Opening access to academic knowledge beyond the usual echo chamber

My publication and open access strategy

I am working at a public University with an explicit open access policy and an active funding pipeline to extend open access to academic journals. This includes an open access repository for faculty publications (KOPS – The Institutional Repository of the University of Konstanz). Publications are listed when they come out and after one year of publishers’ embargos are uploaded in full text. Incentives are available to partially pay for publications in open access journals – but not for open access options in closed access journals.

Over the years of publishing for both academic and practitioner audiences, I have developed my own open access strategy by using free social media tools, like this WordPress blog or Twitter and Facebook to push information about new publications out.

Here is my own publication strategy:

I. Academic journals in the public administration field

I am publishing only in public administration journals that I consider the core journals of our field and are ranked highest based on the number of citations they receive. The ranking is derived from Google Scholar’s top publications in public policy and public administration list:

1. Public Administration Review
2. Government Information Quarterly
3. Public Management Review
4. Public Administration
5. The American Review of Public Administration
6. Administration & Society
7. International Review of Administrative Sciences
8. Review of Public Personnel Administration
9. International Public Management Journal

So far, I haven’t tried to place articles in German speaking public administration journals given my above mentioned reasoning to submit to highly cited journals. But I might change this in the future. I also don’t write book chapters anymore – except if they are low cost in terms of effort or a PhD student needs to get into a writing rhythm. I noticed that none of my 18 book chapters received a single citation – so in effect it is dead knowledge and a waste of my time. However, it might be a useful tool for PhD students to learn how to write and how to handle reviewer feedback.

I have also mostly stayed away from conferences – in the IS field for example – that require full-texts and publish them online. In PA, these conference proceedings are usually not considered as full publications – only as conference presentations.

II. Practitioner-oriented blogs and research reports

A few years ago, I decided to repurpose my academic research and ‘translate’ it in plain language for public managers. I like to have an impact, but much more importantly: I experienced the risk-taking attitude of many public managers who are willing to explore and experiment with new technologies to make their organizations more efficient and effective. They continuously amaze me by taking the time for research interviews, follow-ups, and by providing additional documents. I like to give back – but the timeframes that academic journals have do not match the needs of public servants, who are RIGHT NOW working on the problem I am conducting research on and could potentially use the input I received from their peers.

The problem is: The academic community tends to label those of us who step outside as “practitioners”. Which in all other fields is an honor, but apparently among academics it moves you into the category of the shunned… I wish people would be more open minded, especially in public administration a field that is highly applied and works on the hard problems that society – and by extension public administrators – are currently dealing with.

Now that my research is also publicly funded, I believe we even have an obligation as academics to give back to society and move our research out in formats that are accessible to all – not just our own echo chamber.

I was lucky to have received several research stipends to publish my reports for public managers. You can find an open access list on my faculty page.

III. Social media to move my writing into people’s timelines

When I started my first faculty job in 2008, I was lucky to conduct research on how the US bureaucracy absorbed some of the technological innovations that were moved from the Obama political campaign into day-to-day governing. This coincided with my own habit to write about my research experiences online, so I repurposed my social media channels mostly for professional use.

I use my WordPress Blog “Digital Innovations in the Public Sector” to post about new publications, add a URL to the open access version as well as any additional information that people might find useful. I sometimes add background or links to related topics.

Recently, I started to separate out German blog posts on a new Medium blog under my own name. I felt it was important to cater to German public managers who might not read my English updates on WordPress.

There are other blogging options out there. For example, professional organizations are offering their members blogging options. For the Public Management Research Association, whe have set up the PMRA Insights Scholarly Blog on which members of the Board of Directors post about their research. Or LSE’s Impact of Social Sciences blog on which we recently published an extension of our Big Data in Public Affairs PAR paper. Brookings’ TechTank blog that allowed me to post an update about one of my social media projects.

In addition, I repost these writings through all other social media channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Xing. I tend not to get into heated conversations on social media – and revert to DMs or email instead.

IV. Listing for transparency and impact assessment purposes only

For transparency purposes I am also listing my research on ResearchGate. Unfortunately, ResearchGate has caved in to the pressure of publishers and has removed all full texts I was once asked to upload. This has made the process even more cumbersome, because now you have to answer to requests for articles that are already available on the platform, but no longer accessible to the members of RG. What is the point of staying on RG? The impact indicators are interesting – but otherwise I haven’t figured out an additional purpose yet. I removed myself from other predatory platforms, such as Academia.edu, and hope that my University’s open access strategy will become similarly relevant for academics who are looking for my writings.

My OrcID and GoogleScholar pages are automatically populated and sometimes I add updates, for example for funding I received or early publications that are not listed yet.

V. Building an Open Public Administration Commons

In 2008, I attended the third Minnowbrook Conference III that is organized every 20 years to review and revise the directions of public administration as an academic field. The findings from Minnowbrook III are summarized in this edited volume “The Future of Public Administration Around the World: The Minnowbrook Perspective” by Rosemary O’Leary, David van Slyke, and Soonhee Kim – who were also together with Stuart Bretschneider members of my tenure committee. I contributed a book chapter on social media that later served as the foundation for my research program.*

As part of Minnowbrook III, we also contributed to a special issue of JPART – Journal for Public Administration Research and Theory. Together with my co-authors, we developed our vision of open public administration scholarship – and I am in the process of establishing exactly that: an open access platform to move our research and the students’ research each semester online and make it accessible. At the moment, I am the only one who reads it. It is archived in paper format in the library, but not available in the open – a shame given that lots of it is empirical in nature and many public servants have taken the time to answer surveys or conduct interviews with my students. The platform will provide the full versions of articles, final papers from my seminars, and bachelor, master and PhD theses. In addition, an editorial team will work with the students to summarize these full text versions into smaller, easier to digest pieces of 2-3 pages. We are planning to publish both in English and German, so that our writing continues to be available for international audiences, and most importantly also for practitioner audiences in German public administrations. Stay tuned for the announcement of OPAS.

I am curious what other people’s publication strategies look like. Please leave a comment!

=> A German translation of this blog post is available on my Medium blog.

*Mergel, I. (2010): The use of social media to dissolve knowledge silos in government, in: O’Leary, R., Kim, S. and Van Slyke, D. M. (Editors): The Future of Public Administration, Public Management and Public Service Around the World: The Minnowbrook Perspective, Georgetown University Press, pp. 177-187.

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About Ines Mergel

I am Full Professor of Public Administration at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Konstanz, Germany. Previously, I served as Assistant and then Associate Professor (with tenure) at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY. In my research, I focus on informal social networks in the public sector and the adoption and diffusion of digital service innovations in government organizations. I teach classes on social media management, digital government, public management, and social network analysis.

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