Sustaining the Knowledge Commons: final report

This post concludes the 7-year Sustaining the Knowledge Commons (SKC) research program for which I gratefully acknowledge generous support from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) through an Insight Development Grant (2014 – 2016), and Insight Grant (2016 – 2021). I also gratefully acknowledge the hard work, team spirit and initiative of the many members of the SKC team over the years – their names are listed on the About the Team page; bios reflect statuses the last time they participated in the project. Following are my key recommendations for funders (including libraries & policy-makers), takeways for future APC researchers, select portions of my final report to SSHRC, and my final thoughts and next directions.

Key recommendations for funders (including libraries & policy-makers):

  • Recommendation #1: Support small scholar-led publishers (e.g. journals and books published by or at universities and scholarly associations) to transition to open access because this sector can thrive with modest support (best economic choice) and is the sector in the best position to prioritize the values of academia over profit and achieve global equity in inclusion of scholars around the world in a global knowledge commons.
  • Recommendation #2: Support existing and emerging open access scholarly publishers reliant on open access article process charges (APCs) with caution and back-up built into policy. There are 2 main reasons for caution: there are already a large number of journals and publishers that are “no longer in DOAJ”, many of which are still publishing. While current APC publishers such as the Public Library of Science have earned top reputations for publishing quality scholarship, it is clear that the APC model has also opened a door to a for-profit sector with less than clear commitment to scholarly quality. The second reason for caution is evidence of price rises beyond inflation among commercial and professional not-for-profit APC based publishers. It is not clear that the economics of this model are sustainable. To put a back-up plan into policy, require that researchers deposit work in an open access repository. Meeting OA policy through open access publishing alone makes works available open access today with no guarantee for the future.
  • Recommendation #3: Look beyond traditional print-based formats such as journals and books. The open research SKC blog, featuring immediate release of the results of over 200 small research projects to inform decision-making in real time, and the OA APC dataverse, are illustrations of what we can do. Innovation should be a priority, not an afterthought.
  • Recommendation #4: Make global equity and inclusion a top priority in setting policy, including deciding which initiatives to support financially. The key question is: will this policy or initiative tend to facilitate a global knowledge commons that gives voice to all qualified researchers around the world, or will it further entrench existing interests?

Takeaways for future APC researchers:

  • The Sustaining the Knowledge Commons blog features a rich set of small research projects, many on individual APC-charging publishers, that are not available anywhere else. The blog will remain as is for some time and will be archived with the assistance of the University of Ottawa Library before it is decommissioned.
  • The most complete dataset in the OA APC dataverse is OA Main 2019. This is a unique contribution as journals once included (journal or publisher was once included in DOAJ) are retained from year to year. Data including APC amounts for several years derived from a number of sources is available for close to 20 thousand journals. This dataset is for serious researchers as it takes some time to read the documentation and understand the datapoints; misinterpretation would be easy given that the data is derived from multiple sources.
  • The dataset in the OA APC dataverse that includes journals for which we have data for the longest period of time is the 2011 – 2021 dataset. Most of the 2011 dataset in included in OA Main 2019, however in preparing analysis we found that some journals were missing as they had been removed from DOAJ prior to our first sampling (2014).
  • The published open data in the OA APC dataverse reflects a small portion of the data that we have collected and analyzed over the years. The reason for not publishing all of the data as open data is the complexity and extra work required to create publishable documentation. If you are looking for historical APC data for research purposes, don’t hesitate to ask what I (Heather Morrison) might have. No guarantees that what you need will match what I have.

Excerpts from the SSHRC Insight Grant final report

Summary: The purpose of the Sustaining the Knowledge Commons project was to conduct research to inform the process of transformation of the underlying economics of scholarly publishing from the demand (purchase / subscription) to the supply side (support for production) to achieve sustainable and globally equitable open access. The resource requirements for small scholar-led publishers project confirmed the modest financial needs of this sector, considered the best option to prioritize academic quality over profit. A longitudinal study of article processing charges (APCs) found that this model, working well in some sectors, nevertheless poses some challenges to academic quality as illustrated by a large number of APC-based journals and publishers in the category “no longer in the Directory of Open Access Journals”. The APC commercial and professional not-for-profit market is showing problematic signs of a tendency to increases prices beyond inflation, another reason to consider alternatives. One approach to analyzing open access policy and initiatives, based on Ostrom’s work Governing the Commons, was identified as useful to analyze policy and initiatives from the perspective of global equity (inclusion of all qualified scholars to contribute to our common knowledge). A key conclusion and recommendation is that the optimal way to achieve sustainable and equitable high quality academic publishing for traditional publication forms such as journals and books, prioritizing academic values over profit, is to transition economic support to prioritize small scholar-led publication, and in particularly the university sector. The open research approach employed in this project illustrates the benefits of going beyond traditional forms optimized for print. Major findings have been consistently quickly published on the course blog, supporting decision-makers engaged in the process of transition, and open data shared via the dataverse.

Outcomes: Sustaining the knowledge commons (SKC) has provided independent third-party evidence to support the growing non-commercial, scholar-led sector of scholarly publishing. SKC research demonstrates the desirability of supporting this sector from an economic point of view as overall less costly, more equitable, and in a good position to prioritize academic quality over profit. The internet has created an environment in which universities and scholarly societies can, with reasonable ease and modest support, create, sustain and globally disseminate their own publications. For example, in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) as of December 2021, the country with the highest number of open access journals is Indonesia, with 1,896 titles, followed by, in order, the UK (1,885 titles), Brazil (1,636), the U.S. (969), Spain (882), Poland (785), and Iran (662). DOAJ is a far more diverse collection of titles, linguistically and culturally, than is found in typical library packages in countries like Canada. This evidence is useful to policy-makers such as research funders and services that support scholarly publishing such as libraries and library consortia.

Audiences: The primary audiences that can benefit from the research conducted by the Sustaining the Knowledge Commons project are the organizations ultimately responsible for funding the production and dissemination of scholarly works – universities and other research organizations, their libraries and library consortia, research funding agencies, scholarly societies, and individual academic researchers who support scholarly publication through their labour and research funding. Academics, students, and the general public benefit indirectly through open access to scholarly works; for example, when health care practitioners have access to the results of medical research, we all benefit from improved evidence-based practice.

Research products: and are, respectively, a research blog and open dataverse that demonstrate the open research approach employed in the Sustaining the Knowledge Commons project. These are the most comprehensive resources for outputs from this project. The blog features over 200 original research posts, of which most are brief original research pieces written by research assistants and associates under the supervision of the Principle Investigator. Only a small fraction of this output would be found in traditional research formats such as journal articles and books.

The dataverse: The dataverse features open data and documentation from the longitudinal open access APC study that exemplifies the open data approach. The datasets are the most complete source of historical information for many journals and publishers that are no longer active, open access, and/or listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals, and will make it possible for future researchers to conduct robust longitudinal studies in future. OA Main 2019 final is the most complete dataset (close to 20,000 journals, up to 280 data points / journal, range 2011 – 2019). The most recent dataset is 2011_2021_APCs_open_data.

Final thoughts and new directions: finally, I would like to thank all of the readers of this blog and particularly those who took the time to comment, whether on the blog or on the listservs and other projects that I have participated in over the years, particularly the Global Open Access List, Scholcomm, the Radical Open Access list, and the Open Access Tracking Project, and everyone – all the authors, editors, publishers, research funders and activists – who have moved OA forward through its first generation. My perspective is that OA has now moved into a second generation that is quite different from the first and leadership is from the institutions and organizations that provide the support for scholarly publishing – universities & their libraries and library consortia, research funders and scholarly publishers, and is no longer reliant on individual activists like me. This is a good thing, an accomplishment in and of itself and one that bodes well for ongoing transition to full open access. On a personal note, while I remain available should my expertise (or datasets) be needed, it is my intention to shift my research to one or more areas more in need of attention, particularly in the area of information policy.

Cite as: Morrison, H. (2021). Sustaining the knowledge commons: final report. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons Dec. 22, 2021

L’économie du don

par Alexis Calvé-Genest & Heather Morrison (English)

Y a-t-il d’autres modes d’échange que l’échange marchand? Surestimons-nous la place de ces échanges lorsque nous tentons de jeter un regard sur la nature des transactions humaines? Si tel est le cas, quelques leçons peuvent-elles en être tirées aux fins de soutenir un projet de savoirs communs?

Il y a près de cent ans déjà, ce questionnement faisait l’objet d’un texte qui a depuis été pour ainsi dire redécouvert par les anthropologues et autres intéressés de la question humaine. Bien entendu, ce texte est au fondement d’une question beaucoup plus large sur la nature humaine que nous éviterons ici. Retenons cependant la possibilité que les échanges humains soient empreints d’une qualité qui perdure après que l’échange soit conclu, que cet échange soit entre groupes ou individus. En sommes, retenons l’idée de réciprocité dans les échanges par contraste à un échange fini où les parties impliquées se doivent d’en rester sur leurs gains.

Un échange basé sur le don, tel que conçu par Marcel Mauss il y a déjà très longtemps, implique une obligation morale, sociale, qui établit un enchevêtrement de relations entre groupes et individus intéressés sans pour autant paraître obligatoire. Cette relation en est une de prestige et de rivalité et elle sous-tend les échanges en société de manière universelle, tel que tente de le concevoir Mauss en 1924. Sans pour autant nier l’échange marchand, Mauss le pose comme superficiel à un type de transaction qui lui, est plus répandu dans toutes les sociétés de son temps, y compris celles du passé. Évidemment, nous faisons ici un bon en avant en posant que cela n’a que peu changé depuis son analyse quasi centenaire.

L’obligation de donner, de recevoir et de redonner est à la base de son économie du don, pour ainsi dire. En rivalisant par le don, les groupes et individus créent des liens et les renforcent sous peine de mort, si ce n’est que symbolique. Rappelons que la perception des anthropologues étudiant les sociétés dites primitives (qui ne le sont pas du tout d’ailleurs) est que l’accumulation y est bien malvenue. Le principe de la redistribution y règne et les cérémonies et événements du type potlatch, sur lesquels Mauss se base pour conceptualiser un système d’échange basé sur le don socialement obligé, sont des phénomènes cruciaux pour comprendre la cohésion sociale des groupes et leurs relations à autrui.

Si l’on considère que Mauss a mis le doigt sur un rouage important des échanges humains nous nous devons alors de considérer les notions de rivalité de prestige et d’obligations sociales comme parties prenantes de toute compréhension des transactions humaines qui dépassent le simple troc ou l’échange marchand. Il en va de même si l’on veut changer la nature d’une transaction humaine ou en créer de plus soutenables, réciproques, juste.

Est-ce que la théorie de l’économie du don peut s’appliquer à l’érudition? Prenons en considération le réseau international des établissements et des dépôts institutionnels, il y en a plus de 2600 répertoriés sur OpenDOAR, et les plus de 72 millions de documents érudits qui furent légués de par le monde par les dépôts répertoriés par le Bielefeld Academic Search Engine

Chaque érudit fait don de son propre travail – un article, un livre, un ensemble de données – sans s’attendre à un retour sur investissement immédiat, mais plutôt avec l’espoir d’avoir un impact sur leur discipline ou une autre, de voir des contributions d’autres chercheurs à leurs travaux et de les voir reconnus comme apport à un savoir humanitaire collectif. Cela satisfait l’obligation de donner. D’autre lisent et utiliser ces dons, qui peuvent être applaudis et appréciés, ou tournée en dérision et critiqués. Peu importe ; ces actions satisfont l’obligation de recevoir. La réception du don contient avec elle l’obligation morale et sociale d’ajouter au don et de partager son travail, pas avec le donateur original, mais plutôt avec le monde entier ; c’est l’obligation subséquente de donner (ou redonner). Comme le potlatch, le prestige s’accroit au donateur des meilleurs dons. Ce n’est pas un troc direct, mais plutôt un réseau mondial de donateurs et de donataires qui ressemble beaucoup aux bases d’une économie du don émergente dans le monde de l’érudition.


Mauss, M. (1924, 2002 version numérique). Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l’échange dans les sociétés primitives. Disponible via Les Classiques des sciences sociales

Calvé-Genest, A., & Morrison, H. (2015). L’économie du don. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from

The gift economy

by Alexis Calvé-Genest & Heather Morrison (Français)

Are there other modes of exchange besides the market? Are we overestimating the place of market exchange when we look at the nature of human transactions? If so, are there lessons to be learned concerning possible approaches to sustaining the knowledge commons?

It has been almost a hundred years since this question has been considered and reconsidered by anthropologists and others since the publication of Mauss’ seminal work The Gift (free version at Internet Archive here: The focus of this work is a much bigger question about human nature than we can address in this post. However, let’s consider the possibility that human exchange includes the possibility of a quality that lasts long after the exchange is concluded, whether the exchange is between groups or individuals. Let’s consider the principle of reciprocity and in contrast with the one-time market exchange.

The gift economy as conceived by Mauss nearly a century ago, based on empirical anthropological studies of actual human societies, contemporary and ancient, involves moral and social obligations that creates a bond between groups and individuals without necessarily being obligatory obligations.

Without denying the importance of market exchange, Mauss presents this as superficial in comparison with the gift economy that has pervaded human societies since ancient times. We argue that the gift economy is every bit as relevant today. At the heart of the gift economy are the obligations to give, receive, and give again. Rivalries in giving both create and reinforce social bonds. Remember that in most societies, hoarding is not well received; redistribution, often through ceremonies such as the potlatch, is the norm. Perhaps by studying the gift economy we can work towards both scholarship and societies that are more sustainable, reciprocal, and just.

Can the theory of the gift economy be applied to scholarship? Consider the worldwide network of institutional and disciplinary repositories, the over 2,600 repositories listed in OpenDOAR, the more than 72 million documents scholars have gifted to the world through the repositories indexed by the Bielefeld Academic Search Engine

Each scholar gifts their own work – an article, a book, a dataset – with no expectation of immediate rewards in return, rather the hope of having an impact, having their work built upon by others and recognized as a contribution to the collective knowledge of humankind. This fulfills the obligation to give. Others read and use these gifts, which may be met with applause and appreciation, or derision and critique. No matter; either one fulfills the obligation to receive. The receipt of a gift carries with it a social and moral obligation to build on the gift and share one’s own work, not with the original gift-giver but rather with the whole world; this is the downstream obligation to give (or re-give). Like the potlatch, prestige accrues to the giver of the best gifts. This is not one-time barter, rather a worldwide network of givers and receivers that looks a lot like the basis of an emerging global gift economy in scholarship.


Mauss, M. (1924, 1966 english ed.). The gift. London: Cohen & West. Available via Internet Archive at

Cite as:

Calvé-Genest, A., & Morrison, H. (2015). The gift economy. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from

Common Pool Resource Theory introduction

The object of this series of posts on common pool resource theory is to generate discussion in the context of knowledge commons. Raising awareness about works on the commons is the ultimate intent.

Sharing resources as a group, is that possible without a catastrophe happening? Is the concept of knowledge commons viable?

Yes, and yes. In fact it is more or less how we function as human beings. We have tendencies to be selfish, of course, and we also hate each other. Despite our slightly narcissistic and xenophobic tendencies, through thousand of years we have always benefited from functioning as a group. How else would language, being cool or bravery mean anything to you?

  • You are able to read this, provided I do a good enough job at being intelligible (communication, information exchange).
  • You understand the social values of the society you live in (institutions).
  • You know people can be valued or ostracized based on their actions in relation to these values (regulation).

You already understand the basics of sharing a common pool resource.

Dare we explore it some more? We, as human beings, rely heavily on communication, information exchange, institutions, governance and rules to function as a group. How exactly do we successfully run a common pool resource (CPR) and how does that apply to a knowledge commons? This is what we will see in this entry.

The study of CPRs started gathering interest in California a few decades ago when Elinor Ostrom began work on her PhD dissertation through a case study on ground water basin management. She, along with her husband and workgroup went on to collect data for decades, culminating with a Nobel laureate a few years before her death. Some of these CPRs have endured for centuries, thus surviving generations of users while providing resources for hundreds of groups and countless number of people.

Ostrom’s studies were so large she and her colleagues had to devise a whole analysis model to incorporate the numerous case studies they were gathering. Once it was all done they were able to craft seven characteristics of a successful CPR, with an added eight in complex circumstances. In the process, they also helped redefine the notion of goods, now usually seen as four types instead of the common two that previously populated the economics literature.

We will explore some of these findings in other posts, but for the mean time let’s stay focused on the pervasive nature of the commons. While Ostrom may have been labeled a pure liberal, she was not providing an anti-government or anti-privatization discourse. The characteristics of the commons she constructed through inductive research, over several decades, are allowing groups to function aside and within governmental or private logics.

These groups preserve their common pool resource and have been for a very long time. This notion of enduring occurrence is important for people wishing to understand the extend at which CPRs exist around us.

Now that we know we have all the required knowledge to form a commons, and there is no waiting for government or private interests to form one, what about knowledge commons?

Though some of the characteristics of a successful commons are transferable to a knowledge commons, some adjustment are needed to apply commons logic to a knowledge commons. The zero cost of knowledge transfer (copying or sharing an idea for example) makes the idea of knowledge commons interesting to conceptualize. Motions of prestige for participation may help us understand how it may work. Ostrom expanded on this in a book on knowledge as a commons.

This is what we will see in future posts, and more, such as a more detailed review of successful commons characteristics, and a brief review of good types.

Cite as:

Calvé-Genest, A. (2014). Common Pool Resource Theory introduction. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from