The Friday Keynote—Needle-Moving Collaboration: From Act to Impact

Katherine Skinner

Katherine Skinner

If we do not recognize the opportunities in front of us, we will become very limited. Our habits can hinder us if we get stuck in them. Katherine Skinner, Executive Director, Educopia Institute (a not-for-profit educational organization that builds networks and collaborative communities to help cultural, scientific, and scholarly institutions achieve greater impact), addressed this issue and said that most of the publishing industry today is still adhering to rules. We are in a critical moment now and we have choices to make. Here is an illustration of a critical moment resulting in a loss of control.

A Critical Moment

A Critical Moment

However, the real critical moment was the moment of opportunity that preceded this.

We live in changing times and are creatures of habit. Changes are restrained by our boundaries. Predictability is good but it can get in the way when we are ready to change.  Changes such as technological advances, new competitors, political shifts, economic concentration, and the information deluge can open large opportunities. Major changes happen on the fringes of a field; we must watch the fringes to anticipate where the change will be coming from. Field-wide changes depend on networks. If a field is somewhat stable and innovations happen on the fringes and networks bring changes, then we must work field-wide to be sure that we align with a common goal and not compete with each other.  Think about where we want to go and how to get there.

The scholarly communication crisis happened because of a shift to digital information and self-service copiers that could be used by scholars, which reduced the number of journal subscriptions. The rapid diversification of fields into sub-disciplines caused more journals to emerge, so that libraries could not keep up with new journals. Libraries and people started dropping subscriptions, causing prices to rise, which caused more subscriptions to be dropped. So publishers moved towards electronic publication and sold packages of journals—the Big Deal, which was a good innovation and a step in the right direction. At first, everybody got something out of the Big Deal, but the sense of crisis left the Big Deal under-analyzed. Problems were not addressed; subscriptions continued to shrink; library budgets decreased; and prices increased.  Most efforts to resist the Big Deal are perpetuating divisive actions instead of collaborations trying find common ground. The result is that publishers’ market shares have decreased at the same time that the amount of available content has increased. Players across the system must unite around something where a network can bring innovation back into the system.

We must move from acts to impacts, build bridges, and create multi-stakeholder alliances with an environment for change. Stakeholder groups share common agendas, measurements, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communications, and backbone support.

Skinner used the example of a project (Project Meerkat) to illustrate the formation of a cooperative organization in the publishing field.  Project Meerkat would build a cooperative organization, the Publishing Analytics Data Trust, to address scholarly publisher and library needs in collection, aggregation, analysis, and dissemination of usage data on monographs. Issues to be addressed are usage data modeling, usage data ethics, and the cooperative infrastructure.  Deliverables of the project include the organization of the cooperative, usage data models, and policies. The result will be a different type of scholarly communication infrastructure in which all players are moving in a more unified direction.

Don HawkinsDon Hawkins
Charleston 2015 Conference Blogger and Against The Grain Columnist


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