There has been a flurry of activity about Development Policy Review and Disasters, journals “published” by the ODI. Last week Duncan Green on his / OXFAM blog http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=15465 wrote:
Yet this week I had a depressing exchange with the (usually wonderful) ODI about their journal, the Development Policy Review (no link for reasons I’ll explain). The latest issue of DPR covers transparency and accountability initiatives, and (oh the irony!) it is hidden behind a paywall: if I want to read more than the abstract, I have to fill in online forms, pay a few $, then go through the hassle of reclaiming it through Oxfam’s expenses system and anyway, I balk at paying before I know if it’s any good. The result is (and I suspect I am fairly typical) that I move on – I either write to the author to scrounge the piece, find someone who has access eg through a university or, as in this case, read something else instead (it’s not as if development wonks are running out of reading matter).
When I complained via twitter, ODI directed me to an FAQ page on their website which explains:
And Nick Scott from ODI replied http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=15525
…the associated Twitter conversations – included exhortations to ‘just do it’. But I wish it were as easily done as it is said. As someone who has been working hard to make ODI a leader in embracing the digital age (and other think tanks too, through the WonkComms initiative) it feels uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of barbs about a ‘legacy tail’ or belonging to bygone eras. The reality is that if we could quickly and easily move our journals to full and open access whilst maintaining their research quality and sustainability, we would’ve done it.
What the ‘pay wall‘ pays for
ODI’s peer reviewed journals curate brilliant research from around the world. Subscription costs and single article purchases cover the costs of processing, reviewing and publishing this work.
ODI uses its share of income to cover editorial and some administration – and we aim to run at cost. We review hundreds of submissions, co-ordinate a complicated peer review process, copy edit, proof and commission articles. It is not an insubstantial task.
We work with a publisher (Wiley Blackwell) to run our journals because it would be madness not to. They know what they’re doing when it comes to online publication, subscription management, the printing and mailing of hard copies for institutions and individuals – a proportion of whom don’t (and often can’t) access journals online. We wouldn’t be able to do this stuff ourselves very efficiently.
Finding a six-figure sum to cover the full editorial, production and management costs every year is not something anyone can just do. ODI and other organisations running journals cannot reduce costs without impacting quality. The essence of peer-reviewed journals is their guarantee of quality – lose that and you might as well shut them down completely.
This is an example of what I call the #scholarlypoor – the people all over the world who are not in a rich university. Of course we centre on citizens of developing countries – HINARI is not an answer – but also on many others. If you are in policy making areas (government, NGOs) climate, disease, etc you need access to this knowledge and you probably can’t get it for free – you must pay or act illegally. So the fundamental question for the ODI is:
Why are you publishing these journals anyway?
ODI says: Development Policy Review is an ODI journal focused on the crucial link between research and policy. As an international, peer-reviewed journal, it is an indispensable tool for researchers and policy-makers alike. The journal publishes single articles and themed issues on topics at the forefront of current international debate and is published in association with Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.
If it’s to reach those who ought to be reached it’s failing. It can be argued that an academic publishes for their own benefit, not the community (I don’t but some do). But a non-profit Development Organisation has a duty to reach everyone.
“It would be madness not to [work with Wlley]“. Rubbish. There are many journals published with no subscription and no author charges. It takes effort and commitment but that’s what the ODI is about, surely? It’s actually madness that the ODI, which actually publishes a lot of material other than journals, cannot publish a journal. Look at J. Machine Learning Research (jmlr.org, which has no author fees or reader fees). It’s at the top of its field (whereas yours is half way down). You have an organisation designed for managing information. You have all the advantages.
So I have the following suggestions:
Short-term. Collect all the author manuscripts you already have (since YOU manage them) and publish them as Green Open Access. You will find no shortage of repositories who will host this. If Wiley object, tell the world. This is knowledge designed to better the world.
Medium term. Create an OA journal. This is not as difficult as it sounds. The software to run it is free, there is no subscription management required, no paywall software, no lawyers to threaten people who want open knowledge. Cameron Neylon thinks it costs 250 GBP per published article to do a good job of peer-review. You have economies of scale.
You publish 6 articles/month approx. That’s, say 100 articles a year. Take Cameron’s figure that’s 25, 000 GBP/year. I think that’s reasonable.
Now canvas funders – foundations interested in open knowledge – SPARC has funded some startup initiatives, so have JISC. Talk to the new association of UK Open Access publishers. They’ll give you lots of useful advice. Talk to Cameron (sorry Cameron!). Talk to OKFN. And, if it’s any help I’ll be happy to talk.
Long term. Then set your sights high. Think of yourself as a way of making Open Access happen. You’re in the centre. Think of ODI as an OA publishing hub. You can help others to create OA outlets.
It would be madness not to