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Community Support for ORCID – Who’s next to the plate?

15 April 2015 No Comment

Geoff Bilder, Jennifer Lin, Cameron Neylon

The announcement of a $3M grant from the Helmsley Trust to ORCID is a cause for celebration. For many of us who have been involved with ORCID, whether at the centre or the edges, the road to sustainability has been a long one, but with this grant (alongside some other recent successes) the funding is in place to take the organization to where it needs to be as a viable membership organization providing critical community services.

When we wrote the Infrastructure Principles we published some weeks back, ORCID was at the centre of our thinking, both as one of the best examples of good governance practice and as an infrastructure that needs sustaining. To be frank it has been disappointing, if perhaps not surprising how long it has taken for key stakeholders to step up to the plate to support its development. Publishers get a lot of stick when it comes to demanding money, but when it comes to community initiatives it is generally publisher that put up the initial funding. This has definitely been the case with ORCID, with funders and institutions falling visibly behind, apparently assuming others will get things moving.

This is a common pattern, and not restricted to scholarly communications. Collective Action Problems are hard to solve, particularly when communities are diverse and have interests that are not entirely aligned. Core to solving collective action problems is creating trust. Our aim with the infrastructure principles was very much to raise the issue of trust and what makes a trustworthy organization to a greater prominence.

Developing trust amongst our diverse communities requires that we create trustworthy institutions. We have a choice. We can create those institutions in a way that embodies our values, the values that we attempted to articulate, or we can leave it to others. Those others will have other values, and other motives, and cannot be relied upon to align with our communities’ interests.

Google Scholar is a classic example. Everybody loves Google Scholar, and it’s a great set of tools. But it has not acted in a way that serve the communities’ broader needs. It does not have an API to allow the data to be re-used elsewhere. We cannot rely on it to continue in its current form.

Google Scholar exists fundamentally so that researchers will help Google organize the world’s research information for Google’s benefit. ORCID exists so that the research community can organize the world’s research information for our community’s benefit. One answers to its shareholders, the other to the community. And as a result needs the support of our community for its sustainability. As the saying goes, when you don’t pay for the product, you are the product.

ORCID is a pivotal case. Will our communities choose to work together to build sustainable infrastructures that serve our needs and answer to us? Or will we repeat the mistakes of the past and leave that to other players whose interests do not align with our own. If we can’t collectively bring ORCID to a place where it is sustainable, supported by the whole community then what hope is there for more specialist, but no less necessary, infrastructures?

The Helmsley Trust deserves enormous credit for stepping up to the plate with this grant funding, as do the funders (including publishers) and early joining members who have gone before. But as a community we need to do more than provide time limited grants. We need to take the collective responsibility to fund key infrastructure on an ongoing basis. And that means that other funders, institutions, alongside publishers need to play their part.


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