Chatham House Sharing for OER

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.

6 thoughts on “Chatham House Sharing for OER

  1. I hear you on this. There are definitely things I worry about revealing that could cause me probs at my institution and so, while I have permission to say them, if I say them in public, I have to tone them down, which dilutes the impact of what I’m trying to say. If I had an opportunity to share in a semi-private space and ensure ppl there knew the full story but that I was not quoted by name, I would be able to reveal more. This may not be exactly what you meant, but the approach you’re suggesting would help me with it.

    It’s actually a “anonymous attribution required” and maybe the picture of it is a head icon with question mark on it?

    • I like both the name and the icon idea! And yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Though I’d add in some other concerns as well — for instance, here in the U.S. there are many subjects one might like to share their knowledge about (4chan culture, Nazis, use of trolling by some left-wing candidate supporters) but publishing that under their name as an event would attract the harrassers, especially if they are from a targeted group. In that case it might be best to produce a document and let someone who is not a target take a sort of “responsibility but not authorship” for it, meaning “If you need verification this is correct I vouch for it, I’ve checked it, but I didn’t write all of it.”

      On a less serious issue, I also find academics often are skittish about putting their name on collaborative documents, because, of course, those documents do not represent their views precisely, and they are afraid they’ll become attached to ideas they don’t agree with. Anonymous attribution required would allow them to contribute without having to come to 100% agreement.

      • I wonder if you actually need TWO different things here. One is anonymity for protection from harassment or from persecution, harm etc.

        And the other some sort of “collaborative attribution” (icon 3 faces with question marks haha) which allows us to use the names of all present while recognizing that none of them necessarily sign up for every single thing in the document. It seems for this case it’s important to recognize who was there in the discussion but to also understand they didn’t all sign off w consensus on every word/item.

  2. Interesting! I have to think about how this might apply — probably not to working papers for a variety of reasons (generally the rule I’ve seen is simply, don’t repeat the tentative findings outside the room, period).

    BTW, I believe it’s Chatham House Rule — singular.

  3. I’ve let this percolate a while rather than jump in a twitter foray, this for me is a discussion better served in blog/comment space.

    It’s an interesting twist on collaborative work especially on the topics suggested in your list of use cases. That said, I am still fuzzy on the use cases. Are you talking about OERs in production? Are these more like co-authored paper-like publications? It seems less about licenses for sharing (when the thing is done) and more about rules or agreements for the process under which they are created. Aren’t these the kind of things formalized when people are invited or agree to work on such projects? Or are these aimed at some other kind of collaborations done in the open?

    I’m having some trouble seeing the scenarios where this might come into play. Is this where OERs are openly developed? Or is it asking for some means to allow anonymized or perhaps pseudonymous authorship?

    I’m still head scratching. There is some kind of yarn strand to pull out.

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