The Open Access Network: Comments on Rebecca Kennison’s Talk

Rebecca Kennison, who is the Principal of K|N Consultants, the co-founder of the Open Access Network; and was was the founding director of the Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, gave this talk on Come Together Right Now: An Introduction To The Open Access Network as part of the Program on Information Science Brown Bag Series.

In the talk, illustrated by the slides below, Kennison argues that current models of OA publishing based on cost-per-unit are neither scalable nor sustainable.  She further argues that a sustainable model must be based on continuing regular voluntary contributions from research universities.  

In her abstract, Kennison summarizes as follows:

Officially launched just over a year ago, the Open Access Network (OAN) offers a transformative, sustainable, and scalable model of open access (OA) publishing and preservation that encourages partnerships among scholarly societies, research libraries, and other partners (e.g., academic publishers, university presses, collaborative e-archives) who share a common mission to support the creation and distribution of open research and scholarship and to encourage more affordable education, which can be a direct outcome of OA publishing. Our ultimate goal is to develop a collective funding approach that is fair and open and that fully sustains the infrastructure needed to support the full life-cycle for communication of the scholarly record, including new and evolving forms of research output. Simply put, we intend to Make Knowledge Public.

Kennison’s talk summarizes the argument in her 2014 paper with Lisa Norberg : A Scalable and Sustainable Approach to Open Access Publishing and Archiving for Humanities and Social Sciences. Those intrigued by these arguments may find a wealth of detail in the full paper.

Kennison argues that this form of network would offer value to three groups  of stakeholders in general:

  • For institutions and libraries, to advance research and scholarship, lower the cost of education, and support lifelong learning.
  • For scholarly societies, university presses: ensure revenue, sustain operations, and support innovation.
  • For individuals, foundations, corporations: provide wide access to research and scholarship to address societal challenges, support education, and grow the economy.

The  Program on Information Science has previously written on the information economics of the commons in Information Wants Someone Else to Pay For It.  Two critical questions posed by an economic analysis of the OAN are first: What is the added value to the individual contributor that they would not obtain unless they individually contribute? (Note that this is different from the group value above — since any stakeholder gets these values if the OAN exists, whether or not they contribute to it.)  Second, under what conditions does the approach lead to the right amount of information being produced?  For example both market-based solutions and pure-altruistic solutions to producing knowledge outputs yield something — they just don’t yield anything close to the social optimum level of knowledge production and use. What reasons do we have to believe that the fee-structure of the OAN comes closer?

In addition, Kennison discussed the field of linguistics as a prototype. It is a comparatively small discipline (1000’s of researchers) and the output is focused in approximately 60 journals.  Notably, a number of high-profile departments recently changed their tenure and promotion policy to recognize the OA journal Glossa as the equivalent of top journal Lingua, when the former’s board departed in protest.

This is a particularly interesting example because successful management of knowledge commons is often built around coherent communities. For commons management to work — as Ostrom’s work shows, behavior must be reliably observable within a community, the community must be able to impose its own effective and graduated sanctions, and determine its own rules for doing so.  I conjecture that particular technical and/or policy-based solutions to knowledge commons management  (let’s call these “knowledge infrastructure”) have the potential to scale when three conditions hold: (1) the knowledge infrastructure addresses a vertical community that includes an interdependent set of producers and consumers of knowledge, (2) the approach provides substantial incentives for individuals in that vertical community to contribute while (a) providing public goods to both that community and (b) to a larger community; and (3) the approach is built upon community-specific extensions of more general-purpose infrastructure.


See also: drmaltman