The Radical Open Access Collective: updates, events and governance

Since our previous update in October last year, the Radical Open Access Collective has continued to grow and now contains over 60 scholar-led publishing initiatives from around the world, alongside many hundreds of listserv members. With so many new members, it is worth reminding ourselves what the intentions behind the ROAC were. This post provides an update on the activities of the collective and explores what the ROAC might want to focus on in future.

The Radical Open Access Collective is a community of scholar-led, not-for-profit presses, journals and other open access projects. It was formed in 2015 as a way of building connections and mutual reliance between mainly academic-led publishers looking to try something different and self-managed in scholarly communication, as an alternative to the closed down commercial behemoths. Our members come from a variety of geographical and disciplinary contexts, publishing a range of books, journals and experimental material, from small ad-hoc DIY projects to more sustained initiatives. We maintain resources and host a listserv which we use to communicate with our members and to discuss issues around openness, access, and experimental and scholar-led publishing, and through which we aim to stimulate and nurture a community of different forms of publishing.

While Janneke Adema and I (Sam Moore) have been the main ‘organisers’ behind the ROAC – i.e., the ones who add new members to the website, update resources and field general queries – the idea behind the collective itself has always been that as a community it is horizontally governed and democratic in its decision making. The only real criteria for membership has been that the press or project engages in some form of open access publishing (loosely defined) and shares our philosophy of mutual reliance and non-competitive publishing. Yet in practice, the absence of any defined governance system (and Sam and Janneke’s lack of time) has made it hard to do things as a ‘collective’. One of the questions now is: with so many new members, and a clear excitement about alternative forms of open access and scholar-led publishing, what can the Radical Open Access Collective actually do to support its members?

With these ideas in mind, in May we surveyed the Radical Open Access Collective members[i] to better understand their participation in the collective, what they hope to get out of membership and whether these needs are currently being met. We were particularly interested in learning how best to support our members from outside the Global North, where our membership has grown most in the past year, and especially how to promote greater linguistic diversity rather than simply relying on English for all our communications. It was encouraging to see that many of these goals were shared by our members.

We found in the survey that there is clearly a pressing need for the Radical Open Access Collective. Members described how the collective confers a level of legitimacy, solidarity with a movement and a sense of community between other members. They were also positive about the listserv, the resources we share and our desire to work collaboratively for more ethical open access publishing futures. In practice, though, many members had yet to experience any ‘tangible’ benefits from participation and some of our newer members were perhaps unsure of what the collective does. This was particularly alienating for those outside of the Global North who felt a strong sense of detachment from the ROAC community (and maybe assumed that the collective is more active offline than it in fact is). The results highlight that the community aspects are highly valued and need to be nurtured in order to maximise benefits for the ROAC’s members.

We also heard that members were positive about collaborative approaches to marketing and promotion at various conferences around the world (and we received many excellent suggestions for conferences we could attend in the future). The ROAC is non-competitive and encourages its members to work together to promote their activities and not-for-profit community-led approaches to publishing. Members were enthusiastic about this collaborative approach to cross-promotion and encouraged the ROAC to look beyond the collective and build links with other organisations for alternative publishing practices. They also saw the listserv as a valuable source for planning in this regard.

Given the survey findings, Janneke and I have identified two immediate initiatives to focus on (and more for the longer term), which we wanted to outline to the collective in a series of blogposts. The first of which is to identify a light-touch governance model – with input from ROAC members –  that will allow the ROAC to do more by bringing others in to help steer the collective and increase linguistic (and other kinds of) diversity. This may entail better geographical representation, more input from interested parties, or simply help from those who want to stimulate activity on the listserv or who want to contribute to the ROAC information platform. I will be working on issues of governance over the next few months (as part of a book project on the relationship between open access publishing and the commons), but expect a more detailed blogpost on governance and what might best suit the ROAC in the coming weeks.

Secondly, the survey made clear that the ROAC should aim to be more proactive in facilitating collaboration between its members and should provide more tools/resources for them to promote not-for-profit and scholar-led publishing and to showcase its members publications at various online and offline fora.

One idea we had is to build on the fantastic bookcase our friends and colleagues from ScholarLed (all also ROAC members) developed, a version of which is currently held at the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University. We have been using this book stand to also promote ROAC publications and initiatives. A key feature of this book stand has always been that is should be ‘open source’ and we are hoping to work with the original designers to put the designs for the book stand online for members to set up their own ROAC or member-branded book stands at events they attend. This is a simple set of printable materials for displaying physical publications and promotional literature at events. We also hope to find funding for a branded flash drive containing member publications that can be distributed at conferences. We will be describing these ideas in more detail in a forthcoming blogpost and would love to see collaborative promotion being adopted by ROAC members and others in the community.

The Bookstand

Radical open access in the wild

Pirate Care conference

Many ROAC members will be attending the Pirate Care conference at Coventry University on 19-20 June – all are welcome to attend. The term Pirate Care condenses two processes that are particularly visible at present. On the one hand, basic care provisions that were previously considered cornerstones of social life are now being pushed towards illegality, as a consequence of geopolitical reordering and the marketisation of social services. At the same time new, technologically-enabled care networks are emerging in opposition to this drive toward illegality. The conference will feature projects providing various forms of pirate care ranging from refugee assistance, healthcare, reproductive care, childcare, access to public transport, access to knowledge, a number of reflections from and on such practices, and a film programme.

Janneke and I also discussed the Radical Open Access Collective or hosted the book stand at the following events:

  • Janneke presented the ROAC most recently as part of a keynote at the Digital Humanities Institute Beirut 2019 (DHIB). Next to the Pirate Care conference, Janneke will bring the book stand with her to the Association for Cultural Studies Summer Institute 2019: The Future of Publics. 22nd – 27th July, Friedrichshafen (Germany)
  • Sam presented a paper entitled ‘‘Sneak into the university and steal what one can’: Locating the commons in small press publishing’ at the Poetics in Commons meeting last month.
  • Radical OA was also an important topic at Critical Issues in Open Access and Scholarly Communications hosted by Goldsmiths on May 24th.
  • Finally, members of the Collective discussed alternative forms of open access at the recent ELPUB meeting in Marseille.

[i] Made possible due to the generous support of the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University, which has provided funding for the ROAC to develop an outreach project