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Community-Based and Community-Engaged Open Scholarship

Published onOct 18, 2023
Community-Based and Community-Engaged Open Scholarship

Over the past several decades, academic work has evolved alongside substantial and far-reaching changes in communication and collaboration. One example of this evolution is the rise of open, digital scholarship: a movement that prioritizes access to information, social knowledge creation, and cross-community engagement. Now, in the 2020s, academics and other knowledge workers can produce, publish, and share their research findings much more openly and more publicly than previously possible. Increased open access to research, community-university partnerships, and knowledge mobilization are all evidence of shifting attitudes and practices in academia.

This Open Scholarship Press Community collected volume showcases key reprinted interventions on the subject of community-based and community-engaged open scholarship. The collection features 19 full-length, reprinted publications previously annotated in its companion piece, the Open Scholarship Press Community research scan / annotated bibliography available on Wikibooks ( and PubPub ( That annotated bibliography was developed by myself (Alyssa Arbuckle [University of Victoria]), Caroline Winter (University of Victoria), Jesse Kern (University of British Columbia), Vitor Yano (Concordia University), Anna Honcharova (European Students' Forum), Alan Colín-Arce (University of Victoria), Graham Jensen (University of Victoria), and Ray Siemens (University of Victoria), with the INKE and ETCL Research Groups. This curated volume of previously published work is not intended to be any sort of final word; rather, it showcases certain touchstone concepts for intellectual engagement in this space, aligned with the aims of the Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) Partnership Community cluster. All of the selections speak to each other in varying ways, regardless of whether they focus on the intersection of open scholarship with pragmatics, theory, equity concerns, or community engagement.

Open access remains a foundational building block for the concept of open scholarship, enriched by the nuancing conversations of recent years around degrees of openness, digital research infrastructure, technical standards, community autonomy, and data sovereignty. Many scholars now understand and reiterate that although open access to research is important, access is simply not enough. As featured authors Heidi McGregor and Kevin Guthrie write, “Presumably our higher-level aim is not to enable or provide free access for its own sake, but rather to broaden the productive use of scholarly materials for the benefit of students, researchers, and learners all over the world” (2015). The Open Access movement played a critical role in the expansion of the depth and breadth of easily available research. But as with all global-scale movements in the academic space, open access is growing and evolving in response to its community of practice and the internal and external pressures and realities of knowledge production.

Prestige is one of the pressures of academic knowledge production. Well known open access advocate Peter Suber argues that the Open Access movement has cultural hurdles to jump in “Thoughts on Prestige, Quality, and Open Access,” originally published in 2008 in the SPARC Open Access Newsletter. He argues that quality and prestige are often associated, for understandable reasons, but can diverge, and that when they diverge, universities and funders must notice the divergence and put quality ahead of prestige. The prestige of open access will rise as open access journals mature and their author, reviewer, editor, and reader communities grow. Suber does suggest, however, that universities need to re-examine their dependence on metrics-based indicators like the Impact Factor for quality assessment, which is unfairly skewing and perpetuating rewards systems toward journals that are already deemed prestigious. More recently, Meredith T. Niles, Lesley A. Schimanski, Erin C. McKiernan, and Juan Pablo Alperin approach the concept of prestige and open access from a different angle. In “Why We Publish Where We Do: Faculty Publishing Values and Their Relationship to Review, Promotion and Tenure Expectations” (originally published in 2020), the authors present a study that demonstrates the gap between faculty members’ articulated publishing values (for themselves) and the publishing values they assume their colleagues hold. Although Niles et al. concede that there could be some bias involved, their research shows that faculty feel their own publishing values are community-oriented but that other academics value journal prestige and impact more—hence why they feel as though they must publish in prestigious journals. The authors argue that this disconnect between values (community-oriented) and behaviour (prestige-oriented) needs to be more widely acknowledged and addressed, including, as Suber writes, by reconsidering tenure and promotion mechanisms.

Open access varies by country and research discipline, too. Drilling into the North American context, Rosarie Coughlan and Mark Swartz provide an overarching look at the state of open access in Canada in their 2020 book chapter titled “An Overview of the Open Access Movement in Canada.” The authors claim that the development of the Tri-Agency Policy on Open Access to Publications, Canada’s participation in the Open Government Partnership, the activity of the Canadian Scholarly Publishing Working Group, and the Copyright Law review represent steady growth in this area. Coughlan and Swartz maintain, however, that Canada is far from a leader in the open access world. The country could move beyond these initial steps to affect quantifiable impact and, in doing so, more tangibly support and facilitate open scholarship nationwide. Expanding into the United States, Heather A. Piwowar and Todd J. Vision focus on the benefit of making open data available for reuse in a 2013 piece titled “Data Reuse and the Open Data Citation Advantage.” The authors recommend data management policies that facilitate more and better research by encouraging open data publication and citation. Such activity, according to Piwowar and Vision’s study, potentially extends the data beyond their original analysis and, thus, renders it more useful and usable.

The increasing corporatization of scholarly communication has led to several creative alternatives to academic knowledge production, some more legal than others. In the 2017 article “Access, Ethics and Piracy,” Stuart Lawson considers open access within the context of academic piracy. They argue that sites like SciHub should not be considered as open access publishing, since these sites do not always explicitly indicate how research is licensed and thus able to be reused or not. Academic piracy does increase access to research materials that are otherwise unavailable freely, however. Lawson also suggests that the very existence of academic piracy sites proves that the current scholarly communication system is not sufficient for global research access needs.

As stated above, many scholars now advocate for pushing beyond mere access to research. In “Delivering Impact of Scholarly Information: Is Access Enough?”—an article originally published by the Journal of Electronic Publishing in 2015—Heidi McGregor and Kevin Guthrie acknowledge conditions beyond free access that are necessary to engage with research and heighten its impact. Both authors write from their experience with the not-for-profit organization JSTOR. Regardless of JSTOR’s contributions to the Open Access movement, McGregor and Guthrie argue that literacy, technology, awareness, access, and training are all necessary to maximize research engagement. In “Beyond Open: Expanding Access to Scholarly Content,” originally published in the same journal issue, Alice Meadows provides an overview and evaluation of selected public, low-cost access initiatives from 1990 onwards.1 Meadows suggests that these initiatives add value for publishers because they facilitate access and usage of content beyond primary markets.

Increasingly, researchers are theorizing about what open scholarship could be. Publishing scholar John W. Maxwell moves into this more theoretical ground with “Beyond Open Access to Open Publication and Open Scholarship,” a 2015 article published in the journal Scholarly and Research Communication. There, Maxwell sketches out a vision for a humanities-based scholarly communication system patterned after web technologies, practices, and metaphors. He argues that a reinvigorated scholarly communication system that incorporates open scholarship principles could still maintain rigour, review, and access, while engaging communities beyond academic readers. Jon Saklofske expands on such concepts further in a 2016 article from the same journal titled “Digital Theoria, Poiesis and Praxis: Activating Humanities Research and Communication through Open Social Scholarship Platform Design.” In keeping with Maxwell’s premise, Saklofske agrees that scholarly communication lags behind contemporary social and technological practices. He argues for the engagement of theoria, poiesis, and praxis when producing and sharing academic work. Saklofske provides several examples of research experimentation that integrate these concepts and in doing so transform the ways that academic work can be communicated and engaged with in inclusive and public-facing ways.

Continuing to expand beyond open access to research, concepts of community-engaged scholarship, publics, and public scholarship have gained significant traction in recent years. Academia was long equated with the metaphor of the ivory tower: a prestigious and exclusionary space for the vaunted few. This town-versus-gown mentality is shifting as calls for and examples of more public-facing and publicly engaged, open scholarship persist. As my co-author Ray Siemens and I (Alyssa Arbuckle) write in “Digital Humanities Futures, Open Social Scholarship, and Engaged Publics” (2023):

In practicing openness, scholars can carefully and explicitly consider their relation to and participation in publics, in discursive and collaborative communities. Such communities are not constructed by status (academic or otherwise); rather, they can be considered as collectives that come together with shared interests across the personal/professional continuum—perhaps even as communities of practice with academic, academic-aligned, and non-academic members. These publics embody positive, inclusive, and mutually beneficial relations between academic institutions and so-called broader society.

Participating in publics around shared areas of interest is a marked change from the one-to-many expertise model of knowledge sharing. Focusing on humanities broadly in a 2012 article titled “The Engaged Humanities: Principles and Practices for Public Scholarship and Teaching,” Gregory Jay argues that the humanities could increase their relevance and impact if reoriented toward more engaged or community-based scholarship. The development and widespread uptake of digital and social technologies—e.g., social media, digital humanities, and multimodal communication—is positively influential in this regard. Within academic/community partnerships, Jay underlines the importance of accountability and of avoiding a missionary approach to public engagement that only promotes academic knowledge outwards instead of prioritizing multidirectional knowledge exchange or collaboration. Authors Sheila Brennan and Jesse Stommel take up these concepts with a focus on digital scholarship. In a 2018 book chapter called “The Public Digital Humanities,” Stommel describes public digital humanities as a Venn diagram representing the intersection of public, digital, and humanities work. He suggests that making research both available and legible to broader publics is legitimate scholarly work that combines outreach, community building, and advocacy. For Stommel, this is a desirable direction for the field of digital humanities; he believes such activity will move practitioners away from internal competition and toward diversity and advocacy. Brennan offers important nuance to this position in “Public, First,” a book chapter from Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016. She asks digital humanities scholars (in particular) to become more conscientious about how they employ the terms public digital humanities and digital public humanities. Brennan reflects that many digital humanists consider their work to be implicitly public since it is available online. Rather, in keeping with the ideas espoused above on the necessity to move beyond the baseline of mere access, Brennan suggests that true public scholarship must consider and engage with members of the public first.

Open scholarship has met a critical, self-reflexive point in its evolution. Much writing from the last decade focuses on equity concerns within the landscape of open scholarship; that is, who is open scholarship benefiting? To what end? Where is open scholarship causing intentional or unintentional damage? In 2018, Florence Piron published “Postcolonial Open Access,” and in 2020, Denisse Albornoz, Angela Okune, and Leslie Chan published “Can Open Scholarly Practices Redress Epistemic Injustice?” In both book chapters, the authors explicitly consider the relationship between open scholarship and equitable knowledge creation and sharing practices. They suggest that, contrary to original stated intentions, the Open Access movement has engendered the unintended consequence of increasing the availability and visibility of research from the Global North and, in so doing, obscured research from the Global South. Such an activity has ramifications for epistemic and cognitive justice, as upholding the research of one cultural group over others suggests that it is more valuable, legitimate, or verifiable—regardless of the context in which it is developed or accessed. Chan, Bud Hall, Piron, Rajesh Tandon, and Lorna Williams explore this concept further in a report they drew together for the Canadian Commission for UNESCO titled “Open Science Beyond Open Access: For and With Communities. A Step Towards the Decolonization of Knowledge” (2020). In this report, the authors recommend broadening the concept of open scholarship and integrating more decolonial approaches. They acknowledge that there are longstanding practices in academia to close off knowledge, including for fear of censorship or persecution. Chan et al. argue, however, that these protectionary measures result in exclusionary gatekeeping around expertise. Ramifications of such practices continue today, including for Indigenous and other marginalized peoples whose knowledges are not always sought after or valued in scientific contexts. In their own words, Chan et al. “offer a vision of Open Science that is just, fair and decolonial, but also realist and lucid. [The authors] have drawn attention to an understanding of science based on an inclusive universalism, open to Indigenous ways of knowing and all other theories, epistemologies and viewpoints.” Often, authors engaging with epistemic justice in scholarly communication push to decolonize open access so that all research globally is recognized as valuable and worthy of scientific consideration—especially within local contexts.

Community-based and community-engaged open scholarship blends values-based approaches with technical considerations. Theorizing about open scholarship feeds into the development of open digital research infrastructure, which, in turn, informs further theoretical consideration. In the 2019 article “Knowledge Organization for Open Scholarship,” Julia Bullard argues that those developing open digital research infrastructure need to adhere to culturally specific knowledge organization. With an eye to the Canadian context, Bullard points out that the current standards for subject description, for instance, were developed in the United States and therefore may not be culturally accurate for Canadian intellectual and cultural material. She argues that since open scholarship projects shape knowledge creation, engagement, and mobilization, there is an ethical imperative for project creators to instill the values of openness, multiculturalism, and decolonization into their knowledge organization design. In a 2019 conference paper, Okune, Rebecca Hillyer, Chan, Albornoz, and Alejandro Posada suggest that intersectional feminist approaches to open scholarship infrastructure development would help to address structural inequities. Technology is not neutral, nor does it affect positive change unilaterally. As such, the authors advocate for the conscientious design of open scholarship infrastructure that incorporates inclusivity, collaboration, reflexivity, and sustainability. In “Measuring Altruistic Impact: A Model for Understanding the Social Justice of Open Access” (originally published in 2016), Margaret Heller and Franny Gaede focus on a specific piece of open scholarship infrastructure: the university library-based research repository. Heller and Gaede argue that institutional repositories can be optimized to increase the impact of open access research, especially around social justice issues. They present findings that improving collection development in this area can extend the reach and uptake of a university’s research substantially. Conscientious approaches are critical; as Albornoz et al. write, “Open systems may potentially replicate the very values and power imbalances that the movement initially sought to change.” As such, it behooves the designers of open scholarship infrastructure to take an equitable, values-based approach to their endeavour.

All selections included in this Open Scholarship Press Community collected volume represent different facets of open social scholarship. The INKE Partnership defines open social scholarship as “academic practice that enables the creation, dissemination, and engagement of open research by specialists and non-specialists in accessible and significant ways.”2 Open social scholarship builds on open access as a foundation even while its practitioners ask, what next? And, how? And, with whom? Openness, in this regard, is a mechanism through which to broaden scholarly work into activities that are much more community-based and community-engaged. Centring community-based and community-engaged open scholarship, while considering both efficacious and creative ways to find, share, and publicize academic research, is at the heart of open social scholarship. Such a vision for the transformative potential of scholarly communication speaks to an ardent desire to leave behind the metaphorical ivory tower and to instead refigure postsecondary institutions as verdant sites of collaborative, collective knowledge creation. Academic work is changing, as all the authors featured here demonstrate. I hope the authors’ commitment to more open and more social ways of undertaking research and sharing inspires readers to consider applying open social scholarship principles and practices in their own academic lives.

Works Cited & Original Citations

Albornoz, Denisse, Angela Okune, and Leslie Chan. 2020. “Can Open Scholarly Practices Redress Epistemic Injustice?” In Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access, edited by Martin Paul Eve and Jonathan Gray, 65–79. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Arbuckle, Alyssa, and Ray Siemens. 2023. “Digital Humanities Futures, Open Social Scholarship, and Engaged Publics.” The Bloomsbury Handbook to the Digital Humanities, edited by James O’Sullivan, 397–407. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Brennan, Sheila. 2016. “Public, First.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016, edited by Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein, 384–89. Minneapolis: U Minnesota Press.

Bullard, Julia. 2019. “Knowledge Organization for Open Scholarship.” Pop! Public. Open. Participatory. 1.

Chan, Leslie, Bud Hall, Florence Piron, Rajesh Tandon, and Lorna Williams. 2020. “Open Science Beyond Open Access: For and With Communities. A Step Towards the Decolonization of Knowledge.” The Canadian Commission for UNESCO’s IdeaLab.

Coughlan, Rosarie, and Mark Swartz. 2020. “An Overview of the Open Access Movement in Canada.” In Open Praxis, Open Access: Digital Scholarship in Action, edited by Darren Chase and Dana Haugh, 19–40. Chicago: American Library Association.

Heller, Margaret, and Franny Gaede. 2016. “Measuring Altruistic Impact: A Model for Understanding the Social Justice of Open Access.” Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication 4: eP2132.

Jay, Gregory. 2012. “The Engaged Humanities: Principles and Practices for Public Scholarship and Teaching.” Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship 3 (1): 51–63.

Lawson, Stuart. 2017. “Access, Ethics and Piracy.” Insights 30 (1): 25–30.

Maxwell, John W. 2015. “Beyond Open Access to Open Publication and Open Scholarship.” Scholarly and Research Communication 6 (3).

McGregor, Heidi, and Kevin Guthrie. 2015. “Delivering Impact of Scholarly Information: Is Access Enough?” Journal of Electronic Publishing 18 (3).

Meadows, Alice. 2015. “Beyond Open: Expanding Access to Scholarly Content.” Journal of Electronic Publishing 18 (3).

Niles, Meredith T., Lesley A. Schimanski, Erin C. McKiernan, and Juan Pablo Alperin. 2020. “Why We Publish Where We Do: Faculty Publishing Values and Their Relationship to Review, Promotion and Tenure Expectations.” PLoS ONE 15 (3): e0228914.

Okune, Angela, Rebecca Hillyer, Leslie Chan, Denisse Albornoz, and Alejandro Posada. 2019. “Whose Infrastructure? Towards Inclusive and Collaborative Knowledge Infrastructures in Open Science.” In Connecting the Knowledge Commons—From Projects to Sustainable Infrastructure: The 22nd International Conference on Electronic Publishing—Revised Selected Papers, edited by Leslie Chan and Pierre Mounier. Marseille: OpenEdition Press.

Piron, Florence. 2018. “Postcolonial Open Access.” In Open Divide. Critical Studies in Open Access, edited by Ulrich Herb and Jaochim Schopfel, 117–28. Litwin Books.

Piwowar, Heather A., and Todd J. Vision. 2013. “Data Reuse and the Open Data Citation Advantage.” PeerJ 1: e175.

Saklofske, Jon. 2016. “Digital Theoria, Poiesis, and Praxis: Activating Humanities Research and Communication through Open Social Scholarship Platform Design.” Scholarly and Research Communication 7 (2).

Stommel, Jesse. 2018. “The Public Digital Humanities.” In Disrupting the Digital Humanities, edited by Dorothy Kim and Jesse Stommel, 79–90. Punctum Books.

Suber, Peter. (2010). Thoughts on Prestige, Quality, and Open Access. Logos, 21(1-2), 115-128.

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