Connection Award: Stephen Gaetz

John Willinsky

Connection award:

John Willinsky

Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing

Simon Fraser University


In 1998, John Willinsky founded the Public Knowledge Project (PKP) at The University of British Columbia. Its goal was to increase public engagement with university scholarship by making publicly funded research available to everyone.

Today, with its home base at the library of Simon Fraser University, it stands as the international model for scholarly research and data sharing. In fact, its Open Journal Systems (OJS) software is the open source platform of choice, used by universities around the world to publish their research.

Willinsky’s work involves collaborating with colleagues in the PKP on the design and coding of software systems for the online publishing of open access journals and monographs. His research efforts in the humanities and social sciences have included conducting historical inquiries into the intellectual properties of learned works going back many centuries; collaborating with other colleagues on randomized trials that assess physician and public health use of open access to research; and investigating the crossover between scholarly research and public knowledge sites, such as Wikipedia.

More generally, Willinsky speaks regularly with colleagues and students around the world about the opportunities for improving the contribution to, and fulfilling the responsibilities of, research and scholarship.

The OJS software is accessible in 25 languages, and has enabled peer-reviewed papers from over 325 Canadian journals to be published and shared online. And, perhaps more importantly, it is giving students and scholars in developing countries (especially in Latin America) a platform to publish their work, broadening and enriching scholarly research worldwide. It is estimated that over 2.3 million scholarly articles have been published on the PKP service platform.

A professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, Willinsky obtained his PhD in sociology of education at Dalhousie University. He is also a part-time professor in publishing studies at Simon Fraser University through the PKP, which he directs.

Willinsky is an award-winning author of several books on education and open access, and is a fellow in the Royal Society of Canada’s Academy of Social Sciences, as well as a member of the National Academy of Education in the United States.

About the award

The annual Impact Awards recognize the highest achievements in SSHRC-funded research, knowledge mobilization and scholarship.

SSHRC’s Connection Award recognizes an outstanding individual or team whose project has engaged campus and community and led to intellectual, cultural, social or economic impacts.

How would you describe the main focus of your work?

I like to say, and I hope not too often, that my work is concerned with improving the public and intellectual quality of scholarly publishing, with an eye to new economic models that allow the world free access to this public good.

With many people worried about the future of journalism and publishing in general, what, in your view, will publishing look like in the future?

I share those concerns, as nothing is more vital to democracy than a vibrant and free press. At this point, a robust economic model for journalism has yet to emerge, although ebooks and other forms of publishing seem to be finding their way. What I and others are working toward is better ways of linking journalism to freely accessible research and scholarship. We want to enable readers to go deeper and farther in following up and learning more about the background stories of the major issues of the day.

What research accomplishments are you most proud of to date?

I am very proud of how the Public Knowledge Project team has developed what appears to be the most widely used scholarly publishing software in the world today, with over 10,000 active journals now using Open Journal Systems—sixty per cent in the Global South. If that number is, in part, because it is free, open source software, then I am as proud of that fact as I am of the open access to research and scholarship that such tools enable.

What do you most want Canadians to understand about your work?

I started out as a school teacher who sought to engage students in the excitement of learning. Now, having become a professor, I have done my best over the last two decades to open new doors for learning by increasing free public and global access to the work of past, present and future fellow researchers and scholars around the world.