Annual Meeting Reports

Culture Shock: Managing Changes in Publishing

Many of us are experiencing culture shock in just trying to keep up with the pace of technological innovation. The first speaker in this session, Richard Akerman, an innovation officer with National Research Council of Canada, started off with a review of recent change drivers in our world and in scholarly publishing—the digitization and mobility of data and devices that keep us continuously connected and networked to an extent that we’ve never been before—that cause our perception of how things should work to evolve.

In our new universe, humans interact with machines that can interact with other machines. Data are easy to copy accurately. There’s an expectation of openness in sharing information, as seen in the shift toward open data and open access. Akerman discussed how we now spend so much time in reacting that we are stuck in the present and can’t worry about the future. The complexity of our environment means that we must accept and integrate.

A key point that Akerman made is that the information that we channel should be not just on the Web but of the Web. He urged, “Don’t just take a physical process and make it digital.” Scientific publishers should apply scientific methods to improve their scientific publications. When NRC Research Press changed from a government agency to the not-for-profit Canadian Science Publishing, the transition process gave staff the opportunity to step back, rethink their processes, and design new solutions intentionally.

Other ways in which Akerman advocated culture change include making studies easier to replicate and easier to report on when not replicable, being more transparent about retractions, clearly identifying authority of content to make it easier to distinguish what is reputable, and integrating ourselves into larger networks beyond our disciplines. We need to connect with our communities and show that science is real, dynamic, human work.

Cameron Macdonald then spoke about his experiences as executive director in the change of NRC Research Press to Canadian Science Publishing in 2010. For 80 years, NRC Research Press operated as part of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). By 2009, NRC was publishing 15 of its own journals and 10 client journals and monographs. NRC handled production in house and relied on a government-based support system. Then, the federal government decided to quit the journal-publishing business and gave the staff of NRC Research Press a year to incorporate as a nonprofit.

When the initial shock and anger wore off, staff led the massive change in the culture and business of the press. In a year, they had to replace information-technology infrastructure, software, and processes; rebrand; reallocate resources; and develop new business plans. Most staff remained and were faced with adapting to the rapidly evolving digital communication of research amid intense competition. Macdonald walked attendees through the giant steps and occasional pitfalls that he and his staff took in the transition process, starting with moving to new platforms, embracing the latest technologies, and developing content. They took risks to develop a culture of innovation, continuous change, and improvement. They were also faced with persuading old clients to stay with them while attracting societies and researchers through new and improved offerings, such as open-access options, faster turnaround times, a cutting-edge publishing platform, and video abstracts. During this organizational culture shift, the employeeled transition depended on re-engaging staff with strong internal communication, team building, new opportunities, and idea generation.

Suggested reading: Rushkoff D. Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. 2013. Current. 256 p. ISBN 9781591844761