When it comes to scholarly work, open is not nearly enough


In the new game of scholarship, open is just the pitch

Over the past two decades a lot of talk, effort, and anguish; new services and platforms, and multiple proclamations (and principles, declarations, manifestos) have promoted the notion that scholarly content should be open. The Creative Commons endeavor got things rolling by providing licenses for open content. Open source software provided models for collaboration. Faced with a for-profit publishing marketplace that is deeply entrenched in the careers of academics, “open” is still an uphill climb, a goal instead of a reality. And it’s still a good goal. But it’s nowhere near where the academy needs to be in, say 25 years. Open is just a start.

If everything else (universities, academic careers, learned societies, publishers, etc.) were to stay the same tomorrow but all the academic outcomes were open, certainly a lot of time and (assuming a universal green open model) money would be saved. Nothing wrong with that. But the academy would still be broken in most of the ways it is today.

The symptoms of this disfunction show up across the academic workplace and across the planet: from faculties with a majority of underclass workers (adjuncts and soft-money researchers), publishers looking for “sexy science,” career decisions based on journal impact factors instead of integral value of the research, a fixation on “excellence” instead of competence, important primary-research intellectual property being pulled away from future reuse through patents that never pay a penny, research funding warped to favor the already funded, funding programs that consume all most as much gross effort in the proposal process than gets finally funded. OK. I’m going to stop here. You can add your own “Academy is Broken” stories HERE.

Nearly everything that is broken in the academy is broken because the current academy assumes a logic of scarcity; a false logic it has acquired from other markets. One of the promises of open academic outcomes is that these resources are non-rivalrous. As digital objects, they can be discovered and used by everyone, and their value actually increases the more they get reused. Open academic outcomes lets the academy dip its big toe into the logic of abundance. The point is not to stop here, but to dive in and allow this new logic to refactor the academy.


Abundance is a new ball game for the academy

Think of open academic outcomes like the pitch in baseball (or the delivery in cricket). The player winds up and throws the ball. A pitch happens more than 700,000 times in the course of a major league baseball season and hundreds of millions of times across the planet in any year. Importantly, however, pitching is not the whole game. An afternoon watching only pitches would be a whole different experience than watching a game where the pitch starts a chain of open-ended events. The pitch is necessary. So too is open content for the academy.

Thinking about a new logic of practice takes a lot of imagination, and crafting this to fit real-world outcomes takes a lot of information and collective intelligence. The first argument against a “logic of abundance” is that we live in a world of finite resources. That’s just the surrounding field for this logic. There is an infinity between zero and one. The task here is to arrive at an understanding of how the academy can aspire to become generative, generous, and general (thanks Cameron) within its constraints, just like a ball game occurs within the limits of its field. Yes, the new academy is both aspirational and pragmatic, and we need to combine our imaginations to envision this and build the scaffold that can help it grow and re-place the academy we find ourselves bemoaning today.

This is why a small group (good things start with small groups) is meeting this month at the Ostrom Workshop in Indiana to begin a process to craft design patterns that can capture solutions for the next academy.

Images: from Wikimedia

[Coming soon: designing academy commons: what’s in it for the academy?]

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