Scholarly communities must run their own journals

Professor Jochen Koch talks about his experience with Open Science

Photo of Prof. Dr. Jochen Koch

Three key learnings:

  • If scientific communities publish their own journals, access barriers to knowledge can be overcome.
  • New models for dealing with academic publishers are urgently needed.
  • Good quality teaching videos can be reused and create room for interactive time with students.

You say on your website that research is useful for the enjoyment of academic discourse. What enhances your enjoyment of discourse?

JK: Discourse per se generates a certain kind of publicity. I once published a paper on “discourse competition” jointly with my colleague Klaus Heine. Discourse is an essential factor for transmitting, sharing and collectively developing knowledge. But discourse is also always a competition for the better argument. It is my conviction that we can only have discourse if we lay open our arguments and backgrounds. Everybody can question them at any time. And I am obliged to present my reasons which automatically leads to a kind of openness. Way back in 1979, Jean-François Lyotard wrote in his small book “La condition postmoderne” that science is the paradigm for such an open and accessible discourse because we must always show our hand when we communicate. When I say that scientific discourse should be fun, I’m talking about this kind of competition of arguments and that it will bring progress for yourself, for others and thus for all of us. I see discourse and science basically as a collective activity.

Where do you as an economist see the topic of Open Science in the future?

JK: Open Science is a political topic and must be framed at the political level, because politics decides about research funding. It is a matter of politics to review the entire research and teaching process and to ask critical questions about who profits from what in which form and with which truly self-produced value contributions. In the teaching process, and especially in the research process, there are value activities by publishers. In my opinion, this is a critical structure and at the same time easily substituted.

How can the work of publishers be organised in an alternative manner?

JK: I believe the alternative to publishers are the scholarly communities who run their own journals. These communities must of course be organised democratically, for instance through membership in associations. When it comes to journals, the Academy of Management appears to me to be a good example.   

What Best Practice examples can you give from your own work in the context of Open Science?

JK: It is my firm conviction that scientific publications should be accessible without restriction. The current business models of the academic publishers are a big problem because they monetise research findings and thus de facto create obstacles to the free accessibility of knowledge. I think this ought to end absolutely and as soon as possible. Publishers cannot just pick a value creation and earn money in the digital age in an area in which they do not make a recognisable contribution or one that is not easily substituted.

I am glad to hear that you are sensitised to publishers’ monopoly status.

JK: I have authored several books and during the past 25 years I have seen a lot of what happens at publishers. As a business economist I am naturally interested in value creations and their restructuring. It is not apparent to me what kind of genuine value creation publishers still contribute in the area of academic journals, other than monetising their historical position and being fortunate that scientists themselves don’t have enough motivation to change this state of affairs, for a wide variety of reasons.

How do you approach this?

JK: In our field we have, among others, three top journals edited by the Academy of Management itself. That’s the community, so to speak. I think, in the long run there is no other way around these models. What we also did, because we had third-party funds we were allowed to use: we bought back all our papers from the publishers to exemplify the absurdity of the system. I am willing to swallow this particular toad because we are in a transitional phase. But we must do everything necessary to change the system.

How can the system be changed?

JK: The main goal must be the self-organisation of the science system. The science system must make it possible that the administrative costs of journals are met by the member fees of open communities. The basics of the package are already in place and well established: we are editors, reviewers, authors and readers. I am quite hopeful about this.

In your model future there will be independent and community-owned infrastructures and journals which must find new reviewers?

JK: I rather believe that we can recall those journals that are in the hands of the publishers. The universities must state clearly that they will no longer accept that their scientists provide value contributions to publishers under the current conditions. New models are urgently needed for publishers, but also beyond them. Publishers can be service providers for administrative tasks, I’m okay with that, but they don’t have any other tasks and they must enable Open Access. That is the future and a political demand, it must simply be seen through and implemented politically.

Do you discuss this with colleagues in your discipline?

JK: Many share my opinion, there’s little controversy about it. But you also meet colleagues who don’t worry about it. The interesting question is rather: where are the communities and who governs them. These are in North America and the UK, and a few journals are also on Europe. The FAZ recently wrote that business studies no longer has anything to say in German (read the article here) and it is true: we have shut down all German-language journals. It is absurd and inacceptable that government and taxpayers pay twice for the same output. It is just as absurd to me that there still is no national unified library system which is publicly accessible for all students and researchers and delivers high digital usability. 

Where do you publish the articles you bought back?

JK: Generally I just publish the links so people click on the publishers’ website, because that’s where the counter is installed. We have also made our textbooks accessible which is especially important now in this pandemic. My most recent management textbook, co-authored with Georg Schreyögg, has had 164,000 downloads in one year.

You mean you have recognised the classic citation and visibility effects for yourself?

JK: Yes, and that’s why we paid a second time for our work, because it has distribution effects. But also of course because we want to mobilise for more openness.

You have participated in the online course “Organizing in Times of Crisis: The Case of Covid19”.

JK: Yes, teaching is another interesting point. Here, too, I advocate that the final product should be freely accessible. Of course you can argue that universities are in competition with each other. To me it is absurd to transform the idea of the university into a strategic actor designed for competition. That is very US American. This whole concept of elite universities is nonsense in my opinion. Taxpayers have a right to know what I do in my teaching. I have started a YouTube channel before the Covid crisis and will continue to work on this, with support from my university. I do this to promote the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), but also to transfer knowledge. If you are convinced you have grasped an issue and made it communicable, then you should share that knowledge. I am also convinced that teaching at universities could be revolutionised if you could organise events jointly with colleagues from other universities. You would be able to bring scientific discourse even more directly into teaching, because discourse thrives on the plurality of perspectives, and they all have different expertise in their fields. That would be brilliant.

What is your opinion on Open Educational Resources?

JK: If I take students seriously, I must invest in interactive time. I think ten years from now we won’t have traditional lectures anymore. Especially in business studies we have so many knowledge standards that I can easily record. Interactive lessons are so much more exciting anyway because they are open for new things and I can’t know at 1 p.m. what will be said in this room at 1.30 p.m. Therefore knowledge standards should be stored retrievably in other media so they can be linked intelligently and flexibly. A decently produced video with animations etc, that my students can watch on their own and which I can use for the next five years. And in the free time I gain with this I can go into discourse, discuss cases and papers and so on.

What have been the positive effects of your YouTube channel?

JK: For the course “Organizing in Times of Crisis” – which is much more than a YouTube channel – we received an award, lots of positive feedback and students think it’s great. They feel they get the latest information and are scientifically up-to-date even during the pandemic. What surprised me most is how scalable this is. I can’t control the click counters. The series leads a life of its own on the internet. I also see this with other teaching videos I made. Some time ago I posted a video explaining the expectancy-valence-model. This has now had more than 6,000 views and many watch the video from beginning to end. That is way more than I would achieve in a face-to-face class and I never expected to get so much resonance with just this model. My motivation for this is: there are so many knowledge standards in business economics, in entrepreneurship, management and organisation that do not change rapidly, and they clog the interaction channel with my students if I have to explain them all the time. So why don’t I do this once and correctly and in another medium, and then they are ready and we can work on this together and students can apply what they have watched. It’s a flipped classroom. What fascinates me about the medium video is that you can animate models and this makes it a lot easier to explain relations that are often very complex.

What do you think of Open Peer Review?

JK: In principle, I think Open Peer Review is a good development, because nowadays nothing is truly double blind anymore. I would consider it consistent to disclose the names of the reviewers to the person under review. I’m happy to do this if I get the opportunity. If you criticise something you need to go in willing to face your opponent and you need to give good reasons. In my opinion, Open Peer Review offers considerable advantages because it produces qualified feedback. In my opinion that would constitute a revolution of the system in the whole process. People would have to write much more amiably, which is not always the case today. And you can easily see the connections. It’s much more transparent if you know who has reviewed whom and how.

About science communication: what do you do, why do you do it and what are the effects?

JK: I consider science communication to be a personal challenge on which I need and want to work. Generally speaking, I would say that science communication will be one of the central research topics in the coming years, not only because of the pandemic but definitely reinforced by it. I see science as a model for many other societal areas when it comes to transparency, open argumentation, the ability to process complexity and the tolerance of ambiguity. Science communication is not just the communication of usable knowledge, user-friendly and bite-sized which politics often prefers, it is also and essentially the communication of complexity. Right now I am experimenting with knowledge transfer and in the next step I’m trying to produce something that gives high school students an understanding of entrepreneurship. I try to go deeper than before. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of language I should use, which models etc. We need to take our own knowledge to a generally communicable level. We have so few entrepreneurs in Germany. The issue needs to be popularised. And a sound entrepreneurial spirit deserves to find its way into many organisations where it is urgently needed. Science communication plays an important part in this.

Thank you!

The interview was conducted on May 11, 2021.

About Professor Jochen Koch

Jochen Koch is a business economist and holds the chair of Management and Organisation at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) where he heads the Centre for Entrepreneurship Research CfER. His research is focused on organisational future practices, strategic communication and organisational creativity, and questions of organisational and strategic path dependency. Jochen Koch previously worked as a research assistant at Berlin Free University and gained his PhD at Berlin Free University with a thesis on post-modern organisation research in 2002.



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