The problem

Open research practices have the potential to benefit the entire research community, but could be perceived by some researchers as a threat to their career under the ‘publish-or-perish’ paradigm. For example, the widespread sharing of data and code could allow researchers to validate and build on each others’ work more efficiently, thus saving countless hours of duplicated effort, but some individuals may worry that doing so will place them at a competitive disadvantage. Similarly, the widespread support for platinum open access systems could drastically decrease publication costs and place the control of scholarly communication in the hands of the research community, but individuals may worry that these outlets do not confer sufficient prestige to ensure their survival in a competitive job market. Academic reform thus reflects a ‘collective action problem’, whereby a group of individuals fail to reach a preferable state due to conflicting interests at the personal level. Problems of this kind can often be resolved through ‘collective action’, which occurs when the community in question acts in a coordinated manner to increase their standing while protecting each others’ interests (e.g., a labour strike; Olson, 1965). Although the internet has proven to be a valuable tool for organising collective action throughout distributed communities (e.g., Kickstarter, Collaction), the global research community has yet to embrace this strategy as a potential catalyst for positive cultural change in academia.


The vision

Project Free Our Knowledge aims to create positive cultural change by organising collective action in the research community. Using their website, researchers can signal their intentions to adopt progressive research behaviours *if and when there is a pre-determined level of support in the community*. Pledges remain inactive and anonymous if the threshold is not met, thus protecting individuals from potential repercussions. Once the threshold is met, however, the pledging community will be revealed on the website and directed to carry out the action in unison, thus protecting one another’s interests as they drive cultural change together. Campaign targets will be modest in the short term, e.g., asking hundreds of researchers to post a preprint or complete a preregistration. But in time, as the movement grows, campaigns could grow increasingly bolder in both size and scope, eventually culminating in widespread systemic change and optimising the speed with which we can make progress on important issues of our time (e.g., pandemics, climate change).


How to get involved

The project is now open for community input and collaboration via Github, where any researcher can propose a new campaign or idea and comment on previous proposals. The goal of this process is to design campaigns that are most likely to gain traction throughout diverse research communities, and so we invite you to look through the campaign proposals (e.g., comment on or react to (e.g., thumbs up) any campaigns that interest you, or propose a new campaign for something that aligns with your interests). The campaign proposals will then be peer-reviewed prior to being posted on the website to gather pledges.

You can also find out more about Project Free Our Knowledge and connect with the team via Twitter, Facebook, Github, email, and their mailing list.