On wombling…

Stourbridge Common – Image by Prisoner 5413 on Flickr and shared under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license

“What a great idea. I’m going to do something similar.”

“Do you have OCD or something?”

“You do it for free?!?”

“Thank you”

I get a wide range of comments from people for my “wombling” (as one friend affectionately refers to it). Every day I go for a 30 minute to 1 hour walk as part of ongoing therapy to regain strength in my legs and ankles, and while I started just walking (while listening to various audiobooks of Charles Dickens novels narrated by Martin Jarvis), I soon found myself wanting to do more with my time.

I live in a gorgeous area of Cambridge (not far from Stourbridge Common and near a lovely stretch of the the River Cam), but the area is often covered in litter – including obvious items such as sweet wrappers, alcohol bottles and newspapers, but also more random items such as shoes. I like green spaces, and I like shared spaces, but this litter detracts from them and makes them less pleasurable for everyone.

So on almost every walk I take two plastic bags and a pair of rubber gloves, and spend 15 minutes or so picking up litter (sorting it into recyclable material and rubbish), before disposing of it in one of the many bins around the area. I then continue with my walk and lose myself in the dulcet tones of Martin Jarvis.

The reactions I receive for this litter picking are varied. Some people stare at me like I’m an alien, and others stop to chat – with conversations ranging from the ideas of communal spaces to Charles Dickens and my preference for hearing his books spoken than reading them myself.

I’ve not made much of my wombling before; after all I do this partially to make the space more pleasant for me, but it ties into a broader narrative that I’ve been seeing in the media and on social media.

There have been a number of reports about people who are doing similar on beaches (See this news story, or this hashtag) – something I’m very fond of originally coming from Cornwall.

However, it’s not just the beaches that are shared spaces, rich in wildlife, and contain ecosystems that suffer from litter. Spaces such as greens, parks and woods are also in this category, and it would be great to see people who live in these spaces also helping to tackle the problem of litter.

Be The Change Cambridge – looking forwards

This weekend saw the first conversation cafe organised by ‘Be The Change Cambridge’, a project headed up by Anne Bailey, Anthony Carpen, David Cleevely and Alessandra Caggiano.

The event was very well attended, although billed as being a smaller gathering. Around 50 people choose to spend a Saturday afternoon discussing how we can make Cambridge an even better place to live in – with many attendees representing organisations based in the city.

It was great to see so many organisations brought together in such a fashion, and its not something that happens enough in the city. A number of broad themes emerged from the initial exercise:

  • Community
  • Arts and culture
  • Transport
  • Housing
  • Green spaces
  • Growing up in Cambridge
  • Improving local government (was has evolved from the topic ‘developing a unitary authority’ which I think is much improved and contains fewer assumptions)

We broke out into small groups to discuss these themes and to start identifying issues we’d like to see addressed by the project, before each group presented back to politicians who had joined us specifically for this purposes. It was great to see Vicky Ford (Conservative MEP for the East of England), Julian Huppert (Lib Dem MP for Cambridge) and Lewis Herbert (Labour leader of Cambridge Council) all attending, and all listening to people.

But I’m going to throw down two challenges, as Be The Change moves forwards.

Firstly a challenge to the organisers and other attendees. Can you make sure such events engage a wider number of interested citizens and residents of Cambridge? While it’s an incredible feat to bring together so many of the organisations in the city, the project has the potential to reach beyond that to others. Many of those who were attending the first event already have their own specific campaigns or activities they’d like to see improved in Cambridge, but it would be incredibly valuable to hear more from individuals who don’t already have these ideas, who also use the facilities, live in the space and would be impacted by any ideas created from Be The Change Cambridge. Similarly it would also be good to have better representation from businesses. It might be a question of messaging, focussing on specifically reaching those who aren’t already engaged locally, or perhaps running smaller events in specific locations (conversations in cafes just after the school run?).

My second challenge is to all the politicians who attended. To reach the projects full potential will require a commitment from politicians from all the political parties representing Cambridge. Will Cambridge’s politicians work together on many of the issues raised, and to be willing to not just listen to citizens,but to also take their thoughts on board? And it would be great to hear such commitments from political figures who were present. This isn’t limited to Vicky. Julian and Lewis (although certainly includes them), but also all the parliamentary candidates and councillors who also joined us. The project will likely generate some thought provoking, and indeed challenging, ideas and questions. I don’t know if anyone yet can see what the specific outcomes or requests of the project might be, but having the politicians clearly stating intent to work together will be nothing but beneficial.

With 6 substantive issues and an underlying process theme, it was a productive afternoon. Whether the politicians and other organisations in Cambridge are able to address the challenges that came out of it, and each work to help make Cambridge greater than the sum of its parts on an ongoing basis remains to be seen. But I certainly hope they can.

The sheer scale of hybrid journal publishing

The last few years have seen a significant rise in what are termed ‘hybrid open access journals’, where only some of the articles are freely available to read and a subscription is still required to read the remainder. As many journals require payment from authors to publish in this fashion, then university libraries need to pay subscriptions to read the remaining articles, publishers are in effect being paid twice for the same work.

With recently published data from the Wellcome Trust, the scale of this double charging has become much more clear.

In Oct 2012 – Sept 2013, academics spent £3.88 million to publish articles in journals with immediate online access – of which £3.17 million (82 % of costs, 74 % of papers) was paying for publications that Universities would then be charged again for. For perspective, this is a figure slightly larger than the Wellcome Trust paid in 2012/2013 on their Society & Ethics portfolio.

Only £0.70 million of the charity’s £3.88m didn’t have any form of double charging (ie, was published in a “Pure Open Access” journal) – with this total being dominated by articles published in PLOS and BioMed Central journals (68 % of total ‘pure’ hybrid journal costs, 80 % of paper total).

Top 5 publishers by total cost to Wellcome Trust


No. of articles

Maximum Cost

Average Cost

Total Cost (nearest £1000)

Elsevier (inc. Cell Press)















Oxford University Press





Nature Publishing Group (not inc. Frontiers)





Top 5 publishers by total cost to Wellcome Trust – separated into money spent on author charges for articles appearing in hybrid and pure open access journals


Journal Type

No. of articles

Max Cost

Average Cost

 Total Cost (nearest £)







Pure OA











Pure OA











Pure OA





Oxford University Press






Pure OA





Nature Publishing Group






Pure OA





Wellcome Trust pays nearly £1 million to Elsevier, and pays over £500,000 to Wiley-Blackwell to make articles freely available on point of publication, in journals that a university library will also be trying to find money to also pay subscription fees to. These are outrageously high sums of money! Especially given a recent explosion in the number of journals, and an increase in journal prices, means even well-funded libraries can no longer afford the cost of subscribing to many journals!

Journal articles should be published in a way that means they are freely available – and not just to academics, but also to wider public audiences. And I’m not critical of article processing charges. However, I’m unsure how any publisher can justify charging an academic an average cost of £2,443 to publish in a journal that is already being supported by library subscriptions from not just one university, but many universities around the world. And surely no cost based model should charge more for publication in a hybrid journal with multiple funding streams than in one supported purely on author charges (as appears to be the case with Wiley-Blackwell).


Data source found here

Original data: Kiley, Robert (2014): Wellcome Trust APC spend 2012-13: data file. figsharehttp://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.963054

Enhancements on original data made by Cameron Neylon: https://github.com/cameronneylon/apcs

Wiley-Blackwell open access licenses – clarity needed

Update - the Vice-President & Director of Open Access from Wiley has responded below.

Alongside the awesome Theo Andrew, I’ve been leading the crowd sourcing effort to explore the Wellcome Trust Article Processing Charge data (Original data found here). This effort is still on-going, so please do have a look if you have even a few minutes to spare.

I’ve found an interesting case when looking at the licenses of work published in Wiley-Blackwell journals.

Every Wiley-Blackwell article I’ve looked at so far makes the statement: “Re-use of this article is permitted in accordance with the Creative Commons Deed, Attribution 2.5, which does not permit commercial exploitation.” (For an example, see the image below).

This isn’t my understanding of ‘Creative Commons Deed, Attribution 2.5′ at all.

CC BY (as it is otherwise known), allows for any use, including commercial use, as long as you “give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.” (Text taken from Creative Commons CC BY 2.5 human readable summary).

Creative Commons have spent a lot of time ensuring that the licenses are incredibly easy to understand, but it seems the license statement here from the publishers is deliberately difficult to understand and contradicting the actual meaning of CC BY licenses.

Have I gotten confused about Creative Commons licenses? Or have Wiley-Blackwell?

If it’s not clear to me – someone who spends a lot of time thinking about open access and licensing – it’s hardly going to be clear to other academics and professionals who should be able to spend time focusing on research, rather than spending time talking to lawyers.

Open Access in Europe

I’ve just got back from Guimarães, Portugal where I attended the kick off meeting for PASTEUR4OA (Open Access Policy Alignment Strategy for European Union Research). PASTEUR4OA is a multi-partner European project aiming to help EU Member States develop and implement policies to ensure Open Access to all outputs from publicly funded research, helping to develop (or reinforce) open access strategies and policies at national level. Part of this work will involve mapping existing policies at national and institutional levels, and part of this will be directly engaging policy makers, and helping to develop national centers of expertise.

It was a great opportunity to meet (and remeet) many people from across the EU interested in Open Acccess, including representatives of SPARC Europe, Jisc and the Open University.

I’m involved in this work as part of my role at the Open Knowledge Foundation. One key aspect of this project will be strengthening the existing Open Access community at the Open Knowledge Foundation, and increasing engagement between our community and policy makers across the EU.

Another key aim will be pushing hard to ensure that when people talk about ‘open access’ as part of this project, they are using the term as defined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative and in agreement with the Open Definition, considering the right to reuse and not just the right to view.

Often when people talk about Open Access they are just thinking about the right to view, and the need for free access to research. Within Europe policy makers are largely on board with the idea of research being ‘free to view’, and Horizon 2020 also has a requirement for journal articles resulting from funding to be published in a manner that is free to view. However, the research articles are not *required* to be free to reuse – and I think it’s important that we try and convince policy makers about this requirement.

I’m going to put my thinking cap on over the next few weeks about good case studies about content mining and other benefits of reuse. If you have any bright ideas about case studies – please do contact me! These examples can either be possible scenarios, or examples taking place right now. I want to get a collection together as soon as possible and provide them to advocates talking to policy makers!

What the hell am I doing here?

I read an awesome blog post yesterday and it made me think a lot. I’ve promised a bunch of people for a while now that I’ll write a post like the one below, and felt now was a good time to do it.

My first experience of moving significantly outside of my class came at Cambridge University. It was the first dinner there. I had no family or friends to tell me how to wear the stupid over-sized gown, so I improvised, searching Google to find images of people wearing them, so I could work out how it was supposed to be worn.

That first dinner was a fascinating experience. It was black tie with silver service. What would now be termed ‘imposter syndrome’ oozed through me as I sat at the top table, watching waiters and waitresses bring out the three course dinner (with wine and port). Staring at the cutlery in front of me, I pulled out memories of how to best use it, using the only experience I had; years of waiting on tables and performing silver service at Cheltenham race-course. I wasn’t comfortable enough in my surroundings to ask for help – I already felt like i didn’t fit in, and felt a stronger bond to those waiting tables than those sat around me. A quick look around me didn’t seem to show anyone else who felt the same way.

Socio-economic equality is so much more than about whether you went to a school which provided you with the right opportunities, the best teaching and whether or not you left with good grades. Without a doubt, these are all crucially important factors, and these have an incredibly significant impact upon what a person is able to do with their life.

However, that is often where the conversation about equality ends. But there are many insidious results of growing up poor which often aren’t discussed.

How and where you grow up affects how you think – about the world, about others and about yourself. Coming from a working class, or lower socio-economic background, and trying to culturally fit into middle class lifestyles and jobs can be incredibly difficult.

I grew up in a poor and incredibly dysfunctional family. My childhood experiences lie in clearing sick off my father as he lay comatose on the floor, stealing money from his alcohol fund to pay for lunch for my sisters and myself, hiding behind sofas and cupboards so as not to get beaten (again) by my mother. It lies in learning how to cook at a young age, having to get a job at 13 (yes – 13, not 14 which was the legal minimum) so I could make sure I could buy food for myself – and even occasionally some new clothes. From 16 onwards, in my own house, I became the queen of saving money where I could; turning off fridges and every gadget in the house to save electricity – the only thing in the fridge was cheap wine (to make life feel better – and I could drink it warm) and milk (which could be kept cool in a saucepan of cold water). I would go on dates strategically timed at the end of the month, because I would have run out of money to buy the cereal, beans on toast, and beans in soup that I lived upon. I loved working lunch and dinner shifts in kitchens as they were a great way to get fed on a regular basis at no cost to myself.

I would rarely let on how bad it could be at times – mostly smiling, keeping it hidden even from my partners – because I was embarrassed.

If we are a collection of our experiences, can you imagine how difficult it can be then to sit in polite conversation and try and engage about childhood holidays, where you learned so ski, and how to fit orchestra practice in around your job? As a person, I have literally nothing to contribute that others feel comfortable hearing (and I have been told more than once that I shouldn’t make others feel uncomfortable about this).

These are the types of conversations I’ve had to navigate almost daily since working in the professional world – and every time I’m involved in these I am instantly reminded of my past and have a voice in the back of my head telling me I don’t belong in this space. A voice telling me I’m an outsider. And in many ways I am. As are the countless others who also come from poor or dysfunctional backgrounds and are trying to find someway to navigate through middle-class life.

Middle class is a scary place, full of unwritten rules that are alien to someone coming from a background where survival is paramount. Growing up poor, your brain is constantly working out how to get through today; and planning to work out tomorrow when it comes to it. It’s hard to plan a future, a route through career structures, pensions and life – when you have grown up focussing on the next pay packet, and are thinking about how to make sure you have enough food and electricity to last.

When you come from a poor background you are unlikely to have cultural experiences that can form the basis of many conversations. You don’t have the same shared experiences of locations visited, shows, plays and museums seen. I was nearly 20 before I saw my first play that wasn’t on a school trip. Food is different (hummus is awesome – I didn’t know of its existence until the first time I had to make it working as a chef), clothing is different (you mean you don’t just buy the cheapest things that look ok?) attitudes towards people are different (there’s a lot more subtext, nuance and casualness among friendships), relationships are different, and your cultural reference points are different.

When you come from a poor background, you are less likely to have support in education outside of school. There are no tutors, and the family often cannot give you much (if any) support. With a sibling and parent boasting of receiving the lowest possible Gs on GCSEs/O-levels, there was no-one at home who I could turn to for support academically. If I didn’t understand a topic, tough. Far from parents pushing for me to get ahead academically, encouraging me to get better grades and go to better schools, my family actively persuaded me not to attend a private school to which I had a full scholarship because ‘I wouldn’t get along with those types of kids’. For many people from poorer background, you don’t have after school classes in music and dance.

Coming from a poor background there is often little or no familial support in choosing universities or A-levels. As with me, these things are alien to your family; and they have no way of knowing how to understand the systems you are facing.

You are less likely to have role models and you don’t have access to the same informal career advice that many others do. You don’t get insight into what it’s like to work in a lawyers office, as a doctor, or as an academic over the dinner table. My families friends were all unemployed, long term sick, or working in supermarkets. You can see and understand other jobs exist, but they are far more abstract, and it’s never people like you who do them. It’s always people who laugh and talk about their holidays to exotic places, or the semi-famous people they’ve met. Personally, I could never find a way to relate to them. I know others have felt the same.

You are more likely to want to stay hidden, to not make a fuss or rock the boat. At talks and events, I will rarely raise a hand. I don’t have the confidence in myself to navigate that situation. I’ll go and talk to someone after a session and make the comments I’d have wanted to raise. I try to ask questions at times, and am getting better at it – but the desire to hide and not be seen is strong; I’d rather influence the debate and discussion afterwards, quietly. Even in small groups it can be tough, and I’m much more likely to go quiet, and look at my phone than say anything too challenging.

I get stuck when people ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t know as a child; my only desire was not to be like my family. I’ve managed that, through some odd and weird route. Yet, I’m still trying to work out what it is I want; what my dream is. I’m driven, but in a very different way from those around me. Growing up I didn’t know what else there was, I didn’t know that there was another possible life where I wasn’t a waitress, running a bar or working in a supermarket.

Coming from lower income backgrounds, we start off feeling inferior – because life and our experiences have told us that we are. We then risk continuing to feel inferior because we are stuck in circles surrounded by people who constantly have access to knowledge and cultural experiences we haven’t.

Those of us who leave our backgrounds behind have to cope with not really fitting in where we are now, but growing in a way that makes it hard to fit in where we came from. We have to prove ourselves to ourselves repeatedly, reminding ourselves that we can belong here. Being surrounded by others who don’t seemingly understand that experience makes it even more difficult for us. There needs to be more of us who are willing to talk about our experiences, and we need to make sure the conversation about equality doesn’t just end on formal education.

Ponderings on unconferences

I was at UK GovCamp 2014 over the weekend, and it was awesome. There were lots of really interesting conversations with great people. Many I already knew (and don’t get to see enough), and many I was meeting for the first time.

Some of the conversations were about sessions which had taken place (which for me were broadly around how to increase engagement with the political process), but others were around the nature of unconferences in general. And they sparked a few thoughts.

(For those who don’t know what an unconference is the wiki page provides a succinct overview, while a great write up of the event itself can be found here).

Unconferences are shaped by the brave

And/or the people already inside a given community. These aren’t always the same people – although there is obviously a Venn Diagram given that the more comfortable you feel in a situation, the more confident you are likely to be.

To lead a session at an unconference, you need to pitch an idea on the fly – often standing up to pitch it – before people vote on how keen they are to attend. One of the great things about this is it allows for a lot of flexibility and time specific/relevant sessions take place (something hit the press earlier that day? No problem, of course it can be discussed).

However, some people are really uncomfortable with raising their voice in this way. Every time I’ve been to an unconference I’ve spoken to multiple people who have said ‘I really wanted to pitch something, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing so’. And these people are often women, younger people or people coming along to a certain event for the first time. And these are different voices, often, from those who already lead discussions in other fora – and will likely have different perspectives and even different ideas of what should be discussed (and possibly solved). Unconferences do provide potential for a wider range of voices to be heard, but many seem to believe that because they are able to voice their opinions and lead sessions that unconferences are equitable. They aren’t.

Outcomes from sessions

Often the best things at conference or unconference are not the actual sessions themselves, but the conversations that take place around them; over lunch, coffee, beer/wine, or during sessions you’ve decided to skip (the so called ‘hallway track’). These conversations can lead to spin off projects and are often really exciting. Yet, there seems to be a lot of potential missing. Sessions often aren’t created with a specific outcome or aim in mind – other than a loose idea of a conversation and picking brains of people in a room. And while that isn’t necessarily a problem, sometimes it’s useful to go into a session thinking ‘what is next’, or ‘what do we want to get from the expertise in the room?’ It seems to me more than possible that you can create a session that has specific focus on a few set questions and/or specific testable outcomes (eg. a short sprint to produce a document, a brainstorm of what a certain project should look like).


In my mind these two things are joined loosely. And it’s something to do with implementation of an unconference. Don’t get me wrong, I think unconferences are great – I’m just keen to find a few alterations that help make them more equitable, allow other voices to be heard, and help produce something concrete (to change the world after the event ends).

One idea that came to me involves using an online platform to propose sessions ahead of time (and vote upon them the day before an event), making it easier for people who find it hard to pitch something in front of a room full of people they don’t necessarily feel comfortable with. And perhaps rather than just pitching sessions, you could pitch something you want to produce as a result of said session. It may be that what you want is a discussion around a topic, but there would be value in possible session leaders being encouraged to think about what other outputs could be produced. And signalling these intentions to others would help them make more informed decisions about which sessions to head to and where their expertise and interest can best be put to use (without relying on the Law of Two Feet, and the awkwardness many feel at leaving/entering a session half way through).

I’d be interested to know if others have ideas about this.