Helsinki Initiative of Multilingualism in Scholarly Communication

Janne Pölönen

The Helsinki Initiative on Multilingualism in Scholarly Communication ( was launched in 2019 to foster an environment that values multilingual scholarly communication, science communication and open access to scholarly publications in all languages. The Initiative has three main goals:

  1. to promote multilingual dissemination of research knowledge withing and beyond academia
  2. to ensure sustainable open access transition of non-profit scholarly publishers who make publishing in different languages possible
  3. to promote language diversity and multilingualism in research assessment and funding systems

In this talk I will discuss different approaches to multilingualism and go through some of its main challenges. I will specifically explore how multilingual scientific knowledge benefits of science and society, why we need to protect national language journals and book publishers – the very infrastructure making multilingual publishing possible, and why it is important to recognize and reward high quality research published and communicated in all languages.

It is important to communicate research results to international expert audiences according to the best practices and traditions of each discipline. However, if research is communicated exclusively in English, academia risks not fully meeting all its missions and responsibilities toward society. In addition to international excellence, science policy calls for Responsible Research and Innovation and Open Science. Broad access to scientific knowledge and interaction between science and society is possible only if research is communicated and used in multiple languages.

The application of globally and locally produced knowledge requires critical discussion and dialogue between the scientific community familiar with the local conditions and different actors within society. The COVID-19 pandemic saw a widespread need for multilingual communication, not only between researchers, but also to reach decision-makers, professionals and citizens. To cope with grand challenges and to meet sustainable development goals, we need both globalized and localized research communicated in languages and formats suited for the diverse audiences.

Especially in the social sciences and humanities, important part of research is contextualised, creating a need for original research in the main languages of researchers and citizens who are affected by this research. A study of users of open access journals on the Finnish platform shows that articles in national languages (in this case Finnish and Swedish) are vital for reaching important users of research both within and beyond academia.

The national journals and book publishers across Europe play a vital role in the scholarly ecosystem by providing to the research communities outlets for publishing and critically discussing research results in researchers’ and citizens’ main languages. Peer-reviewed journals and books are mainly published in the local languages by small-scale non-profit publishers such as learned societies or research institutions, relying on voluntary work.

Translation services based on artificial intelligence technologies are part of the solution for facilitating multilingual access to scientific knowledge. Nevertheless, action plan to promote and implement multilingualism needs also to address how to secure a sustainable open access transition of journals publishing locally relevant research and developing scientific terminology in the different languages.

Because assessments steer research through distribution of resources, rewards, and merits, language biases in assessment can compromise equal opportunities for individual researchers and institutions. Intended or unintended language priorities in assessment may lead to systemic undervaluation of SSH research compared to STEM fields in funding, and endanger locally relevant research and knowledge transfer beyond academia.

Ideally, language is a non-issue in assessment. In practice, assessment criteria and methods are often far from language-neutral, and this is an issue with research metrics as well as expert-assessment. Researchers should be able to trust that high-quality research is valued regardless of publishing languages, and that they can make a career and have funding even if they spend time on writing to policy-makers, professionals or general public, or act as editors or reviewers for local language journals.

The long-term goal of the Helsinki Initiative is to ensure the continued availability and vitality of high-quality research published in all languages needed across the world for effective communication of research knowledge within and beyond academia.


Helsinki Initiative on Multilingualism in Scholarly Communication (2019). Helsinki: Federation of Finnish Learned Societies, Committee for Public Information, Finnish Association for Scholarly Publishing, Universities Norway & European Network for Research Evaluation in the Social Sciences and the Humanities.

Kulczycki, E., Engels, T. & Pölönen, J. (2022). Multilingualism of social sciences. In Engels, T. & Kulczycki, E. (eds.), Handbook on research assessment in the social sciences, Edward Elgar Publishing, 350-366.

Pölönen, J., Kulczycki, E., Mustajoki, H. & Røeggen, V. (2021). Multilingualism is integral to accessibility and should be part of European research assessment reform. LSE Impact Blog, December 7th, 2021.

Pölönen, J., Syrjämäki, S., Nygård, A.-J. & Hammarfelt, B. (2021). Who Are the Users of National Open Access Journals? The case of Finnish platform. Learned Publishing, 34(4), 585-592.