& future trends


On this page we explore what our findings mean for the research community and academic publishing industry. We hear from experts in the field, offer conclusions, and present our roadmap to impact.  

Dr John W Moravec, Founder and Principal Member Education Futures LLC, shares his vision for the future of research presentation, highlighting the need for a greater focus on the real world, improved accessibility and innovative thinking within the sector. Sally Wilson, Head of publishing at Emerald, calls upon the industry to move away from supporting an academic culture that relies on journal impact factors and contribute to the development of an open and inclusive research culture that supports a wide range of research outputs.

As we conclude the report, we suggest actions for the research sector and its stakeholders, covering issues such as support for academics, change within academic culture and ways to drive impact.

Section 1

Conclusions & roadmap to impact

There is a general desire for innovation within teaching and research output, but how does this match action? What are the consequences?

Our findings suggest that current research outputs such as the journal article are too long and difficult for students to use effectively for learning and that publishing and funding pressures are thought to be stalling innovation. Undergraduates, postgraduates and academics generally want change within higher education and believe that research could be made more accessible through greater use of technologies such as videos and animations and being more relevant to the real world.

Policy makers, funders, universities, academics, and publishers share responsibility for making research outputs fit for the future and it’s time for all of us involved in the higher education landscape to consider what we can do to create change.

The danger of doing nothing is something we all need to respond to, especially at a time when the societal impacts of the pandemic are challenging the lives and futures of many. What is clear from the report findings is that we all need to work together to ensure the structures and incentives that currently dictate the research ecosystem do not hinder future academics from doing things differently in the future.

The report poses four key questions for the stakeholders of research

  1. What are the most effective resources we can provide for teaching and learning that address both students’ and academics’ preferences and needs?
  2. How do we respond to the limits of the research article?
  3. How do we reduce the barriers to innovation?
  4. What does the future of research output look like?

In response, we suggest consideration is given to the points below:

  • Many universities may be in precarious financial positions due to the COVID-19 crisis, however, where possible, they should create initiatives to help academics provide more varied teaching approaches, as well as craft more accessible and engaging research outputs.
  • Academics are aware that current research outputs, particularly the traditional research paper, are difficult to understand and could be made more accessible to learners and presented more effectively to decision makers. They are however in a tough spot for initiating change (e.g. lack of budget, time, support). More research is needed into what specific support would help them alter their learning approaches and widen their research outputs.
  • Universities and funders have a role to play in supporting new ways to communicate research and use broader measures to assess individual research contributions. They should move away from a focus on impact factors and citations as the key measures of success and the basis for incentives such as promotion, recognition and funding.
  • Publishers need to lead from the front and recognise the role they must play in making research more accessible to the outside world. Signing up to DORA and promoting a broader range of impact metrics, moving away from journal impact factors and towards article-level metrics, will help drive change in academic culture.
  • Publishers should explore how they can support change within research culture and publishing practices to help drive impact, looking at areas such as rapid and open dissemination, support to underfunded areas and greater focus on interdisciplinary research.
  • For research to lead to impact it must be accessible to end users. Publishers can make research easier for students and non-academics to understand by providing supplementary content options such as videos, graphics, and images. They should look to provide support tools to help promote healthy research practice and support the exchange of knowledge with those outside academia, in forms that aid decision making and promote real world action.

Roadmap to impact

At Emerald, we have made a commitment to drive research impact, and whilst we are proud of the progress we’ve made and the difference it makes, there is still important work to be done.

Our roadmap shares the story of how far we have travelled on this journey, and our intentions to support change in the future.

See the roadmap [pdf]

Section 2

Future trends, & our view

Expert view

John W Moravec – Founder and Principal Member Education Futures LLC – talks about future trends.

John W. Moravec

It is important that scholars, researchers, and practitioners stay current with developments in their fields, especially in this era of accelerating technological development and social change. A key problem is that although the flow of information is increasing, our abilities to review and process research in our minds is not. It is simply getting harder and harder to keep up and make the best use of what we have learned to solve new problems.

The findings of the ‘Is research output fit for the future’ survey serve as a wake-up call. If fewer than one-in-five respondents believe it is easy to make use of research outside of academia, this implies large gains in effectiveness in the transfer and application of knowledge may be gained by increasing accessibility.

At the same time, these findings are not surprising. Promotion and tenure schemes, and academic culture in general, are more concerned about adding lines on curricula vitae and publishing in journals perceived of being ‘higher impact’ than the true impact of whether research produced can be made useful beyond the walls of the Ivory Tower.

Refocusing the presentation of research on becoming relevant in the ‘real world’ will probably not require any one solution, but many

The survey reflects a hunger for new modalities for sharing what we learn in clear language & through expanded forms of digital media

As a journal editor, the required response, at first, seems obvious: improve accessibility. And there are limited steps we can take, such as opening discussions on social media, working to ensure article abstracts are written in plain language, and serving as an ambassador for the articles (and the authors) with practitioners.

The academic publishing industry, as a whole, faces a deeper crisis. Its structure serves the needs of academics to publish, but readers who desire to learn are left behind. As a result, articles are still hidden behind paywalls only well-endowed libraries can afford and publishing standards support the status quo. Opening accessibility will require incredible determination and innovation from publishers as they are not only tasked with changing their own business models but also challenging academic culture.

I applaud Emerald for taking the lead on this conversation in the industry. Such commitments to social responsibility will undoubtedly contribute toward positive education futures.

Expert view

Sally Wilson – Head of publishing at Emerald – sets out our role.

Sally Wilson

While other content formats – videos, animations, podcasts, lay summaries, and even 3D modelling, etc. – are not new and have been used by researchers to complement the journal article or book chapter, it is still not as common in the less well-funded Social Sciences. The view of academics in the survey is that the single biggest way their research can become more impactful is through greater knowledge exchange with those outside academia. However, the majority of published research articles clearly don’t support this owing to an overreliance of jargon, lack of plain English, being too long and dense text formats that don’t readily engage a lay or even academic audience. Students also believe that more novel content formats that move research outputs beyond the traditional article will create deeper engagement and deliver a richer learning experience.

The pandemic has accelerated the desire for research that can make a difference and solve big, real-world problems and has highlighted once again that academia’s culture and incentive structures need reimaging. As publishers, we have a clear role to play working with other scholarly stakeholders, including funders, member organisations and higher education institutions, to stop propping up academia’s current incentive structures that value the publication of the traditional research article in impact factor journals over the research output and content formats that move us beyond the article.

Our intent is to move from a publisher of articles to a facilitator of research

We do this by building deep relationships, leveraging our well-established connections to a global community of social scientists, practitioners & policy makers, to allow us through co-creation to facilitate the process of turning research outputs into policy & practice

We will explore new commercial models, partners and sponsors to remove existing barriers to open publication internationally, and to contribute to the development of an open and inclusive research culture that supports a wider range of research outputs.

We will also work with researchers to help them make their work more discoverable and to enable research outputs and contributions to be recognised in different ways. We offer practical guides and advice as well as workshops and webinars for those looking to get published and, once published, how to create a platform to extend the reach and generate attention and ultimately impact for their work.

section 3

About the report

The report was commissioned and produced by Emerald Publishing.

Authors: Rebecca Torr (Content Editor), Alison Kildunne (Head of Brand), Tamsyn Johnston-Hughes (PR Manager), Mathew Sutcliff (Customer Insights Manager), and Laura Etchells (Brand Engagement Manager).
Designers: Paul Martin (Head of Design) and Amanda Benson (Studio Manager).

References & further reading

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