed by The Maintainers – a global research network interested in the concepts of maintenance, infrastructure, and repair – who themselves have borrowed the idea from Apache Rave. Lazy consensus requires members to follow discussions online and to speak out within a given time frame if anyone disagrees with what is being proposed (72 hours is the proposed time to account for numerous time zones). If no one disagrees, and as long as all proposals are made through the same channel, then tacit agreement is assumed. It is a light-touch approach to decision-making in relatively consensual organisations with busy members, as long as members are following the discussions online.

So lazy consensus will only work if there is regular activity or discussion that members of the collective can follow (and so they will see any items tabled for consensus). It requires collectives to get to know one another and to learn about each other’s practices and values, to care for another and to understand our situations. It thus requires commoning: practices of sustained social activity that maintain our projects as shared endeavours. Commoning is a highly situated activity of resource maintenance through community-building. I have theorised elsewhere how commoning is a practice of care for the relationships around shared resources. It does not refer to a specific or reified set of practices but requires us to learn how to get along and help each other out.

Most importantly, then, commoning requires that we know each other. This is why we hope to stimulate more discussion on the listserv. This was also a request from many of the presses we surveyed back in May. To this end, we wanted to suggest that one member takes control of setting topics for discussion for one month at a time (an idea borrowed from the empyre mailing list). One way to further encourage members to do this is by offering the opportunity to do so in their preferred/native language – with an English summary if possible (though this of course wouldn’t be a requirement) – in order to increase linguistic diversity within the community. Presses can then for example post one message for discussion each week and can moderate and encourage responses.

By stimulating discussion, we hope the ROAC will be able to further promote the conditions for reciprocity and trust between members, even if there exist significant differences of opinion. Having regular discussion as a community might allow us to employ concepts such as lazy consensus (and explore other governance structures as needed in combination with this). This might also give us the space to further influencing debates and policies as a collective – e.g. through consultations and general responses to the goings on in the world of open access. We are also interested in exploring the idea of leadership positions and committees – especially if members think this would be beneficia – but for now these two proposals seem like a good way of stimulating activity within the collective.

However, there are many other forms of informal/light-touch governance for horizontal collectives. One of the original inspirations for the Radical Open Access Collective was Open Humanities Press, whose organisational structure involves multiple, self-governing scholarly groups, organized around journals or book series, and includes academics, librarians, publishers, technologists, journal editors, etc., operating as a radically heterogeneous collective. Mattering Press also has a unique horizontal structure involving numerous committees, while meson press formalised their operations as a worker-owned co-operative. We would love to hear if you have any suggestions or yourself participate in any governance structures that might be appropriate for the ROAC, especially those that help promote mutual reliance between members.

In summary, we are seeking members’ opinions on this idea of lazy consensus and generating more of a community through the listserv. Do these light-touch proposals for governance sound workable or helpful? Do we need something more formalised? Are there any other forms of governance we should be considering? We will be reaching out to presses specifically to ask if they would be willing to facilitate and moderate discussion on the listserv for one month, but please do not hesitate to get in touch if you are interested! Look out for another blog post soon on the open-source bookstand for shared promotional activity at events.

The Radical Open Access Collective: updates, events and governance

Since our previous update in October last year, the Radical Open Access Collective has continued to grow and now contains over 60 scholar-led publishing initiatives from around the world, alongside many hundreds of listserv members. With so many new members, it is worth reminding ourselves what the intentions behind the ROAC were. This post provides an update on the activities of the collective and explores what the ROAC might want to focus on in future.

The Radical Open Access Collective is a community of scholar-led, not-for-profit presses, journals and other open access projects. It was formed in 2015 as a way of building connections and mutual reliance between mainly academic-led publishers looking to try something different and self-managed in scholarly communication, as an alternative to the closed down commercial behemoths. Our members come from a variety of geographical and disciplinary contexts, publishing a range of books, journals and experimental material, from small ad-hoc DIY projects to more sustained initiatives. We maintain resources and host a listserv which we use to communicate with our members and to discuss issues around openness, access, and experimental and scholar-led publishing, and through which we aim to stimulate and nurture a community of different forms of publishing.

While Janneke Adema and I (Sam Moore) have been the main ‘organisers’ behind the ROAC – i.e., the ones who add new members to the website, update resources and field general queries – the idea behind the collective itself has always been that as a community it is horizontally governed and democratic in its decision making. The only real criteria for membership has been that the press or project engages in some form of open access publishing (loosely defined) and shares our philosophy of mutual reliance and non-competitive publishing. Yet in practice, the absence of any defined governance system (and Sam and Janneke’s lack of time) has made it hard to do things as a ‘collective’. One of the questions now is: with so many new members, and a clear excitement about alternative forms of open access and scholar-led publishing, what can the Radical Open Access Collective actually do to support its members?

With these ideas in mind, in May we surveyed the Radical Open Access Collective members[i] to better understand their participation in the collective, what they hope to get out of membership and whether these needs are currently being met. We were particularly interested in learning how best to support our members from outside the Global North, where our membership has grown most in the past year, and especially how to promote greater linguistic diversity rather than simply relying on English for all our communications. It was encouraging to see that many of these goals were shared by our members.

We found in the survey that there is clearly a pressing need for the Radical Open Access Collective. Members described how the collective confers a level of legitimacy, solidarity with a movement and a sense of community between other members. They were also positive about the listserv, the resources we share and our desire to work collaboratively for more ethical open access publishing futures. In practice, though, many members had yet to experience any ‘tangible’ benefits from participation and some of our newer members were perhaps unsure of what the collective does. This was particularly alienating for those outside of the Global North who felt a strong sense of detachment from the ROAC community (and maybe assumed that the collective is more active offline than it in fact is). The results highlight that the community aspects are highly valued and need to be nurtured in order to maximise benefits for the ROAC’s members.

We also heard that members were positive about collaborative approaches to marketing and promotion at various conferences around the world (and we received many excellent suggestions for conferences we could attend in the future). The ROAC is non-competitive and encourages its members to work together to promote their activities and not-for-profit community-led approaches to publishing. Members were enthusiastic about this collaborative approach to cross-promotion and encouraged the ROAC to look beyond the collective and build links with other organisations for alternative publishing practices. They also saw the listserv as a valuable source for planning in this regard.

Given the survey findings, Janneke and I have identified two immediate initiatives to focus on (and more for the longer term), which we wanted to outline to the collective in a series of blogposts. The first of which is to identify a light-touch governance model – with input from ROAC members –  that will allow the ROAC to do more by bringing others in to help steer the collective and increase linguistic (and other kinds of) diversity. This may entail better geographical representation, more input from interested parties, or simply help from those who want to stimulate activity on the listserv or who want to contribute to the ROAC information platform. I will be working on issues of governance over the next few months (as part of a book project on the relationship between open access publishing and the commons), but expect a more detailed blogpost on governance and what might best suit the ROAC in the coming weeks.

Secondly, the survey made clear that the ROAC should aim to be more proactive in facilitating collaboration between its members and should provide more tools/resources for them to promote not-for-profit and scholar-led publishing and to showcase its members publications at various online and offline fora.

One idea we had is to build on the fantastic bookcase our friends and colleagues from ScholarLed (all also ROAC members) developed, a version of which is currently held at the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University. We have been using this book stand to also promote ROAC publications and initiatives. A key feature of this book stand has always been that is should be ‘open source’ and we are hoping to work with the original designers to put the designs for the book stand online for members to set up their own ROAC or member-branded book stands at events they attend. This is a simple set of printable materials for displaying physical publications and promotional literature at events. We also hope to find funding for a branded flash drive containing member publications that can be distributed at conferences. We will be describing these ideas in more detail in a forthcoming blogpost and would love to see collaborative promotion being adopted by ROAC members and others in the community.

The Bookstand

Radical open access in the wild

Pirate Care conference

Many ROAC members will be attending the Pirate Care conference at Coventry University on 19-20 June – all are welcome to attend. The term Pirate Care condenses two processes that are particularly visible at present. On the one hand, basic care provisions that were previously considered cornerstones of social life are now being pushed towards illegality, as a consequence of geopolitical reordering and the marketisation of social services. At the same time new, technologically-enabled care networks are emerging in opposition to this drive toward illegality. The conference will feature projects providing various forms of pirate care ranging from refugee assistance, healthcare, reproductive care, childcare, access to public transport, access to knowledge, a number of reflections from and on such practices, and a film programme.

Janneke and I also discussed the Radical Open Access Collective or hosted the book stand at the following events:

  • Janneke presented the ROAC most recently as part of a keynote at the Digital Humanities Institute Beirut 2019 (DHIB). Next to the Pirate Care conference, Janneke will bring the book stand with her to the Association for Cultural Studies Summer Institute 2019: The Future of Publics. 22nd – 27th July, Friedrichshafen (Germany)
  • Sam presented a paper entitled ‘‘Sneak into the university and steal what one can’: Locating the commons in small press publishing’ at the Poetics in Commons meeting last month.
  • Radical OA was also an important topic at Critical Issues in Open Access and Scholarly Communications hosted by Goldsmiths on May 24th.
  • Finally, members of the Collective discussed alternative forms of open access at the recent ELPUB meeting in Marseille.

[i] Made possible due to the generous support of the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University, which has provided funding for the ROAC to develop an outreach project