Open and Accessible: perspectives for national journals (english article)

This article aims to add to the discussion about the divide between international and national journals that Reichard (2018) already referred to. He encourages the idea of strengthening journals for public administration in German. This article seconds this demand and shifts the discussion to an additional aspect that could fuel a new strategic orientation of national journals: open access to publications. Access is divided into two categories in this article: open access to articles and accessibility in the meaning of understandability and usability for the reader.

Many scientists prefer to publish in high ranking journals today, which are mostly international journals. National journals have increasing problems in finding enough (qualitatively high) submissions. This preference is based on the ‘career metrics’ of the scientific system. At the same time, scientists engage in open science and want to communicate their results to their target groups. Science communication is booming like never before. This development could be capitalized by national journals. They should redefine their strategy by focusing on open access in order to become more attractive to authors. Such a reorientation should be taken seriously especially if it is the journal’s wish to be application-oriented and able to reach practitioners. Open access has to go hand in hand with accessibility. Both dimensions of open access will be outlined in this article and discussed in regard to application-oriented (national) journals.

Open access to publications has been discussed and demanded more and more in the past years within the context of open science. It is called for open access because, otherwise, the public finances research more than would be necessary: by payment of the scientists themselves, by funding of research projects and by ‘buying back’ the results condensed in articles and books. Free access to research results normally includes online publications. Open access is much wider spread in journals than in book publications. Some journals publish with unlimited access (full OA journals), many others only make some articles available.

Green and Golden Way of OA

Ways of open access (OA) can be distinguished into a green and a golden way. Golden OA refers to the open publication of an actual article or book. Green OA, on the other hand, means that additionally to the actual (not-accessible) publication, an article or book is published without restrictions as a pre- or post-print. Pre-print means a publication before the launch of the work. This can happen before peer review or submission to a journal or after the article has gone through the feedback process and has been accepted for publication. Accordingly, there are differences in the quality of contributions. For pre-prints online platforms can be used, e.g. SocArxiv.

If an article is freely published after a restricted publication, one speaks of post-prints. Post-prints might, for example, be published in series by universities and other research facilities. For these kinds of secondary publications, embargo periods exist that publishers decide on with the first publication and they range from 12 to 24 months. Correspondingly, green OA is often delayed. Additionally, temporary open access is becoming more and more common, e.g. when virtual special issues are released with already published and much-cited articles. Also, such virtual special issues are interesting for national journals in order to create a collection of topics that facilitate research for practitioners.

Paid and Unpaid Open Access

In almost all international journals it is possible to purchase golden open access. Fees vary from 2000 to 3000 euros with commercial publishers and some hundred euros with small publishers or nonprofit journals (so-called article processing charges, APC’s). In the last case, these contribute to the financing of editing, in the first case these fees are meant to compensate for the loss of venue that results from open access. There are (non-profit) journals that offer a free open publication for authors. Usually, these journals apply the rule of open access to all articles and not just when specifically asked (and paid) for by the author.

Obligation for Open Access Intensifies

Rightly, the open publication of research results is demanded more and more by providers of research funds or is regulated by law. For example in the course of “Coalition S“ many national and international research funding authorities, e.g. the European Commission or the British, Norwegian or Austrian equivalent to the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – German Research Foundation) have decided that from 2020 on all projects funded through them have to be published open access. In Denmark, the Ministry of Science has decided on a similar directive. The Dutch government intends all Dutch universities to release at least 60% of their publications openly already by 2019 and 100% by 2024. For projects conducted through Horizon 2020, this obligation already applies now. The DFG asks that all of their recipients of funds to publish openly but does not make it compulsory.

These demands of funding authorities can be used by national journals in order to position themselves as a publisher that offers these possibilities. Further, open access is often correlated with higher use. Studies indicate that freely accessible articles are cited more often, e.g. also in political science (Antelmann 2004; Harnad/Brody 2004). Therefore, open access can increase the impact a journal makes.

Particularly for journals that address a wider readership not just citations through other scientists are significant but more so if the publications enter the discourse of and amongst practitioners. I argue that this is easier with open access. Many actors in public administration cannot afford journal subscriptions but rather research their questions online. If then, they have free access to journals the possibility of using them is more likely.

Open Access by Small Scientific Publishers

Until now especially small publishers, that frequently publish national journals, are largely overlooked by actors of open science. An alliance of German science organizations is negotiating deals with big publishers since the subscriptions of their journals cause high costs. A study regarding small and middle-sized commercial scientific publishers in German-speaking regions discovered that for 59% of the interviewed publishers the demand for open access slowly increases and for 31% even significantly (Kaiser/Lackner 2018). This particularly applies to publishers that publish more than ten journal titles. Also regarding author acquisition, open access is relevant for most interviewed publishers. Every third publisher assumes that open access is the future default in scientific publishing; another 60% see it as an addition to existing offers of publishers. The study also shows that publishers expect open access to give them improved visibility and advantage in competition but also that there is (not yet) a lot of knowledge of business models in these areas.

Something That Is Free, Isn’t Worth Anything?

Regarding open access, the common opinion is that inadequate articles, that could not be published anywhere else are published open access. To prevent such tendencies, intensive editorial selection and a review system are important. If not, such journals are trapped in a vicious circle: If articles of lesser quality lead to a bad image of the journal, no or few good quality articles are being submitted. If the articles are accessible however and the quality is satisfactory, it is doubtful that readers would actually prefer to pay for journals.

Open Access Means Also Accessibility

Simply open access to publications by itself will not help (public administration) researchers to strengthen the discourse with (administrative) practitioners. Open access should rather be enhanced by accessibility. This concerns the topics and contents of articles as well as their language.

When national journals want to address a broad readership, articles have to be thematically diverse. This, however, cannot mean that merely scientific journal articles with elaborate methodical descriptions are published. It can also not mean that practitioners can just publish project descriptions. In both cases, the respective readership will not feel addressed. The art of a journal in order to be attractive for both scientists and practitioners is to publish topics that are relevant to both sides. For this, tandems of authors can be useful. A first step in that direction can be achieved through structured abstracts that explicitly demand a description of the practical and theoretical contribution of an article. All editorial boards should set such standards.

Accessible Language

Besides topics that are interesting to a broad readership, it is important to present them in an intelligible manner. This plea for accessible language is addressed to both author groups from application-oriented journals. For the public administrative area, the same rules apply for practitioners, whose “officialese” can be hard to understand, as well as scientists, whose scientific language can create incomprehension.

Such accessibility cannot only help to foster the discourse between administrative praxis and science but can also help society to regain trust in science and its results. Only recently the German politician Jürgen Zöllner rightly demanded that scientists should explain their work in German again. Thereby, national journals cannot only position themselves as an access point to the scientific field for practitioners but also for citizens, politicians, and newcomers in this area.

To break down one’s results and communicate them in an accessible way is not easy and not every scientist will be proficient in mastering that task. However, expressing matters accessibly can be practiced and can, for example, happen in a team together with an author from practice. Of course, publishing accessibly should be part of application-oriented as well as basic research. In my experience explainability establishes good quality. A person who is able to explain their studies well is by no means conducting trivial research but has mastered the subject matter.

To publish nationally, initially contradicts what is acknowledged in many disciplines nowadays but should be every author’s goal. A publication strategy that aims at linking practice and career metrics could be to present research results at first internationally and in a peer-reviewed journal. Afterward, research should be broken down and published nationally – open access and in an accessible manner!


Reichard, C. (2018):  Die zunehmende Kluft zwischen nationalen und internationalen Fachzeitschriften, in: Verwaltung und Management Nr. 6/2018, S. 295-298.

Antelmann, K. (2004): Do Open-Access Articles Have a Greater Research Impact?, in: College & Research Libraries Nr. 5/2004, S. 372-382.

Kaier, C./Lackner, K. (2018): Open Access aus der Sicht von Verlagen, in: BIBLIOTHEK – Forschung und Praxis. Advance online publication.

Harnad, S./Brody, T. (2004): Comparing the Impact of Open Access (OA) vs. Non-OA Articles in the Same Journals, in: D-Lib Magazine Nr. 6/2004. doi:10.1045/june2004-harna

This article has already been published in a similar german version here.

Translation by Lisa-Sophia Preller.

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