Accessibility, it’s not just a wonkish term for being near stuff

I was recently at a transportation conference, where one of the speakers admonished academics for not doing more to get their research out the academy and into the hands of policy makers and the public. He compared this with think tanks, which spend around a quarter of their budgets on marketing.

Perhaps even more than marketing budgets,  inaccessible language, research methods, and publication practice help keep too many books and articles locked away in the ivory tower. While simplifying methods may not always be desirable–and it often is–we could certainly do a lot more to make our writing and publications more accessible.

I recently had the opportunity to rewrite an article with Robert Cervero in the Journal of the American Planning Association into an ACCESS article. If you click on the former, you will likely be directed to an abstract and the opportunity to purchase the article. Unless you have an institutional proxy server that grants you free access to the pdf,  you may look for a free draft working paper that’s available through University of California Transportation Center. This working paper, however, did not benefit from JAPA‘s peer review process (many thanks to David Sawicki, Randy Crane, and three anonymous reviewers), which led us to make serious modifications to our data collection and analysis methods. In short, it shows a much earlier iteration of a work in progress.

If you click on the ACCESS link, by contrast, you will be taken directly to a 2,000 word rewrite and summary of the full JAPA article. You can view this as an html, download a pdf, or order a paper subscription. If you have additional questions about the findings or how the study was conducted, the article provides the JAPA citation. ACCESS‘s goal “…is to translate academic research into readable prose that is useful for policymakers and practitioners. Articles in ACCESS are intended to catapult academic research into debates about public policy, and convert knowledge into action.”

Since the ACCESS piece came out, I have received far more inquiries about the work, Robert Cervero was on the local news, and a friend working in New Zealand pointed me to this discussion. This kind of feedback has been important to me, as a young, and hopefully budding, academic. I’m grateful to Don Shoup and the rest of the ACCESS editing team for their hard work. I’ll strive to remember that accessibility is a lot more than a measure of desired destinations, opportunities, and experiences that can be reached in a given amount time.



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