By Emma Kent
Chairman? Chairwoman? Chairperson? Chair? What is the acceptable version of this title when used in reference to a woman? For some reason this is a question which still leaves me feeling uncomfortable. I’ve decided to adopt the pre-politically correct version of English and be referred to as a Chairman, despite my gender!
12 months ago, I was invited to become the Chairman of the Editorial Advisory Panel for Civil Engineering, the Journal of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the primary publication in its suite of Journals known as the Proceedings of the ICE. I had already been an active member of the Editorial Advisory Panel for around 5 years and was delighted to be asked to take this step up.
The Panel has editorial control over the Journal and its content. We are responsible for sourcing new authors, by identifying key topics and authors of relevance to the industry, members of the ICE and the wider world. We assess every paper that is published to ensure its significance to the readership as well as its readability, credibility and value before publication.
I think one of my key reflections after my “Year in the Chair” is the challenges journals face in the constant flow of bite-size, instant access, 140 character media. One of the issues with paper-based journals is that we need to maintain and develop readership, generate interesting content and remain relevant to our subscribers. We also need to maintain our “impact factor” – a highly competitive numerical measure of how well we are cited within other indexed journals.
In the digital era this is hugely challenging. There’s a wide variety of media constantly battling for attention, most of it available in multiple online formats, so it can be difficult to show people the value in sitting down to read a peer-reviewed, referenced paper of 3,000 words in length. Plagiarism and intellectual property theft are also issues in this field, with so much material readily available via the internet.
Our reader demographic is mainly older members of the ICE and we are constantly seeking ways in which we can better engage with younger readers.
Change within historic Institutions like the ICE can be slow to effect so the Panel is only slowly starting to see the fruits of its labours come into effect but it is happening. We have a downloadable iPad friendly pdf version of the Journal available. We now publish our articles online ahead of print so that the finished article is available as soon as it is ready (rather than in two months when the journal is printed). We are now sharing additional media forms for some of our articles such as videos and presentations. We are carrying out a series of focus groups and surveys to try and ensure we remain in touch with what readers want to read.
No one would deny that quality, peer-reviewed technical work will always be valuable as a source of reference to those working at the forefront of innovation and exploitation of new technology. Whilst we occasionally struggle to find those who are willing to sit down and write 3,000 words on the topic of their expertise, we are never short of hot topics, new developments and inspirational projects in the construction industry. Over the last 12 months, I’ve realised that the biggest challenge the ICE have set me is ensuring that we deliver that content in a way which is accessible to those who need to read and learn from it. I’ve only got another two years to achieve something meaningful…
I’d love to hear from anyone who wants to join in the debate, with ideas on innovative content delivery methods so please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org to share your views.
To find out more about Cundall’s Structural Engineering team go to http://www.cundall.com/Services/Structural-engineering.aspx