Annual Meeting Reports

Editorial Boards: Nuts and Bolts

The role of an editorial board varies with the publication, but ultimately it sets the tone for its journal. As the session’s first speaker, Barbara Meyers Ford, president of Meyers Consulting Services, stated, “A good editorial board will support a journal’s ascendancy.” The two speakers, in keeping with the session title, provided many concrete details of ways to recruit and manage an effective board.

Meyers Ford began the session with instructions for assembling a stellar editorial board. The board, she said, will influence the kind of research that gets published and ultimately the research that shapes the field. That is why it is critical to find members that are not simply “nod-and-agree” sorts but champions of the journal, committed to growing and developing it. It is also critical to provide a clear statement of expectations and hold the board members to them.

That was a conclusion echoed by the second speaker, Judith A Connors, associate director of editorial services for the Drug Information Association (DIA). Meyers Ford and Connors agreed on many of the necessary elements of a well-selected board. Above all, they said, a board must be diverse and interdisciplinary. Meyers Ford elaborated: as much as possible, the board should represent the breadth of subjects the journal will cover and have a good balance of gender, field, geographic diversity, and research standing (e.g., seniority and authority, among others).

More practically, in creating a new board or revitalizing an older one, it is important to stagger term appointments so that not all board members end their terms simultaneously. Connors strongly recommended having a succession plan in place for the editor-in-chief, having seen the premature departure of an editor-in-chief create a rudderless situation for several months. Likewise, one should budget for unforeseeable circumstances, especially when starting a journal.

Finally, one of the most important things in creating a board is to balance people who bring status and stature to the table with people who have the time and motivation to get things done—the “busy bees”, as Connors called them.

Connors described her organization’s recent experience in forming a revitalized board for a journal that, although new, was built on the foundation of an older, established journal. DIA wanted to retain some board members and let others go to maintain memory, add depth, and reflect the current scope of the organization. Even the existing members, however, had to apply to be on the new board and had to agree to adhere to stated responsibilities via a signed editorial-board charter. That strategy enabled her journal to move into the future with a fresh sense of purpose and a clear vision.

With the topic of selecting an editorial board out of the way, Connors and Meyers Ford shared tips for managing the board. An effective board, they agreed, has clearly stated responsibilities and an infrastructure that gives it appropriate support.

While expectations depend on the journal, they often cover similar ground. For example, the responsibilities at Connors’s journal included five reviews a year plus two papers either contributed or solicited, a willingness to serve as a guest editor for a special journal section at least once during the 3-year term, and a commitment to improving the journal’s quality. An effective board communicates regularly, and part of the expectation included attendance at four teleconferences and at least one of two face-to-face meetings a year.

Appropriate staff support, Connors said, also includes regular communication, tracking and reporting of journal statistics, and making sure that the journal staff is up to date on industry news.

The issue of enforcing responsibilities and duties is a sticky one with volunteer editorial boards. Connors said that her organization addressed the issue by providing two complimentary annual-meeting registrations over the course of the board members’ terms and by assigning duties that were clearly defined and described and allowed different members to contribute in ways that played to their own strengths.