Tuesday 21 November 2017

Signposts from the Future - scenario planning at BMJ

In this guest blog, Katy Alexander, Head of Strategic Marketing for Journals at BMJ takes a fascinating look into the future.....

It’s 2037, the fourth industrial revolution has come and gone. The medical research landscape is highly automated and cloud based. Medical researchers are required to combine scientific qualifications with advanced programming and policy/communications expertise, patients are driving the healthcare research agenda and the very nature of disease is disrupted by technology. While some of this may seem implausible, I’ll bet that a number of us would have said the same in late 1990s when the scenarios of the time were pointing towards a potential future when the publishing industry would become a technology industry, prey to small disruptive innovations companies.

As with many industries, the publishing and healthcare industries operate within a complex, rapidly and consistently changing environment. In the past five years alone, the medical research and healthcare space has been influenced by a range of disruptions brought on by digital technologies, political and social unrest, and shifts in customer behaviour.  Wearable patient-monitoring devices and apps like Sea Hero Quest  have started to offer access to unprecedented data sets, often in real time. This period of rapid change has presented wide-ranging uncertainties.

While scenario planning is far from a new discipline, companies are increasingly incorporating scenarios practice into strategy processes as a means of surfacing and managing these uncertainties more systematically.  The process pushes us to think more expansively about potential futures in order to inform today’s strategic choices and the signals and underlying trends we may see in the future that could indicate which scenarios are playing out and how we should adjust to them. Practically scenarios are a structured way for companies to paint divergent versions of the future, they offer possible views of the world in the form of a narrative or “story”.

In November 2016, BMJ embarked on a scenario planning process based on the Saïd Business School’s Oxford Scenarios Programme (OSP).  We didn’t set out to predict the future; I think we can all agree that isn’t possible. However, we did want to think more systematically about the future, strengthen our abilities to cope with unpredictable shifts in the landscape and plan for innovation. Led by our Competitive Intelligence team and Director of Strategy, the process took just over eight months. During this time, we identified our two critical uncertainties - (Technology Adoption / Dominant Funding Model) - and defined a set of forces that could influence the direction of medical research. We carried out over 50 interviews with internal and external stakeholders as well as global thought-leaders from a wide-ranging list of industries, hosted three workshops and developed four varied and plausible scenarios describing the range for the future of Medical Research.  An overview of our four scenarios is provided below:

Techtopia: The fourth industrial revolution has rid the need for entire medical disciplines and many roles previously carried out by medical researchers are now done by machines. Researchers are required to develop expertise in programming, engineering, and software & informatics. While a small private ecosphere, driven by philanthropic organisations, is paying for research to be undertaken in neglected areas private technology corporations monopolize all elements of medical research. Medicine is highly personalised, health wearables are abundant, patients are triaged in the cloud and medical facilities are small and owned by large corporations.

Sustainable health 2037: Governments have come together to address the big, global issues. A combination of regulation and taxation has encouraged a diverse and highly collaborative research ecosystem. Medical researchers progress in their careers by producing high-quality data sets in areas prioritised by governments. Machine learning provides real-time analysis and interpretation of datasets, and technology is making lifestyles healthier, even in once-remote regions. However, the replacement of human-to-human interaction by technology is exacerbating mental health problems associated with social isolation and loneliness.

Post West power shift: Economic and social instability and volatility in the West have curtailed international movement, and political agendas now focus narrowly on issues of national security and economic health. The West no longer dominates the medical research landscape, Easternisation and the rise of the Global South is causing a geographic shift. Medical researchers are employed by public research and healthcare facilities.

Neighbourhood science: The voice of the people drives the setting of medical research priorities. There is increasing investment in medical research at the boundaries of health and social care, and the data comes from mostly from social networks and community apps that share personal health information. Clinical research is a niche interest collected by crowd-funding and pockets of small investors, and are driven by public appeals.

 Aside from informing our strategy process, as a company we have benefited from scenario planning in three main areas:
  1. Scenario planning has widened the conversation at BMJ. It has stretched teams at all levels and in all departments, bringing us together and enriching conversations, leveraging expertise and knowledge from across the business and challenging everyone’s assumptions. 
  2. Our thought process has collectively moved further away from a linear, preordained and operational path to understanding that linear concepts are not the only way to think about time. We are setting up early warning indicators that can be monitored and contingency plans implemented. This means we can revisit the scenarios and if necessary, revise them.
  3. Scenario planning draws on a wide range of disciplines and interests, including economics, psychology, politics and demographics, it has engaged us all to think outside of our industry and to remember that even modest environmental changes can have enormous impact

We don’t know exactly what 2037 will look like; it may have some aspects of these scenarios or possibly none. However, we can and should be asking ourselves how key uncertainties and broader trends affect our industry and business. Through this process, we should constantly be looking for ways to innovate and shape the future that we wish to see.

If you want to read more about the scenario planning narratives and the key forces we believe are impacting and shaping medical research  please visit our site www.bmj.com/company/scenarioplanning

If you are interested in learning more about our process and the thinking behind our scenarios, keep your eyes open for “The​ ​future​ ​of​ ​global​ ​research​ ​-​ ​a​ ​case​ ​study​ ​on​ ​the​ ​use​ ​of​ ​scenario planning​ ​in​ ​the​ ​publishing​ ​industry​” in a future Issue of the Learned-Publishing.

Katy Alexander is Head of Strategic Marketing for Journals at BMJ and has over 15 years experience in the publishing industry, serving in a variety of marketing and strategy positions. She is always happy to discuss anything related to publishing or disruptive technologies so reach out on twitter @kla2010

Website: www.bmj.com/company
Twitter: @bmj_company
Facebook: https://en-gb.facebook.com/bmjcompany

Tuesday 14 November 2017

University Press Redux: The Return

In this guest blog, Lara Speicher, Publishing Manager, UCL Press and the curator/host of next year's conference, tells us the story of University Press Redux so far and her involvement in the next chapter.

For me, and I think for many others in the university press sector, the first University Press Redux Conference in March 2016 marked a sea change in the way UK university presses are seen, and see themselves.

Kick-started by the momentum generated by the Academic Book of the Future project (a two-year research project into the scholarly publishing industry, funded and supported by AHRC and the British Library, 2015-2017), the first University Press Redux Conference in Liverpool in March 2016 was launched by Anthony Cond, Managing Director of Liverpool University Press (winner of both the Bookseller and the IPG Awards for Independent Academic Publisher of the Year in 2015).

I use the word ‘launched’ deliberately, since 'organised’ does not fully convey what Anthony achieved in that first conference. Attended by over 150 delegates from around the world and with speakers from the US, UK and Europe covering all aspects of university press (UP) activities, and with representatives from all levels and functions, the conference offered an opportunity on this side of the Atlantic for university presses to meet, discuss and exchange ideas and information. The mood was buoyant, the presentations were stimulating, and we all learnt a huge amount.

Redux 2016 happened at a particular moment, which also helps to explain its success. Scholarly publishing is undergoing significant change, with a challenging market, changes in library supply, digital distribution, new HE policies, and changing university missions which have led to a reexamination of the purpose of university presses. At the same time, many new presses have been springing up, signaling a desire on the part of institutions to do things differently. Redux was an opportunity to share those challenges and changes with all those who work in the sector – not just the UPs, but also the affiliated sectors that we work with: libraries, authors, academics, suppliers, policy makers, funders and our own institutions.

The things that shone through clearly to me during that conference were threefold:

1) that we are a ‘thing’, with distinct skills, responsibilities and challenges, quite different from scholarly publishing generally, even though we share many similarities
2) that despite our shared identity, we are also remarkably diverse in our outputs, activities, practices, sizes and missions
3) that we should be incredibly proud of what we do, and that our parent institutions should also be incredibly proud of what we do for scholarship and for our universities’ brand recognition

And what also came through very clearly was the feeling that we must do this again.

And so Redux was born as a regular event on the conference calendar. The University Press Redux 2018 takes place on 13-14 February 2018, at the British Library Conference Centre. It will take place every two years, and it is now ably supported by ALPSP, putting it on a firm footing for the future. Each conference will be hosted in a different location by a different university press which is responsible for organizing the speakers and the programme.

I volunteered for Redux 2018 for the main reason that having only launched in 2015, UCL is very new university press with a fully open access model which is still very unusual. As such, UCL Press is keen to collaborate as much as possible with other university presses - to help establish itself, to learn, and to share its experience of its OA model. But also, I volunteered because it’s fun. I think we are incredibly lucky to work in such a collegial sector. There is a genuine eagerness to collaborate and help each other which really stands out.

Registration for Redux 2018 bookings is now open and well underway – please join us for two full days of stimulating conversation and presentations. We look forward to seeing you in February! 

Lara Speicher is Publishing Manager at UCL Press, which launched in June 2015. She set up the Press from scratch as the first fully open access university press in the UK. The Press has gone on to publish over 50 books which have been downloaded over half a million times round the world. The Press won the UCL Brand Ambassador Award in 2017 for the global reach of its publications and was also shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards in the Digital Innovation Category

Lara has worked in publishing for over 20 years and has previously held publishing roles at British Library Publishing and BBC Books. She sits on the HEFCE/UUK Open Access Monographs Working Group and on the School of Advanced Study (University of London) Publishing Advisory Board.