The Publishing Trap goes to Kyrgyzstan!
Board games, laughing librarians and two red squirrels. Dr Jane Secker travels to Kyrgyzstan to test The Publishing Trap with an international audience at the EIFL General Assembly.

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IFL guest blogger Jane Secker, standing, second from left, plays The Publishing Trap with EIFL General Assembly delegates.
EIFL guest blogger Jane Secker, standing, second from left, plays The Publishing Trap with EIFL General Assembly delegates.

Our Guest Blogger, Dr Jane Secker, is Senior Lecturer in Educational Development at City, University of London. EIFL invited Jane and partner, Chris Morrison, Copyright, Software Licensing and Policy Manager at the University of Kent, to the 2019 EIFL General Assembly. Their role was to speak about playful approaches to copyright and digital literacy, and to introduce participants to The Publishing Trap, an openly-licensed board game that they jointly developed about the impact of scholarly communications choices and the role of open access in research. 

When EIFL Director Rima Kupryte invited us to attend the EIFL General Assembly, in August 2019, Chris and I agreed with probably only a moment’s hesitation, as it felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity to go somewhere off the beaten track and to take our game to a really international audience.

The EIFL General Assembly is a relatively small gathering of the EIFL staff, some of the board members and the country representatives from the EIFL partner library consortia.  You can see on their website the impressive number of countries in which EIFL works and this year was their 20th anniversary, so it was great to hear a run down of their history on the first day by Rima. Chris and I had first met EIFL staff member Teresa Hackett who runs their Copyright and Libraries Programme at the IFLA off-site meeting on copyright education in August 2017 in Wroclaw, Poland. Teresa attends WIPO advocating for exceptions for libraries and education and runs an extensive training programme to build the capacity of librarians in copyright, to provide them with useful resources, to campaign for national copyright reform and other international activities.

We had three slots at the General Assembly including a short introductory talk on Day 1, the opportunity to participate in ’speed dating’ on Days 1 and 2 and then to run two parallel workshops for around 20 people each, where they got to play The Publishing Trap. We were both a little jet lagged on Day 1, but managed to do a fairly rousing talk before lunch about the need for a playful approach to copyright literacy, as a bit of a taster for the workshop on Day 3. You can see the full programme for the event, and all the presentations, here.

The first morning also saw keynotes from Julia Barrett who is Head of Research Support at University College Dublin in Ireland. She talked about their approach to developing digital research skills amongst researchers. She is also helping EIFL put together a framework for digital research skills. After lunch Colleen Campbell from the Max Planck Institute spoke about Plan S and the role of transformative agreements in accelerating the move towards open access. Both were excellent speakers and all the delegates gained a lot from their talks and then from the workshops that they each ran.


Having the opportunity to meet the delegates during the speed dating sessions on the first afternoon was really a highlight for me, if a little exhausting. Delegates came to our table in small groups (maximum of three or four people) and we got a chance to tell them about our work. We shared Copyright the Card Game, we talked about the Icepops conference and showed people the Icepops 2019 Annual,  we spoke about the Train the Trainer Card Game for Open Science, a game developed by EIFL Open Access Programme Coordinator Gwen Franck, which we’d first seen in Lisbon at the Creative Commons Summit. As Chair of the UK’s Information Literacy Group I also spoke about the revised CILIP Information Literacy definition launched in 2018 and its relationship to copyright literacy. I think we saw eight groups in a relatively short space of time. Being able to speak to people in small country-related groupings was great, and gave us both loads of ideas about how we might adapt our games for an international audience.

On Day 2 we were free until the speed dating at 4pm and took the opportunity to visit the Ala Archa National Park to see some of the amazing mountains in Kyrgyzstan and to do a short hike. The scenery was breathtaking and the park is home to rare mountain lions and snow leopards. There are also golden eagles and masses of other wildlife. Seeing two red squirrels was about as exciting as it got for me, and Chris missed them both! We returned to the GA full of fresh alpine air ready for round two of speed dating, with just slightly wobbly legs from the climb / scramble back down the mountain.

On the third day it was our chance to properly do our thing and we led two largish groups of around 20 people each, to simultaneously play the Publishing Trap. 

The Publishing Trap is rather like a ‘game of life’ where players in teams take on the role of one of four newly-qualified academics. The game spans their academic career from being a postdoctoral researcher, to a top professor. During the five rounds of the game the players have to make choices about copyright and licensing when publishing and sharing their work. Points are awarded in the form of knowledge, impact and money. The game also involves developing your character’s skills and depending on how the dice land, each character encounters unexpected events in the form of wild cards! 


We were fortunate to be in a relatively large room to allow two board games to take place in parallel. Playing with two large groups of boisterous international delegates was a real opportunity to see how well the game held up to scrutiny. We are 80% of the way through redesigning the game so we are both well aware of a number of key areas that need fixing. However, despite a few issues, the game was generally met with a really positive response and we appreciated the candid feedback from the delegates. We were grateful to Teresa Hackett and Iryna Kuchma from EIFL for helping us to facilitate the game, and to Louise Stoddard, also from EIFL, for taking some fabulous photos! The event has really spurred on our efforts to get Version 2 ready for October.

Reflecting on the EIFL General Assembly a week later, I was struck by the sense of community that exists in the network. I also appreciated the care taken to look after delegates and guests. We were taken out for numerous wonderful meals with dancing, music and a chance to experience Kyrgyz hospitality. Our hosts from the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) really took care of us during our time in their country. We also had a lovely cultural programme on the last day visiting the State fine art museum and a shopping mall where we could haggle for Kyrgyz souvenirs, with help from our Kyrgyz hosts. It was a fabulous trip which gave me an even greater perspective on the impact that copyright, licensing and access to information has around the world. I’m really grateful to the EIFL team for giving us the opportunity to be part of their wonderful network.