Fireside Chats at the Open Publishing Festival

Project co-lead Cameron Neylon writes about online festivals, celebrating success and the challenges of infrastructure.

For the past two weeks there has been a very different kind of event running online. The Open Publishing Fest is entirely online, and pretty much entirely decentralized. The concept grew out of conversations between Adam Hyde of the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation and Dan Rudman from Punctum Books, two organisations that in their own way are leading radical change in the scholarly publishing space.

The event grew out of a question. Given the success of the inaugural Open Publishing Awards last year, how could that energy continue in a world where in-person events are limited? From that grew a lightweight and simple approach. People would self-organize sessions and submit them to be added to a calendar. 

Last year I had the privilege of chairing the committee that selected the inaugural Open Publishing Awards. We’d expected a fairly niche audience and a small set of nominations but were staggered by the number (over 200) and quality of the nominations. Similarly, with the Open Publishing Fest, there have been over 100 events scheduled involving thousands of people.

The question of what kinds of event and content can work online and virtually have been front of mind for all of us in the COKI project and also for me as part of the steering group for the FORCE11 Scholarly Communications Institute – one of many events that has sought to take the challenge of moving online and turn it into an opportunity. For the Open Publishing Fest, I developed a particular format of Fireside Chat with John Chodacki from the California Digital Library.

In these chats, we’ve focussed on discussions with people doing interesting things in Open Science, and Open Publishing. Focussing on the journey people have taken to their current work adds a human element that I think is of particular value as we look at why they think certain things, or work on particular issues. The choice to ask people to “sit in a comfy chair” has had a profound effect on the atmosphere. The shift away from “person talking to their computer” to “person having a chat” seems to work.

Through this series I’ve spoken to Kamran Naim from CERN about the path that lead him to be Directory of Open Science at the international particle physics facility, Kaitlin Thaney about her history of building up new projects, always focussing on supporting people to build, and how that leads to her current work on Infrastructures for schol comm. I also talked to Amy Brand (Director of MIT Press) and Claudio Aspesi about their recent paper in Science on the risks of data analytics.

John has talked to Ginny Hendricks from Crossref about Metadata2020, Bruce Caron about preprints and community building in the gosciences and Silvio Peroni and David Shotton about Open Citations.

What has been interesting has been hearing about how people’s experiences shape the work they do, and how the story of those experiences shapes the narratives that they use in their work. Context is crucial to understanding what open means in practice in different settings. As a format it seems to work, and the technology makes it reasonably easy to create, but what do you think?