Today’s workflows are tomorrow’s headaches: Is it time to change?
Trust in research has never been more important. I’ve lost track of the number of think pieces and surveys, meta-analyses and pessimistic opinion pieces about the critical nature of our time and how that trust is slipping away.
How is that trust built? It's a complex system with many stakeholders whose competing priorities make it a challenge to find common ground. The media wants certainty and stories, and scientists rely on statistics and replicating results of data sets that few in the general population can understand. But setting how science is shared and communicated to one side, we’re interested in the infrastructure of disseminating science. What about the workflows that build research integrity into the process itself, and the technologies that keep peer review and content management moving forward?
Today those processes might be part of the problem, but they can lead the way toward a bigger solution. Each time a headline hits the news about a retraction, or fabricated clinical trials, or ethics violations, we have already missed an opportunity to solve the problem at its source in the publishing workflow. And with each headline of that nature, trust in science erodes.
Here’s my vision for the future of research integrity:
- It all starts with early-stage research. By the time a journal article is submitted for publication, years worth of research have already gone into those conclusions, and that science is hidden away or ephemeral in the form of a conference presentation two years ago. Imagine having a record of early-stage research, one that was already peer reviewed for a conference, and then workshopped and validated by the peers in the room. And, thanks to an integrated infrastructure, the record of those review stages are linked to the submitted manuscript.
- It relies on technology to automate the process so human focus can be reapplied to important matters. Organizations should be able to set up the workflow they need with simple technology solutions, and sit back and watch the infrastructure they set up work for them and not against. Peer review is too important to waste time by sending out and managing manual messages or prompts. Imagine a re-designed workflow infrastructure that never requires leaving the platform? That’s the future, freeing up the time and resources of staff to use workflow data to build pools of new reviewers and authors, or to forecast trends for the discipline.
- It is user-friendly and flexible. As valuable as a streamlined workflow is for organizations like publishers and societies, it's equally valuable for reviewers and authors. It's well known that peer review takes too long, these time-intensive contributions are not well recognized or rewarded, and it's frustratingly technical, with standards and policies that can be different for each journal or conference. Peer review should be something researchers line up to do, because it helps move science forward and validate discoveries that could become tomorrow’s innovations. Peer review is the foundation on which trust in science is built. But when the process is cumbersome, hard to justify in terms of the career growth it promises, and all the processes and stages are impossible to remember, it becomes less appealing. Workflows and infrastructure can solve this problem, leaving the path to trust simpler.
- Our values are enforced at every step of the process. Infrastructure is a balancing act, and we have to keep our values close as we build. If we focus solely on efficiency, for example, then we might cut publication times but lose some of the rigour of close review. Workflow technology needs to be designed to uphold research integrity. Only by embedding the values and principles of the research industry in the infrastructure built to support it, can we find the right balance and success.
Publishing workflows cannot exist in a vacuum. They need to talk to each other, share data and insights that help human reviewers make informed decisions. We need to stop wasting time on tasks that technology can take over, but we need to retain the most ethical and integrity-rich practices possible.
Author: Sami Benchekroun, CEO and co-founder of Morressier