May 22, 2024

Chatham House Sharing for OER

Author: mikecaulfield
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I’ve noted a new need in my open education work that isn’t supported by many tools and not found in any licenses. I’m going to call it “Chatham House Sharing”

For those that don’t know, the Chatham House Rules are a set of rules traditionally used in association with reporters covering an event, but more recently used to govern the tweetability of different gatherings. There are probably more rules than two, but the most notable are these:

  • You can report out anything said, but
  • You can’t identify who said it

The reason for the rules is that people need to speak freely as they hash out things at a conference, and to do that they sometimes have to speak loosely in ways that don’t translate outside the conference. Politicians or practitioners may want to express concerns without triggering followup questions or teapot tempests over out-of-context utterances. Academics might like to share some preliminary data or explore nascent thoughts without confronting the level of precision a formal publication or public comment might require. And people that work for various companies may want to comment on various things without the inevitable tempest that “someone from Microsoft said X” or “someone from Harvard said Y” that accompanies that.

In open education there is a need for a form of sharing that works like this, especially in collaborative projects, though for slightly different reasons. If we imagine people working together on an evolving open resource on, say, the evolution of dark money in politics it stands to reason that many authors might not want it shared under their name. Why?

  • Most of the time it’s a work in progress, it’s not ready yet.
  • It may have undergone revisions from others that they do not want their name attached to.
  • They may never want their name attached to it, because they cannot give it the level of precision their other work in the field demands.
  • They may be part of a group that is explicitly targeted for their gender, race, or sexual orientation online and fear they will become a lightning rod for bad actors.
  • They make work for an institution or company and worry that no matter how much their input comes with the caveat that it does not represent the views of their employer it may be read that way and that is risk.
  • In cases where there is a revision history, they might be ok with attaching a name to the final project, but do not like the fact that the history logs their activity for public consumption. (One can imagine other people to whom they owe projects complaining about the amount of time spent on the resource. Even worse, as data gets combined and recombined with other tracking data, it’s impossible to predict the was in which people will use anything time stamped — but there is almost surely malicious uses to come).

What Chatham House Sharing would be is sharing that follows the following rules:

  • Within the smaller group of collaborators, contributions may or may not be tracked by name, and
  • Anyone may share any document publicly, or remix/revise for their own use, but
  • They may not attribute the document to any author or expose any editing history

If they want, of course, they can use their own authority to say, hey this document I found is pretty good. If they want to make some edits and slap their name on it, noting that portions of the document were developed collaboratively by unnamed folks, they could do that as well.

Maybe there’s already a license that covers this — perhaps makes it legally binding. People will have to let me know. The Creative Commons licenses tend to run the other way, with attribution even encouraged on the CC0 licenses though not required. But I’ve worked with academics long enough to know that the promise to not not be quoted on something can facilitate their cooperation on more informal documents, and I’ve seen enough ugliness to know that there are risks to many people in taking credit that are not felt equally. OER and open educational practice should be able to accommodate these issues in tools, licensing, and norms.

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