Introducing our theory of change

It may sound theoretical, but it is a powerful directional vehicle: A business’ Theory of Change. Here we introduce the results of our collaboration with Cathleen Berger to create our unique approach to making an impact.

Liberate Science aims to distribute the production and consumption of research in an equitable, fair manner – fostering open research as a result. At a high level: We want to drive positive change of research and we believe in its power to improve how we relate to one another and the world around us.

However, science as an institute currently also reflects systems of power and more often than not, these systems perpetuate biases and privileges that dominate. In order to challenge this mode of being and grow a research culture based on empathy, inclusivity, and collaboration, we need to foster equitable, reciprocal communities and make everyone’s contribution, step by step, visible. At a practical level: We need to be smart and considerate about Liberate Science’s approach and priorities to make this a reality.

Since incorporating in 2019, Liberate Science has charged ahead to change how research is published – and recognized. We work hard to lead by example: we invest in our own inclusive, community governance structures; we consult others on their research journeys; and we digest news and policy developments affecting the research landscape in the Open Update podcast. In 2022, we launched our first, core product, ResearchEquals, which challenges the scholarly publishing system. We enable all researchers to publish their work openly and step by step, changing how we know. We put forward a new business model, pay-to-close, to make open access freely available to everyone. This helps make Liberate Science financially sustainable and incentivizes open access publishing.

Inspite of all this momentum, we realize that in order to challenge systemic expressions of power, we need to be focused and strategic about where we put our time, resources, and attention to drive change. Until now, how and why we built often remained implicit or tacit, despite our open-source code and community governance structures. At the same time, we have wasted resources by inefficiently sharing our own process.

Going forward, we not only aim to focus our resource use, but we intend to do so in a data-driven, research kind of way, testing and evaluating our activities and outputs continuously. We will also incorporate a building-in-public philosophy to go beyond transparency and grow our practice of working openly and collaboratively.

There are many ways to develop and define a theory of change.

At Liberate Science, we build on the values we share with our community, such as our Manifesto, best practices of open science as well as best practices of socially and environmentally responsible businesses, continuous research, and the curiosity to improve.

Our long-term 10-15 year impact horizon aims to foster research as a commons, a research culture that creates an improved and pluralistic understanding of our world, and a recognition of individual, collective, and community-driven contributions to the process of knowing.

With feedback from our supporting members, and insightful conversations with trusted advisors Julia Kloiber, Kerstin Schoch, and Solana Larsen, we examined what we already know (key assumptions) and refined what we hope to achieve in the next 1-3 years (goals).

Key assumptions:

  1. Research is the process of gathering, documenting, and sharing information.
  2. The resulting knowledge/understanding can only be as good as the process.
  3. Science reflects systems of power that privileges a dominant way of knowing.


  1. We want to generate visibility for every step of the research process to make science more rigorous and rewarding.
  2. Through visibility for every step of the research process, we want to draw attention to different ways of knowing and collaboration.
  3. We want to bridge research done in public, private, and across research institutions to facilitate more dynamic insight.

These goals guide our activities and outputs for the next 1-3 years, allowing for regular review as to whether we are any closer to achieving our desired impact. That said, how we want to achieve our goals is fundamental to how we set ourselves apart from traditional structures. We will test and evaluate regularly with the help of our community, supporting members, and other researchers. In addition, we will transparently share our rationale and findings at every new step.

There are enabling and limiting factors that may shape our success, which need to be factored in and mitigated. Resource availability, community support, beneficial changes to the policy landscape, are clear enablers. Tensions arise from scaling and growing the business responsibly, or changes in technology that affect whether we can create the impact we want.

This theory of change is our first iteration. It’s neither grand, nor perfect: it is a working theory that we can and will enrich over time. We’re here to learn and hope you’ll join us on changing research cultures and systems for the better. We’re building that theory in public, just like the work that flows from it. Find more details on the "Theory of Change" page, where we keep updating our understanding of how we create impact over time.

Do you have feedback to help us test, measure our goals, or evaluate our theory? Get in touch – we believe effective theories are not built in isolation.

Introducing our theory of change
Liberate Science GmbH June 29, 2022
Interview transcript - Kaitlin Thaney (Open Update)