June 20, 2019
Mapping the Scholarly Communication Landscape – 2019 Census
This report documents the design, methods, results, and recommendations of the 2019 Census of Scholarly Communication Infrastructure Providers (SCIP), a Census produced by the “Mapping the Scholarly Communication Infrastructure” project team (Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Middlebury College, 2018-19). The SCIP Census was created to document key components comprising the organizational, business, and technical apparatuses of a broad range of Scholarly Communication Resources (SCRs) – the tools, services, and systems that are instrumental to the publishing and distribution of the scholarly record.
Using Community Cultivation – A Field Guide (Educopia, 2018) as a framework, we designed a Conceptual Model detailing the impact and outcomes the SCIP Census would address. We then produced and tested a survey instrument with 123 questions that delves into an SCR’s mission, vision, and scoping; technical development and design; administrative and financial scaffolding; community engagement activities; and governance model. The instrument took between 1-3.5 hours for each SCR respondent to complete; variability in time was largely based on the structure, complexity, and availability of an SCR’s organizational, fiscal, and technical information.
We conducted the Census through direct invitations, contacting just over 200 identified scholarly communication resource providers by email to participate. The Census remained open for a condensed, month-long collection period (February 18-March 22, 2019). More than 60 SCRs responded to us during this period, and more than 40 tools, services, and platforms ultimately participated in the Census.
Our team also researched basic information about 96 additional SCRs, creating a Composite dataset that combined this researched data with a few fields of the respondents’ anonymized data from the Census. This Composite dataset provides a system-level view of the broad range of SCR tools, services, and platforms in use today, including their purposes, founding dates, locations, and other basic information that could be quickly compiled by our team. It complements the deeper information about the technical, fiscal, and organizational mechanisms of SCRs today that the Census dataset provides.
The Census and Composite datasets provide a crucial lens through which we can now begin to do three things: 1) increase understanding of the range of forms, functions, structures, and models represented by SCRs across our system today; 2) formally assess some of the factors that influence the sustainability and “fit-for-purpose” of SCRs, and 3) identify concrete tasks and activities that specific SCRs might engage in to improve their stability over time.
Our findings include the following, each of which is elaborated upon in the report:
- We need a standardized taxonomy for the various functions performed by SCRs. It is currently difficult to differentiate between the broad range of functions offered by SCRs. It is also challenging to understand which steps are common in scholarly communications and publishing workflows, and what SCR choices might work for each of these steps.
- SCRs operating within nonprofit and hosted environments report ongoing challenges in raising and sustaining appropriate levels of funding to enable them to build and maintain services over time. These SCRs need additional support if they are to be viable options for institutional use.
- Connected to the above, sunsetting in our scholarly communication technical environment is often considered a sign of failure. Instead, we need to welcome it as a sign of a healthy overall environment. We also need to further explore the value of mergers, migrations, and other mechanisms that may provide the necessary administrative, fiscal, and social infrastructure to help support the technical development and maintenance SCRs require. Scaled, leveraged efficiencies (e.g., multiple programs hosted by a single entity with shared leadership and staffing) may help to bring needed expertise while also maintaining a lower overhead.
- SCRs need guidance, mentorship, training, and opportunities to refine their visions, technical platforms and design, financial and HR models, community engagement and outreach practices, and governance frameworks, as well as the decision-making processes that undergird each of these elements. This need applies particularly to several key areas of development:
- Vision and Strategy. The Census evidenced that many SCRs lack clarity in their expressions of their purposes and goals. This is quickly mendable through specific, targeted investments in business practices that are well understood and documented across a wide variety of fields.
- Technical Development and Design. Findings that stood out included the high variability in the number and type of software developers that currently participate in SCRs and the challenges to code contribution that exist in some environments, including Open Source Software projects and programs.
- Financial and Staffing. Of all of the areas of concern that have been highlighted in this report, none is more compelling than the financial self-descriptions provided by respondents. Many SCRs report that they have low-to-no financial reserves. Most also do not reconcile their books on a regular schedule, and most lack the basic checks and balances that keep businesses safe from both accidental and purposeful financial misreporting.
- Community Engagement and Governance. Deeper evaluation into current community engagement and governance strategies is needed at an individual SCR-level, but the collated and aggregated results from the Census show that most SCRs are engaging in a range of community-building activities and all responding SCRs prioritize in-person events as one part of their approach. We must work harder to ensure that governance bodies regularly evaluate the financial health of the organizations they are empowered to serve, and that external structures help to train both these Boards and staff members to do functions (e.g., accounting for revenues, not just expenditures) that simply are not business-as-usual within most academic environments.
We greatly appreciate the input (and the time and energy we know it took!) of the 43 SCRs that responded to the Census this spring–thank you all so much for contributing.
We also want to thank a wide range of reviewers of the report, including members of the Advisory Board (especially John Dove, Rachel Frick, Mike Furlough, Robert Miller, and Dan Whaley) and the Educopia team (Hannah Ballard, Jessica Farrell, Sam Meister, and Caitlin Perry).
Finally, we are grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its generous support for this research project.