Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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But does it work in theory II

Posted: Sep 03, 2016 10:09;
Last Modified: Sep 14, 2016 05:09

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(A very inside baseball posting. Probably not of interest to anybody but me and a couple of people on the committee I refer to below).

Yesterday, I published some principles and rules that I thought might govern a “Scholarly Commons,” the topic of a Helmsley-funded Force11 Working Group that I am a part of.

Here they are again:

P. The Scholarly Commons is a consensus among knowledge producers and users that
    P1. research and knowledge should be freely available to all who wish to use or reuse it;
    P2. participation in the production and use of knowledge should be open to all who wish to participate;
    P3. our practices should be such that there are no systemic barriers and disincentives to prevent either free use or open participation.

R. On the basis of these three principles there are four basic rules to the commons:
    R1. Participation and access are the only intrinsic reward systems within the Commons. The Commons does not itself have systems for rewarding participation in any other way;
    R2. The Commons does not require the use of any specific technology, approach, process, or system;
    R3. The Commons does not prevent the development of either external systems for either reward or specific technologies, processes approaches, and systems, but such rewards, technologies, processes, approaches, and systems cannot be part of the definition of the Commons;
    R4. Commoners may not participate in external activities that hurt the viability of the commons.

As I note in the blog proposing these, a couple of things bothered me about them:

  1. I wasn’t sure that P3 wasn’t simply a negative restatement of P1 and P2
  2. I wasn’t sure that R3 was enforceable, or consistent with the main principle P (or even that enforcement in and of itself was consistent with the first principle).

Unstated in that blog was a deeper problem that I wasn’t quite sure how to formulate: basically, what the point was? I.e. if the Commons were a consensus that Scholarly Communication should be open and equitable, how was that different from what we now had among Open Access advocates of various stripes? And why would groups that currently don’t believe that (in their practices at least) find our “new” Commons something that challenged them?

Thinking about it more, and discussing it at length with Bianca Kramer on our Slack channel, I think I now know what the problem is: that word “consensus” in the first line (i.e. P).

In short, a consensus on these issues is what we currently have. What is missing is the ability to bench-mark and self-certify compliance with these issues. What separates “The Commons” from warm feelings, in other words, is the sense of agreement.

So if we change “a consensus” to “an agreement” in the first line, we now have something that is (self-)enforceable. You can certify your compliance to the principles of the Commons. And R4, the rule that says that you can’t have an external system that harms the other principles of the Commons, both belongs and becomes enforceable. You are not Commons-compliant if elsewhere in your practice you do things that harm the Commons. This becomes a basic rule of compliance.

This also becomes something that is actionable. You can work towards compliance (i.e. agreement). You can be partially there. You can badge yourself once you are compliant. You can use your compliance as a reason for not agreeing to certain activities or rules. If the Commons is an agreement, rather than a consensus, it becomes something you can point to and measure against, rather than something we all wish were true.

So here’s the restatement with agreement rather than consensus, changed language in bold:

P. The Scholarly Commons is an agreement among knowledge producers and users that
    P1. research and knowledge should be freely available to all who wish to use or reuse it;
    P2. participation in the production and use of knowledge should be open to all who wish to participate;
    P3. our practices should be such that there are no systemic barriers and disincentives to prevent either free use or open participation.

R. On the basis of these three principles there are four basic rules to the Commons that must be observed in order to claim compliance:
    R1. Participation and access are the only intrinsic reward systems within the Commons. The Commons does not itself have systems for rewarding participation in any other way;
    R2. The Commons does not require the use of any specific technology, approach, process, or system;
    R3. The Commons does not prevent the development of either external systems for either reward or specific technologies, processes approaches, and systems, but such rewards, technologies, processes, approaches, and systems cannot be part of the definition of the Commons;
    R4. Commoners may not participate in external activities that hurt the viability of the commons.

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