Tool Training

The Publishing Trap - A board game that helps researchers to understand how money, intellectual property rights, and both open and closed publishing models affect the dissemination and impact of their research

Uploaded by RRI Tools on 14 February 2018

UK Copyright Literacy team

The Publishing Trap is a board game that allows participants to explore the impact of scholarly communications choices and discuss the role of open access in research by following the lives of four researchers – from doctoral research to their academic legacies. It is a full functioning, prototype game first developed in 2016 when it won a runner’s up prize at the LILAC Lagadothon. However, the game has evolved considerably since then.

Aim of the Game

The Publishing Trap is a game about research dissemination and scholarly communication in Higher Education. The game follows the academic career of four characters who at each stage in their career, from PhD submission, through to Professorship, are presented with a series of scenarios about which they have to make choices. The characters make decisions about how to disseminate their research at conferences, in academic journals and in monographs or textbooks. Ultimately the game helps researchers to understand how money, intellectual property rights, and both open and closed publishing models affect the dissemination and impact of their research. Through playing the game in teams, players get to discuss the impact of each character’s choices. The game ends at the end of the character’s life, when players sees the consequences of the choices they have made in terms of money, knowledge and impact.

The Audience

The Publishing Trap is aimed at early career researchers and academics, as well as anyone who has a vested interested in understanding how access to information works and how the whole scholarly communication system in higher education operates. Although it is not intended to promote any particular ideological position, it should be valuable to staff who are advocating for a greater acceptance of open access publishing models and trying to encourage academic staff to make informed choices when they sign publishing contracts and submit their work to the institutional repository.

Game play

It is played by four teams of up to four people – sat around a game board and using a playbook to guide the decisions the teams must make. The workshop leader acts as a host and presents the scenarios to the teams during each round. Each round involves making three decisions about publishing choices. After hearing the scenario, each team chooses from the pre-determined options. At the end of each round, the teams discuss the decisions they have reached and are asked to justify their choices.

During the game, players learn that information has value, that there are different ways of making an impact and the wider world needs access to scholarly knowledge. However, they will also learn that many pragmatic decisions may need to be made during an academic career and there are trade offs between academic promotion, building an academic reputation, earning a living, scoring highly in the Research Excellence Framework (or non-UK equivalent), and being able to share research findings widely with anyone in the world.

Wildcards and Skills

To bring in an element of chance there are two points on the board where players take wildcards, which are random events in the life of an academic or researcher. They are opportunities to gain (or lose) points through the roll of a dice. In addition there are opportunities for the characters to develop their skills at several points during the game. Depending on the choices they make here may result in a flourishing academic career, or some difficult decisions to make sometimes involving money!

Scoring, Impact assessment and academic legacy

Points are awarded during the game in the form of knowledge, money and impact tokens. At two points in the game an ‘impact assessment’ takes place, where someone from outside higher education is trying to get access to the character’s research.

The final round of the game is the Academic Legacy, where various stakeholders who might want to access their research but are based outside of Higher Education (a doctor in the NHS, a government official, a school teacher, etc.). Based on the choices the team has made, the visibility of their research is then assessed. And finally at the end of the game, we see who the winner might be, whether the world has fallen into dystopia or become a utopia is also revealed.



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