I fear that for some in the academic community, Open Access publishing is acting as a crutch, albeit one they don’t have yet.
Open Access publishing is a good thing. We should have more of it. There are lots of reasons for this, all of which are well known. But …
How many of you think that if only journals were Open Access, and if Open Access journals were as respected in the various evaluation processes as the journals you publish in now, that you wouldn’t have to worry so much about all this Knowledge Mobilization (or knowledge transfer or wider impact or whatever-they-call-it-where-you-live)?
If only [insert relevant non-academic audience here] could read the journal articles you’re already publishing, you could just do the thing you do. You wouldn’t have to think so hard about how to reach these other audiences. You wouldn’t have to worry about whether all the work you do to reach those audiences will be recognized by the promotion committee. You wouldn’t need to learn to communicate in different ways for different audiences.
The problem with research use is not lack of access to research
There are plenty of situations in which the relevant people do have access to the research and still aren’t using it. The omnibus crime bill before the Canadian parliament right now springs to mind as one example of many in the policy realm.
There is some demand for access to academic articles, especially in clinical and applied research. (HT Marie Claire Shanahan for pointing this out re. teachers and classroom intervention research)
However, I am personally acquainted with medical doctors who have a pile of journal articles they plan to read that remain unread on their desks. A situation shockingly similar to that of many academics.
I don’t know about you, but the advent of e-mailed tables of contents from academic publishers at least made me feel like I knew what had been published recently even if I’d only read the title and abstract (and maybe printed the PDF to add to the pile of articles to read).
Actively making an impact
Practitioners are busy. They may want to use research to improve their practice but reading scholarly articles and figuring out what that means in their own daily practice takes time.
It may not be the most efficient or effective way to put research into practice.
Or, practitioners may need good reasons to devote the time to that activity.
Either way, if you are serious about influencing practice, you need more than Open Access journals. You need to actively engage with the people you hope will use your research. You need to understand the constraints they face. You need to learn how they learn best. You need to work with them to communicate the results of your research in ways that they and their colleagues can use.
In other words, Open Access publishing is only one piece of the knowledge mobilization/wider impact puzzle.
In some areas Open Access is not even an important piece
Some audiences for your research will never want to read the academic articles. They will be glad they exist. They are important for other reasons. But they want the research in a different form.
There are people out there who are interested in literature, for example, even classic literature. They want to engage in deep intellectual conversations about literature. They would welcome you, a literary scholar, into those conversations.
But those aren’t your conversations, even if you have a contribution to make to them. If you want to contribute to those wider conversations to which your research is relevant, you need to accept that you don’t control them. If those conversations are happening in online forums or blogs, then you need to learn how to write about your work in those forms. You need to learn how to get people to read your contributions and how to respond appropriately to others.
Just like academic forums have a culture that you learned how to participate in, so do other forums. The cultures are different. The driving questions and debates are different. You may well have a contribution to make but you don’t define the culture. (Rohan Maitzen is one literary scholar who has grasped this distinction. I recommend her blog, and others you will find through the conversations there.)
This may apply to academic debates
The reason you publish in scholarly journals is to have an impact on academic debates. The reason you publish in well respected journals is because other scholars in your field are more likely to read them and thus be influenced by your research.
Academics are busy. They all have lists (even if only in their heads) of things they want to read. Most of them feel bad about not keeping up with the literature in their field. Most of them need to prioritize their reading.
How do you build an academic audience for your (published) work? How do you increase the impact that your research has on academic debates? What makes other scholars in your field decide which of the many articles on their list they will read in the time they have available today?
These are not rhetorical questions.
Bloggers actively build an audience for their blogs. Newspapers actively build an audience for their newspaper.
Are you actively building an audience for your scholarship?