Wednesday 12 February 2014

Kurt Paulus on ALPSP International Conference 2013: Part 4 - Communication - why, what and how?

Audrey McCulloch and the 'Was it something we said?' panel
This is the fourth in a series of reflections on the 2013 ALPSP International Conference by Kurt Paulus, former Operations Director at the Institute of Physics, and long time supporter of ALPSP. Our thanks go to Kurt for capturing the sessions. If this whets your appetite, save the date for the 2014 conference on 10-12 September at Park Inn Hotel Heathrow.

Communication: why, what and how?

Eric Merkel-Sobotta’s plea for publishers to explain themselves, to themselves and others, is not new but becomes more urgent if there is a risk that the initiative might slip out of publishers’ hands. It therefore made sense to devote a whole session to the topic, chaired by Linda Dylla of the American Institute of Physics with Grace Baynes of Nature and Helen Bray of Wiley as speakers, who addressed more the how than the why. Clearly there are many things to be communicated: the rationale of scholarly publishing, the brand of a single publisher, the nature and benefits of a particular project.

Helen Bray from Wiley

“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds that on the inside, the end is near” 
Helen Bray

Communication is used to manage change, and the more rapid the change the more effective the communication must be. The modes of getting the message across – e-mail, press release, publisher blogs, conference presentations, social media, direct dialogue – all have their place provided they convey clear uncomplicated messages that sound convincing wherever they come from within the organization. That means, for example:

Making all employees the company’s spokespeople. Thinking communication from the start. Finding respected external advocates. Knowing your audience and learning their language. Being part of the conversation and listening. Keeping the message simple and saying it again and again.

The discussion after the presentations revealed an unease about our ability as communicators: it should not be that complicated to explain yourself but we appear not to have been too successful in doing so, nor in creating a publisher-wide consensus that can form the basis of effective lobbying.

“Homework: try to explain what publishing is, to your mother or a taxi driver” Audrey McCulloch, ALPSP Chief Executive

What is the publisher now? panel
Part of the difficulty of communicating messages about publishing internally or externally is that every time you turn your head, publishing has changed. Some change agents, such as funders and governments, have become more proactive and in response some, such as learned societies have had to up their game.

The technologies we use to publish have changed almost out of recognition and continue to evolve rapidly. The parallel session ‘What is the publisher now?’ chaired by Jane Tappuni of Publishing Technology addressed some of these issues, with the key focus on the role of publishers and how they can stay relevant: should publishers become IT providers and, if not, how should they partner with technology companies to drive the publishing process most effectively?

Interactive discussions on publishing skills
The role that the publisher decides to adopt must be communicated and absorbed throughout the organization. The choice also has implications for skill development and training, discussed in a further parallel session on ‘Publishing skills: the changing landscape’ chaired by Margie Jarvis of OUP.

This interactive session looked at changes to the way we work, the core skills we need to retain and the new ones we need to foster and the opportunities this represents.

Further details on these sessions are available on the ALPSP YouTube channel.

Kurt Paulus, Bradford-on-Avon 

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