Project Free Our Knowledge: Fixing academia with collective action

Hi all, @Gavin invited me to start a thread here for Project Free Our Knowledge (FOK), which has partnered with IGDORE to accelerate the uptake of open research practices in academia (some of you may have seen it mentioned in the newsletter).

The problem
Progress in academia is limited by a collective action problem (or ‘tragedy of the commons’) – individuals are incentivised to act against the common interest and thus fail to reach a more optimal solution that benefits everyone. For example, researchers continue to publish their work in privately-owned legacy journals due to the ‘prestige’ they confer, but collectively these practices cost the research community billions of dollars in research funding every year (through subscription fees or author processing charges) and prevent progressive, community-owned journals from gaining a foothold in the publishing marketplace. Similarly, researchers might not publish their data or code out of the fear that doing so will cost them valuable time or give others a competitive edge, but by keeping this information secret the community cannot build upon one another’s work and collaborate more effectively. Collective action problems like these can be resolved by organising a critical mass of the community to adopt the new behaviour in question, thus mitigating costs to individuals and allowing them to align their incentives with the common good (Olson, 1965). This strategy – known as ‘collective action’ – has proven to be an effective solution to many such problems outside of academia, but remains to be implemented within academia in any kind of systematic way.

The vision
Project FOK aims to accelerate the adoption of open and reproducible research practices by organising collective action in academia. Using our 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 (think of this like Kickstarter, but for cultural change rather than products). These pledges remain inactive and anonymous if the threshold is not met, thus protecting individuals from potentially harmful repercussions. If the threshold is met, however, the pledging community are then 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. In the short term, campaigns will most likely be small in size and scope, e.g., asking hundreds of researchers to post a preprint or complete a preregistration. But over time, as the movement grows, campaigns could grow increasingly bolder in both size and scope, eventually culminating in widespread systemic changes 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 anyone can propose a new campaign or idea and comment on other proposals. We’re hoping that this becomes a diverse, community-driven effort, and so invite you to get involved by looking through the campaign proposals and commenting on (or adding a thumbs up to) any that interest you, or proposing new campaign ideas that can support your research community and relevant initiatives. Following a period of community peer-review, these new campaigns will then be put out to the crowd to collect pledges via the FOK website.

You can also find out more about Project FOK via Twitter or Github. And of course I’m happy to answer any questions you might have here in this forum. Thanks!


One barrier to people signing these could be knowledge of what options they have available if the pledge comes into effect. For instance, I’m hesitant to sign the platinum OA pledge because I firstly, don’t actually know any platinum OA publishers in Biology, and second, can’t easily find a list of platinum OA publishers on Google. Likewise, I saw a proposal for a Registered Report pledge but I can’t quickly find a list of journals that publish RRs (maybe I’m just an OA noob). I guess the same could be true for the green and gold OA pledges to somebody who was enthusiastic but uninformed about OA, but at least general lists of OA publishers are easy to find.

I feel a link from this pledges to, say, a wikipedia page that has a few example journals from different fields would helpful (hopefully the wikipedia community would help grow such a list after it was started).


Great points Gavin. Ideally where possible it would be good to leverage existing initiatives that are already curating these lists, to avoid duplication of effort.

The Green and Gold campaigns (which have been renamed, for the record) contain links in the campaign ‘Criteria’ to such lists (Sherpa/Romeo and DOAJ, respectively), but admit these can be difficult to navigate. I was thinking that if the campaigns take off, we could partner with these institutions to make things a little more user friendly for our users, e.g. with lists curated according to each users’ field of study (which we can get from their ORCID account).

The original idea for the Platinum campaign was to support Fair Open Access journals, as indexed by the Free Journal Network, but I worried that this criteria might be too restrictive and exclude some journals that are clearly trying to do the right thing (e.g., NBDT in my own field, or privately-owned journals like F1000). But I’m yet to find a neat list of all the various Platinum OA journals out there.

For the Registered Reports campaign, the most up-to-date list of RR journals seems to be from the from the Center for Open Science (click the second tab called ‘Participating Journals’), but again it’s not broken down by research field and so difficult to navigate. We’ve partnered with COS also, so they might be willing to amend their list to make it more user friendly for our campaign. I’ve posted a comment about this in our Github thread for the RR campaign, so that we remember it moving forward.


Very cool… :slight_smile:

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I am inordinately excited to have proposed a campaign.

@cooper I found a list of publishers using open peer-review on Wikipedia. :stuck_out_tongue: I expected this to still be quite niche (my only experience with open peer-review has been through publishing in eLife) but I was surprised that there is already a whole range of journals using open-peer review, even Nature has started trialling it!


Woohoo! Thanks Gavin :slight_smile: I’ll comment on your proposal in the thread to keep things organised. I’ve also pinged a couple people from Transpose, as we discussed something similar last year and they might have some ideas to contribute. At the very least they should be able to help us solve the ‘list problem’ for your proposal, as their platform curates lists of different journal practices.

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thanks for the list… :slight_smile:

Hi all,

Announcing the first of our new series of campaigns on Project Free Our Knowledge: the Preregistration Pledge! This campaign has been developed openly using our new, collaborative Github repository and is now live on the new website. The campaign asks you to pledge to preregister at least one study in the next two years, alongside 100 of your peers. It would be much appreciated if you could please check out the campaign page and – if you feel comfortable doing so – take the pledge. You won’t have to act until 100 of your peers have signed the same pledge (you can of course get started early, if you desire!), so there’s zero risk or effort required today beyond clicking a simple button. Then, once 100 people have signed, we’ll let you know that your pledge has activated and you have 2 years to complete your preregistration (if your circumstances have changed before that time, just contact us and we’ll delete your pledge). We’ll be tracking pledge compliance as we go and displaying this data on the website, both to motivate pledgers to uphold their pledge and to demonstrate the impact of our campaign. In time, we expect that this data will enable us to show that our community is committed to action, helping to bring new pledgers into the community as we host ever-larger and bolder campaigns to create positive cultural change in academia.

If anyone has any questions, I’m happy to answer them here, but also feel free to post questions/comments using our (new!) comments feature at the bottom of the campaign page, so that others with similar concerns can find the answer. I’ve also started a Frequently Asked Questions document that is linked directly from the website, so if you have any broad project-general questions to add you can also edit that document directly or leave comments via HackMD.

Thanks everyone!