Monday, October 22, 2018 News

SPARC’s Efforts to Help Design Equitable Foundations for Open Knowledge

Open Access   ·   Open Data   ·   Open Education

An important goal of this year’s theme for International Open Access Week is to encourage ongoing discussion about how we build equity into the foundation of systems for producing and distributing knowledge. This year has been marked by important developments that underscore that the shift toward open is well underway, and the discussions this week around the intersection of open and equity come at an important time, as our choices will define the contours for not only what our open systems will look like, but also how inclusive they will be.

In this context, we wanted to contribute to the discussion this week by sharing how we’ve come to view our own work at SPARC in making equity and inclusion core to our efforts—and how these values shape the decisions we make. In particular, we’ve come to see that this work is a continuous process, rather than a specific endpoint to be reached. We want to share a few examples of how that process is currently at work in our own efforts, and how we hope to continue to improve.

SPARC’s roots in viewing open as an equity issue go back to the text of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, which speaks directly to the potential of Open Access to create a more equitable global system for sharing research. Over time, we’ve come to believe that we need to also go beyond addressing inequities in accessing research to address inequities in participating in research as well. This belief deeply informs our emerging work on and vision for research infrastructure. All aspects of open systems, from the technical platforms we choose to the licenses we select, should address challenges in inclusion directly and build equity into their foundations. We have to take care to avoid replacing one form of inequity in paywalls with another form of inequity in prohibitively expensive costs for disseminating results.

We work hard to follow these values in all of our work with our our members. In the North American higher education context where SPARC works, we believe it’s important to have representation from institutions of all types to ensure that SPARC’s efforts reflect the growing diversity in experience and priorities of libraries working on open issues. As the number of institutions of varying backgrounds doing open-related work grows, we want to ensure the SPARC community grows as well. We also believe that leadership comes from all levels within organizations, and we put working with emerging leaders—students, early career librarians, and early career faculty—at the core of our efforts.

Viewing equity and inclusion as foundational values has also led us to make significant changes in how we organize meetings—starting with OpenCon, our community that supports early career leaders working to open research and education. For the flagship OpenCon conference, we work to ensure diverse representation in all stages of the conference planning process, from recruiting the participant pool, to determining who has the opportunity to speak and who is on our organizing committee. We don’t always get it right, but we do try to be transparent about representation at the meeting—to provide accountability and to ensure that we provide direct channels for feedback to help us to continue to improve. We’ve documented our efforts toward this end in our OpenCon Report on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. As always, your feedback is welcome and encouraged.

In these areas and in the rest of our work, SPARC works to build equity and inclusion into the core of what we do. We won’t always get it right, but we will keep working to improve, to be open about our efforts, and to encourage an ongoing conversation about the foundational importance of designing equitable foundations for open knowledge.

We hope this year’s Open Access Week theme will spark important discussions around this topic and that these discussions will continue throughout the year. In the words of Denisse Albornoz, we hope the community will “stay critical” and build a deliberate consideration of equity into our decisions, into our actions, and into the investments we make, individually and collectively. In doing so, we can help to ensure that the future system of sharing knowledge truly reflects our values as it comes into focus.

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