Principles of the Scholarly Commons - Open for Comments

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A major goal of the Scholarly Commons program is to determine whether a set of high level principles that define the abstract entity known as the Scholarly Commons can be expressed in a useful way.  This exercise involves synthesis of activities from the Madrid Workshop, Re-imagining Research Communication and the San Diego workshop Putting the Pieces Together, and subsequent, ongoing work by subgroup 2 of the Scholarly Commons Working Group.

The current draft of the principles (Version 0.1.1, April 2017, archived in Zenodo) is a proposal for a set of defining principles for the Scholarly Commons (‘what to aspire to’), with a selection of the subprinciples as further specifications (‘what would that mean’).

This current set of principles was developed from the previous 18 principles with annotations and comments that came out of the Madrid and San Diego workshops and represented issues that were identified by workshop participants and the wider SCWG working group as important. To bring these together into a coherent view on what makes the Scholarly Commons tick, they were combined with a modified version of Daniel O’Donnell’s set of 7 principles that he defined in his blog posts “But does it work in theory?” I and II)

In our view, the principles do not describe what the Scholarly Commons should look like or how it should be organized. They do define the minimal conditions that practices and participants in the Scholarly Commons should meet. As such, they can function as an agreement between actors in scholarly communication, to guide their decisions on how to practice scholarship and to ‘badge’ themselves as (partly or fully) commons-compliant.

The actual implementation of the Scholarly Commons (whether that is by use of existing systems and platforms, or the creation of one or more new platforms, including decisions on how to govern these) is beyond the scope of the principles themselves. The principles are aimed to provide guidance on the conditions that should be met in the use, development and governance of systems or platforms.

The current draft the of principles is open for comment. Please use the Scholarly Commons discussion forum for that. If you wish to comment on the draft we urge you to become a member of the SCWG working group, and the principles subgroup in particular.

We also would like to enlist the help of the Scholarly Commons Working Group, specifically the principles subgroup, to:
Check the set of principles against the most important existing charters. Formulate use cases and check whether principles uphold in those cases. Put the principles before various communities. How do these principles relate to their practice? Can the principles be expected to be useful for the various communities?

While we see it as beneficial to offer a starting point, ultimately the principles need to be owned by us all. We want to hear your reaction and get your input into how we can collectively move towards a definitive statement of the Principles of the Commons.


Great list!

Just a note here that any list of principles also needs a connection to a text-space where the arguments for these can be explored and their use illuminated. The real work of principles is to foster an alignment of interests and a confluence of those collective virtues that the commons will be grounded in. For example, "producing the best scholarship" is mentioned. Certainly there could be a related text that describes this, and which can be edited and commented on and revised over time.  Tony Hsieh's book on Zappos offers a section on core values [Hsieh, Tony (2010-05-20). Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose (p. 155). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.] that might be useful. (Note: Zappos is the largest company now experimenting in Holocracy.)

I'm not sure what platform this would require. A wiki comes to mind. Or GitHub.

Dear Bruce:

Yes, we agree that each of these needs place for discussion and each of these items will be accompanied by appropriate text.  This was just the first step in the process.  We hope you will join us in fleshing these out!

I'm interested in the intersection between principles and patterns moving forward.



We need a place to explore these principles and concepts, and we're working on a way to do that. We need to keep all these stories, and we need a way to allow others to add their own as well as time goes on. Thanks for your willingness to help!

1. Clearly defined boundaries: members who have rights to withdraw resources from commons must be clearly defined, as must the boundaries of the commons.


2. Congruence between appropriation and provision rules and local conditions… appropriation rules restricting time, place, etc. are related to local conditions… and also to provision rules requiring labor, material, and/or money


3. collective-choice arrangements: most individuals affected by the operational rules can participate in modifying the operational rules


4. Monitoring: monitors, who actively audit the commons and behaviors, are accountable to the appropriators, or are the appropriators.


5. Graduated sanctions: appropriators who violate operational rules are likely to be assessed graduated sanctions by other appropriators and their agents


6. conflict-resolution mechanisms: Appropriators and officials have rapid access to low-cost local arenas to resolve conflicts among appropriators/officials.


7. minimal recognition of rights to organize:  The rights of appropriators to devise their own institutions are not challenged by external governmental authorities…


8. (spécial case for larger systems: Nested enterprises: Appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.

When we were planning the Madrid workshop on 'reimagining research communication' we had to decide whether to start with Ostrom's design principles (that you mentioned) and then work down from there, or to just leave it open to whatever everyone wanted for the future, whether it ended up resembling a commons or not. We decided to go with the latter (even though it was a little scary). In effect, we were following Ostrom's Law:

A resource arrangement that works in practice can work in theory.

Most commons actually come about in this ad hoc sort of manner, and I would love as things go further to compare and connect Ostrom's design principles to the principles that we are building as a community, to see where we have met her design principles, where we have holes, or where we could restructure things a bit. Of course, the most important thing, in all of this, is the community and the process of converging on these principles together.