Tom Bruce, the Director of the LII (USA) - the original recipe LII, will join us via videoconference to present on issues of sustainability for open access legal publishers.
The notes are attached.
IF YOU LEARN NOTHING ELSE TODAY, LEARN THIS:
IT’S EASY TO NEGLECT THE FOUNDATIONS OF SUSTAINABILITY, ESPECIALLY WHEN DAY-TO-DAY OPERATIONS ARE DIFFICULT. BUT IF YOU DO, YOUR ORGANIZATION WILL DIE.
The usual disclaimers
● What I’ll describe today are things we’ve done here at the LII
● Some will work differently or not at all because
○ The US is not Africa
○ We have high traffic volumes
○ We are in a very big place, and very remote from our audience
What is sustainability?
“Sustainability” has become a kind of code word, but that’s not all there is to it.
● Donors increasingly see what they do as an investment that will produce a return.
● Not a return in money, but a return in results.
● Usually, those results will take much longer than the “lifespan” of the donation to produce.
Sustainable organizations create three kinds of value:
● Economic value. That’s what we’ve just been talking about.
○ Revenue generation
○ Revenue diversification
● Social value.
○ Generating content that the audience needs and wants
○ Generating content with measurable impacts
○ Engaging the audience as community
● Organizational capacity.
○ Adaptive capacity.
○ Leadership capacity.
○ Resource allocation
Sustainability is hard for LIIs
● There is much more enthusiasm for establishment than there is for maintenance.
○ It’s easier to get money to put some documents up than it is to get money to maintain and grow the collection.
● Supply chains are fragile
○ Did I say supply chain? Sounds awfully corporate.
○ What else would you call the flow of documents that you deliver? It’s the raw material you use to make what you make.
● Hiring and firing is difficult
● Continual managing of relationships is essential
● Messaging can be complex
● It is hard for operations-oriented people to think about relationships, strategies, and marketing.
I’m going to spend proportionately less time on these, but I do want to mention a few aspects of social value and organizational capacity that I think have a unique slant in the LII context.
Social value: things to remember
● Social value is in the eye of the beholder, not yours
○ In order to create value for an audience, you have to know who they are and what they want.
■There is probably more than one
■Set up and use your analytics. Do surveys. Ask.
○ People do legal research for a purpose, not as an end in itself.
○ Donor organizations (and committed people like us) worry about freedom and democracy. Your audience has more immediate things to worry about.
● Engagement is difficult but crucial.
Organizational capacity: things to remember
● Being adaptive is hard.
○ Do regular SWOT analyses.
○ Think about
● Fulfilling your mission depends on things that it can be easy to throw off the boat when operations get difficult. But that’s when you need them the most.
○ Relationships with suppliers
○ Relationships with key audience components
Sustainable business models
“The job of a successful program director is to maximize income while minimizing commitments” -- William Y. Arms
Revenue: a three-legged stool
● Revenue earned from core competencies
○ IT services for your audience (eg. websites and blogs for lawyers)
○ IT services for your suppliers (document conversion; court-records systems)
○ Research/question-answering services
● Revenue earned from online presence
○ Dues and subscriptions
○ Tiered service models
○ Directory services
○ Online advertising
● Revenue donated by sponsors and supporters
○ Pre-designated donations
○ Undesignated income
It is important to balance these.
● Too much pursuit of earned income, and you lose your mission.
● Too much donated income that comes with strings attached, and you lose your independence (and probably your mission too, because programs become hard to kill).
Economic value: important things to remember
● no single one of these sources is going to carry the entire organization
○ nor should it. Monoculture is a problem for organizations as well as farmers.
● revenue sources will shift in relative importance over time
● some revenue-generating activities only make sense for a federation of LIIs
● some jobs aren’t worth taking, and some grants aren’t worth getting.
A few things I’ve found useful, for you to check out later.
Knight Foundation report on sustainability for community-funded newspapers. Closest thing I’ve found to LIIs, at least in the US.
Resources for nonprofits:
Bloggers to follow:
● Kivi Miller: