• Sustaining Scholarly Infrastructures through Collective Action: The lessons that Olson can teach us

    Cameron Neylon (see profile)
    Electronic data processing--Management, Economics
    Item Type:
    collective action, Mancur Olson, Open access to research data, sustainability, Data management, Scholarly communication
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    The infrastructure that underpin scholarship and research, including repositories, curation systems, aggregators, indexes and standards are public goods. This means that finding sustainability models to support them is a challenge due to free-loading, where someone who does not contribute to the support of the infrastructure nonetheless gains the benefit of it. The work of Mancur Olson (1974) suggests there are only three ways to address this for large groups: compulsion (often as some form of taxation) to support the infrastructure; the provision of non-collective (club) goods limited to those who contribute as a side-effect of providing the collective good; or mechanisms that lower the effective number of participants in the negotiation (oligopoly). In this paper I use Olson’s framework to analyze existing scholarly infrastructures and proposals for the sustainability of new infrastructures. This approach provides some important insights. First that the problems of sustainable are not merely financial, but problems of political economy. This means that focusing purely on financial sustainability in the absence of considering governance principles and community is the wrong approach. The second key insight is that the size of the community supported by infrastructure is a critical parameter. Sustainability models need to change over the life cycle of an infrastructure with the growth (or decline) of the community. In both cases, identifying patterns for success and creating templates for governance and sustainability could be of significant value. Overall this analysis demonstrates a need to consider how communities, platforms and finances interact and suggests that a political economic analysis has real value.
    Final submitted version of this article which will appear in the journal Kula. Earlier versions appeared as an abstract for SciDataCon 2016 in Denver (http://www.scidatacon.org/2016/sessions/45/paper/190/) and as a preprint on BioRXiv (https://doi.org/10.1101/116756 )
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    6 years ago
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