Designing Equitable Foundations for Open Knowledge with context, community and copyright in mind (Clare O'Hanlon)

Photo by Kyaw Tun | 
Designing Equitable Foundations for Open Knowledge is the theme for this year's Open Access Week and it has made me read about and reflect on power, privilege, equity and inclusion in higher education even more than usual, so I thought I would share some of these readings and reflections this week.

I suggest that when thinking about equitable foundations for open knowledge, it is important to keep context, community and copyright in mind in order to ethically make knowledge and resources accessible to relevant practitioners and communities.

I conclude with some resources to help researchers do this and hopefully make the labour involved more manageable.

Dr Chris Bourg, Director of MIT libraries, begins her Open as in dangerous talk by illustrating the many achievements she and colleagues have made in the Open Access space at MIT. Next, she goes onto to illustrate some of the dangers of being open online.

She illustrates its impact on individual privacy and autonomy, which she argues tend to be felt more by marginalised people given that they generally face a higher risk of being targeted for abuse, harassment, rape and death threats, and doxxing online. She also warns that Open Access (OA) publishing still seems biased towards countries in the Global North: illustrating how some OA rhetoric can be quite imperialistic and may thus perpetuate existing systems of oppression and inequality. Like a good librarian, she includes a great list of recommended readings on this topic as well as on how algorithms and big data can perpetuate existing systems of oppression and inequality.

Bourg also notes that another potential danger is that open access and collections can potentially lead to a loss of local, personal context particularly where it involves making tacit, embodied knowledge more formal and therefore disembodied that is then extracted and shared in diverse ways. This point about the context led me down the research rabbit hole to Does Information really want to be free? Indigenous knowledge systems and the question of openness by Kimberly A. Christen. It is a little old now and has been cited by many others, but I liked how Christen argued that information wants to be contextualised rather than ‘free’ through new kinds of licenses and a complex, community-driven content management system.

One of the things that makes me most proud to work at La Trobe University is that so many researchers from a huge variety of disciplines work very hard to translate their research knowledge into practice and make it accessible with and for their communities and apply it in these contexts. For example:
  • Dr Timothy Jones from history has been collaborating with health and legal researchers and practitioners and appearing on triple j and Buzzfeed (and beyond) to bring his research on conversion therapy into the community. 
  • Dr Clare Wright, also from history, has been drawing on historical research to produce podcasts and TV series as well as write books (including an edition for young adults). 
  • The Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) make their knowledge available in communities through their extensive and open research reports as well as through Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria programs, training, resources, research and policy. Some ARCSHS researchers like Roz Bellamy use a Community Based Participatory Research methodology and work hard to translate their research knowledge and create new knowledge for and with their communities.
  • Dr Ashley Ng, diabetes advocate and dietetics and human nutrition researcher, is doing great work translating research through digital health promotion and education. 
  • Dr Christian Barton, Danilo de Oliveira Silva and colleagues from La Trobe Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre work with Translating Research Evidence and Knowledge (TREK) to improve knowledge translation to health practitioners and patients. 
  • Dr Lauren Gawne from Linguistics also does amazing work translating her research and engaging with communities by running the generalist linguistics website Superlinguo, co-hosting the podcast Lingthusiasm and writing the 'By Lingo' a regular column for The Big Issue (Australia) about the history of everyday words as well as editing Wikipedia. 
  • Dr Thomas Shafee from Life Sciences is a very active Wikipedian and editor of the Wiki Journal of Medicine
  • Dr Quinn Eades from Gender, Sexuality and Diversity Studies founded the open access journal Writing from below, which brings together work from researchers across and between multiple disciplines, creative professionals, and activists, and encourages creative exploration and scholarly experimentation. 
  • The Institute for Human Security and Social Change has international development storytellers like Susanne Newton translating research knowledge into practice with communities, and Paul Kelly doing research in Papua New Guinea looking at how different people view the use of data and knowledge in their work in not-for-profit organisations. 
  • We have an emerging community of lecturers, educational designers, and librarians who have been developing Open Educational Resources (OERs), including but not limited to producing etextbooks in our ebureau.
There is a huge amount of labour involved in opening up research, translating it into practice, and making it accessible to communities, and I fear this is not always recognised or supported as much nor as visible as the labour involved in producing more traditional scholarly outputs. I am optimistic that this is starting to change with the rise of Altmetrics and increasing focus on research impact and engagement.

I am also excited to be facilitating a discussion with some of these researchers during our Navigating open research at La Trobe and beyond film screening and forum on Tuesday 23 October 12-4.15pm, so we can hear from them about challenges and opportunities. One way we have managed to sneak some time for community engagement and knowledge translation into our work and find collegiality at La Trobe in 2018 is through monthly Shut Up and Wiki sessions recently written about by Dr Tseen Khoo in Research Whisperer. Come along to our Wiki Photo Frenzy to learn about contributing to Wikimedia Commons whilst having fun taking photos of the La Trobe ducks campuses on Wednesday and/or drop in and join us at Writers block on the first Friday of the month.

Audrey Watters further illustrates many of the dangers of being open online and the invisible labour that is involved in making work open in a recent post on Invisible Labor and Digital Utopias. This informed her decision to remove Creative Commons licenses from Hack Education content in order to attempt to gain more control over the contexts in which it is used. I think there is still a place for Creative Commons licenses in helping people navigate copyright and the continuum of openness for different contexts but they are complex to understand and consequently often misunderstood and misused.

The Open Education Licensing Toolkit is an amazing resource created by Swinburne University and The University of Tasmania to help people at Australian universities navigate copyright, licensing and intellectual property considerations for whatever context they need to use items – for example: sharing and creating content. You can hear from the project coordinator from Swinburne University, Robin Wright, on the shifting context of open in higher education on Tuesday during Open Access Week. You may want to use it in combination with How can I share it which is a tool that facilitates access to scholarly journal sharing policies. Dr Rebecca Giblin from Monash University has also been doing some great work with authors and libraries related to copyright and licensing systems in Australia and I highly recommend you explore it. If you are interested in finding Open Access content that you can share with colleagues across different institutions and/or with practitioners and community members, Unpaywall is a browser plug in tool that harvests Open Access content from over 50,000 publishers and repositories. Zotero, an open source reference management system, have just announced integration with Unpaywall. is a tool you might like to use to collectively annotate online resources with your communities.

Continue the conversation about Designing equitable foundations for open knowledge in our Tweetchat on the topic with Stav Hillel, Ashley Ng and Tim Sherratt on Thursday October 25th 1-2pm.

Check out our complete OA week program and register to attend events.


Clare O’Hanlon is a Senior Learning Advisor in the library's Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce team by day. 

They can be found quietly queerying the catalogue, providing clareification, volunteering with the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, and curating the revolution in galleries, libraries, archives and museums in Victoria and beyond (in real life, on Wikipedia, or on Twitter @clareifications.