As discussed in our literature review on governance in nonprofit organizations, good governance breeds transparency and accountability, and is crucial to any organization looking to build trust with its stakeholders and the communities it serves. While there are some key governance practices for trustworthy, community-centred nonprofits, there is no one right way to structure governance – as the choice of a suitable model depends on a variety of changing internal and external factors.

In this second piece, we explore governance in the context of scholarly communication and open research infrastructures in depth. In the face of increasing marketization, acquisitions, and consolidation of academic publishing and knowledge production infrastructure, governance structures that empower a broad and diverse group of community stakeholders to meaningfully impact the strategic planning and management of infrastructure providers are urgently needed to move beyond the parroting of shareholder and market-driven models prevalent in the for-profit industry and realize a true “commoning” of open research infrastructure.

With reference to the theoretical literature on governance in scholarly communication and open infrastructure, the piece:

  • illustrates some of the critical considerations that relate to governance in the scholarly communication and open research infrastructure space;
  • proposes a speculative and non-exhaustive framework for a minimum viable system of community governance, offering context for the items suggested; and
  • presents key research questions and recommendations for Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI), funders, and other stakeholders who are looking to support the improvement of governance in this field.

Our key takeaways:

  1. Governance needs to be embedded as an organizational consideration as early as possible. Many initiatives in the scholarly communication and open research sector start as labours of love, often managed entirely by one person or a small group of committed individuals. It’s important to transition this direct management by a small group of individuals to a broader effort of transparent and effective governance as soon as possible so the organization can build trust and accountability as an entity rather than “borrowing” from the reputation and trust cultivated individually by its founders.
  2. Governance is a process of continually responding to changes within an organization and its landscape.
  3. Learning from commons governance, governance is intentional, rule-based, and involves a number of institutional arrangements to make it work. Commons governance principles also offer a way of thinking about how governance activities can be organized in multiple layers, which is especially applicable to the work of maintaining open research and scholarly communications infrastructure.

In this, we are thankfully not alone, as many good and thoughtful organizations such as Educopia, Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM), the Turing Way, and MetaDocencia, as well as others, are doing important work in helping define, build, and support reliable, robust, transparent, and accountable governance structures in open research. Building on the work of these various organizations and initiatives, our proposed framework of the essential components for better governance of open scholarly communication infrastructures includes:

  1. Establishing organizational structures that foster decentralized decision-making in an organization, including through subcommunities and community-led approaches that shift authority away from being vested in any one person or small group of individuals.
  2. Codifying processes for how the organization operate, including how decisions are taken, conditions under which resources, such as data, code, and publications are shared, and what happens when the organization sunsets its operations. This documentation should be publicly available and also include how these processes can be changed and conflict resolved when disputes arise.
  3. Codifying the organization’s vision and norms in a clearly defined public statement of purpose and mission to which the organization is then held to meaningful account.

We are grateful for the work of everyone in this space to improve community-led governance and hope our work is a contribution to what exists to help further the conversation towards our shared vision for open infrastructure. The scholarly communications and open research sector, including funders, organizational leaders, and other stakeholders, should continue to explore and discuss beyond these essential components, to differentiate between good and minimal governance practices. Organizational leaders should think intentionally about how their governance structures reflect their values and shore up their organization for long-term success towards fulfilling their mission.

We would like to thank Janneke Adema (COPIM), Leslie Chan (University of Toronto Scarborough), Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Michigan State University), Jessica Meyerson (Educopia), Katherine Skinner (Educopia), and Tobias Steiner (COPIM) for their early feedback on this work.

We welcome all questions, comments, and feedback on this work – please email us at research [at] investinopen [dot] org.

Next week, IOI’s Director of Research and Strategy Richard Dunks will reflect on this investigation into good governance and outline our next steps forward.

Social media image by Pixabay on Pexels.

Posted by Emmy Tsang