The logo for Open Access Week, complete with colourful grpahics
The theme for Open Access Week 2021 is “It Matters How We Open Knowledge: Building Structural Equity”

Open Access Week 2021

We’re celebrating Open Access Week (OAW) this year by thinking about different users of research, those who consume and benefit from it. This responds to the theme of “It Matters How We Open Knowledge: Building Structural Equity”.

On Tuesday we covered what open access means to teachers, and on Saturday it’s international audiences. Today though, we focus on pracademics.

What is a pracademic?

Knowledge Transfer icon by Philipp Lehmann

A pracademic is broadly understood to be, “A person whose career spans the boundaries of academia and practice“. They might typically work in areas focusing on policing, criminology, education, or environmental and public health. However, Dickinson et al (2020) take a different approach by defining pracademics as, “Former or current practitioners who are now university academics”. Whereas Wilson spits the term, discussing ‘pracs’ as based primarily in practice and ‘demics’ in academia.

Here, we’ll be working with the broad definition and particularly thinking about Wilson’s ‘pracs’, as these users of research don’t typically have a library subscription and so can’t rely on research behind paywalls.

Translators of research

The language of academia of course, can be ‘technical’ and ‘archane’. According to Willis (2016) the pracademic brings value by converting this into language accessible for practitioners. After all, pracademics are “boundary spanners” (Hollweck et al., 2021) who inhabit both the worlds of academia and practice.

Why open access matters

For pracademics who can’t rely on university library subscriptions to access journal articles, open access is key. Wilson (2019) sums it up:

It is not just disinterest which deters some practitioners from the literature; many
important journals are kept behind academic paywalls, unavailable — and probably
unaffordable — to those who are not directly involved in academia. Although some of the
canon is increasingly available via open source access, other key texts and resources remain
inaccessible, their content off limits to the very people who might benefit from it.

Pracademics then, are a key audience for research, but can only access some of it, leaving out big parts of the greater picture of the literature.

a forest, with some trees obscured from view because of fog
Missing from view: pracademics can only access some of the literature because of paywalls

Piza et al. (2021) notes that for law enforcement pracademics, contemporary evaluations of police initiatives can be robust, scientific and valuable in informing policy but remain out of reach as scholarly journals are unaffordable.

Pracademics also have fewer options when publishing research. Systematic reviews for example, assume the author can access all the literaure, so are just not an option and publishing in top tier journals becomes possible when you have access to appropriate sources (Wilson, 2019).

Different kinds of open access

Open access is often talked about as being ‘gold’ (the research is free to read on the publisher website) or ‘green’ (a free version can be found in an institutional repository like Edge Hill Pure). Gold often means the author has to pay a fee, and green is often delayed due to a publisher embargo (usually 12 months).

Ashby (2020) explains how this works for criminologist pracademics who want to publish research papers. The gold route causes a problem because the fee is often too high for the author or organisation to pay. The green route means no fee, however publishing the open version in a repository means it’s harder to find for readers or the delay means the intelligence quickly loses relevance – like reading last year’s trade magazine.

Ways around the problem

A light bulb illuminating a dark space
Tools like the Policing Matrix can really help some pracademics

There are many great open access journals now, and more research is becoming open access. Tools like Unpaywall (also mentioned by Ashby) can help pracademics find even more.

Outside traditional academic venues like books and journals, more research is being openly shared and curated for pracademics. Willis (2016) highlights (a US-based site) and the Policing Matrix as great tools to, “Translate and institutionalize evidence-based research into everyday practice”.

The Evidence-based Policing Matrix describes itself as:

“A research-to-practice translation tool that organizes moderate to very rigorous evaluations of police interventions visually, allowing agencies and researchers to view the field of research in this area”

Crucially, the Matrix regulalry updates, with all studies in its scope being included every year. This helps the pracademic get the full picture.


Thanks for reading! On Saturday we’ll wrap up Open Access Week by considering international audiences.