Scrabble tiles reading "RISK"

Overcoming Risk

All change involves some risk. One of the reasons why we develop and stick to patterns over time, in scholarly communication as well as almost any human endeavor, is to mitigate risk. Once you know how it’s done, and you know that everyone is doing it that way, it reduces the risk for you, makes the process more efficient, and allows you to get to the core goals with less worry about the process.

Or does it?

When examined more closely, it becomes clear that existing patterns may protect some participants from risk, but not everyone. Some people may be inhibited from participating at all because the barriers to entry are too high, or the costs and risks to them, personally or professionally, seem insurmountable. Sometimes potentially desirable changes are blocked by precedent that there’s no longer a good reason for. Sometimes vested interests are just too strong, and the costs and risks of getting past them are just too high.

What strategies can scholars, universities, funding agencies, libraries, publishers and others use to promote positive change in scholarly communications, and overcome these risks and disincentives? How do we help all participants to accurately calibrate the true level of risk, so they are not inhibited from action by undue fear? What support structures can we put in place to reduce the real risks to those whose voices are underrepresented or suppressed, or whose status may be precarious – to help them feel welcome and be safe, and promote a greater diversity of perspectives and equitable access and treatment for all who are willing to engage?

What funding models and infrastructures might help new scholarly communication techniques emerge, thrive, and be sustained over time? What strategies can be employed to protect against the risk of vendor lock-in, or corporate capture of essential infrastructure and content? How can scholarly communications practices encourage speed and openness, while avoiding the risk of ephemerality? What models or practices could be developed to incentivize and reward innovation and broader public engagement, and reduce the risk to those who are seen to be breaking from traditional modes of professional advancement?

This year’s Triangle Scholarly Communication Institute invites teams to explore these and other questions related to understanding risk and overcoming risk in scholarly communication – to develop plans, to test processes, to come to agreements, and to launch initiatives. SCI is an ideal place to bring together perspectives and expertise that may not normally intersect, and to build understandings and new models based on them. We encourage pragmatic, proactive optimism, and hope stakeholders in the scholarly publishing ecosystem will use SCI as a platform to nurture positive change.

Some ideas for potential participants, teams, and projects:

  • Developing guidelines/practices for institutional support of public scholars in contested/charged areas.
  • Developing standards for peer review necessary to make digital humanities and similar projects safe for a tenure track scholar to invest their time and talent.
  • Understanding/mythbusting legal risks for national information-sharing projects around library subscriptions or collective action around big deals.
  • Developing strategies to incentivize more diverse participation in scholarly communication venues, reducing risk and increasing reward for engagement beyond “the usual suspects”. What are the systemic factors that are inhibiting this now, and how do we change and overcome them? What practices could be put in place at funding agencies, publishers, and other organizations to make it less risky for participants from underresourced institutions and underrepresented communities to engage?
  • How can scholars and scholarly organizations prepare for a changing funding environment – with decreasing and ever more threatened funding from government agencies like NSF, NEH, and IMLS, and an increasing proportion of money in play from special interests that may create conflicts of interest.
  • Broader and more interdisciplinary collaborations are usually deemed to be desirable, but also introduce risks because of different standards, expectations, and rewards, and complex interdependencies. How can scholarly projects ensure that a functioning ecosystem can survive and thrive, and be resilient if any links in the collaboration chain break?
  • Explore strategies for reducing the risk of increasing commercial and corporate capture of scholarly publishing and scholarly workflow systems, processes, content, and analytics, and ensuring that the providers of these services are well aligned with the scholarly mission of authors, researchers, and universities.
  • What can scholarly projects, funding agencies, publishers, and university administration do to avoid the risk of developing or sustaining monocultures and groupthink in digital humanities, publishing, technology platforms, and other areas related to scholarly communication?

All of the above are only suggestions to spark ideas that you might use in your own proposal. We hope you will bring your own perspective and address needs of your community or communities you work with, and that you will be creative in engaging with others who have different perspectives that could complement or serve as a helpful foil to your own.

If you’re interested in participating, please see and reply to the SCI 2018 Request for Proposals – submission deadline is April 23, 2018. More information about the Institute and what it was like in the past can be found in the FAQ and links to past year programs. Ongoing updates will be posted on the web site and the @TriangleSCI Twitter feed.

[Photo by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images]