In nature everything works in collaboration. There are hummingbirds and flowers that are in such deep coordination they need each other for survival. How vibrant and alive and successful could our movement be if we moved with such coordination and collaboration? – Karissa Lewis

Social movements are group or collective action that attempt large scale change for a demographic of society. The nature, structure, and impact of social movements varies. David Aberle (1966) describes four types of social movement: alternative, redemptive, reformative, and revolutionary. Each type is based on who the movement is attempting to change and how much change the movement is advocating.

What is an open scholarship movement?

The Budapest Open Access Initiative gave open access its first big push on Feb. 14, 2002. However, its origins were earlier – arguably in 1991, when Paul Ginsparg started the arXiv repository at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LAN-L) to make preprints in physics freely accessible.

With this long history to support this movement, why hasn't it succeeded in achieving more openness by now? A 2018 study by H. Piwowar et. al. estimates that at least 28 percent of the scholarly literature is open access (19 million in total). As the definition of open scholarship has expanded to include open data, open source, open resources, and open education at a minimum, the rate of success is significantly lower.

In general, efforts are piecemeal, disconnected, and sometimes in competition with one another rather than in competition with the proprietary, commercial world the movement ostensibly exists to challenge.

In the face of this reality, we have to ask ourselves several questions:

  • How do we turn our active and thriving communities into a movement that takes collective action?
  • How do we unify initiatives and projects into categories of work, and get them to work together and consolidate activities?
  • How do we create a “central nervous system” such as a backbone organization that coordinates, sets common purposes, and channels funding to those within the movement?

What makes a successful social movement

Considering the actions of the many players in the open scholarship space as a unified collective action – a movement -- offers an opportunity to have dramatically increased impact over a reduced period of time.

There are several common steps that most successful social movements tend to follow:

  1. One or more communities or initiatives forms around a common goal
  2. The communities and initiatives begin to mobilize resources
  3. Disparate efforts begin to consolidate and construct a shared strategy and pooled resources
  4. A central governing body or set of leading organizations collect future resources and solidify strategy, operations, and communications
  5. The movement is accepted by or replaces the status quo or establishment

The importance of a backbone organization

The collective impact approach to social change is premised on the belief that no single policy, government department, organization, or program can tackle or solve the increasingly complex social problems we face as a society.

A defining feature of the collective impact approach is the role of a backbone organization – a separate organization dedicated to coordinating the various dimensions and collaborators involved in the initiative.

Supporting backbone infrastructure is essential to ensuring the collective impact effort maintains momentum and facilitates impact. Creating such infrastructure will be essential to facilitating the growth and impact of the open access movement.


For more on this topic, watch Kristen Ratan's FORCE11 2018 keynote Learning from the enemy: building a successful open science movement from the rubble, and read Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis and Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown.