How to forge statements about your organization’s open science culture

Find ways to talk about open science at your meetings

Strategies, norms, and rules

PLEASE NOTE: This is a draft of a bit of the Open Scientist Handbook. There are references/links to other parts of this work-in-progress that do not link here in this blog. Sorry. But you can also see what the Handbook will be offering soon.

A grammar for organizational norms

One helpful system you can use to know how to craft statements that become strategies, norms, or rules was devised by Elinor Ostrom (of commons governance Nobel fame) and Sue Crawford (Crawford and Ostrom, 1995). This has since been expanded by other economists and social scientists. Crawford and Ostrom proposed a grammar for organizations (in analogy with a Chomskyan syntax for language) based on five descriptors. Statements about organizational strategies, norms, and rules will contain a certain selection of the following grammar:

Some Statements of Open-Science Strategies

Strategies use AIC grammatical parts.

Some Statements of Open-Science Norms

Note here: your organization will be crafting and modeling its own norms, and statements about these. Norm statements become real norms when they describe default behaviors (people like us open scientists do things like this), not aspirational behaviors, within a community. Of course, that requires work and time and governance to accomplish. Without real democratic governance processes to grow these, norms resemble rules laid down by those in power. Norms add the element of dutiful attention [AIC+D]. So they are strategies that are actually practiced. When spoken, they take strategy statements and add a “we….” Norms are strategies that all of us do all the time here, in this community/organization.

Some Statements of Open-Science Rules

Rules are like weaponized norms. Rules add the “or else” to a norm (AICD+O). While it may be easy to write the “or else” phrase, this is a more complex aspect to use in practice, since it requires that the organization has a method to enforce the sanction, and it puts the violator into a new category of attribute (e.g., as someone who may no longer be eligible for election to group leadership roles, or who is kicked out of the group entirely). It also means that others in the group may then have a new duty to act differently to the violator (e.g., not reviewing their work, not hiring them). So this statement will be connected to other statements that spell out the procedures for the sanction. Again, the “or else” clause is what separates a rule from a norm or a strategy.

▪ Enforcement by leverage

The easiest way to enforce a rule is when you have economic leverage over the actors in the attribute part of the statement. At that point you may not need to create the “or else” phrase, because it is implied. A funding agency can create a rule by stipulating a task as part of applying for funding. “All proposers (this is the A statement) must (this is the D statement) submit a sustainability plan (the I statement) with their proposal (the C statement).” The O statement, “or we will not review this (favorably) for funding” is implied.


Benkler, Yochai. The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest. Crown Business, 2011.



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Bruce Caron

Bruce Caron


online science community architect; media; expression, education and gaming; fiction as needed. Also blog at <>