How can an editor create a more equitable, diverse and inclusive peer review process?

21st September 2022

Author: Prof. Nataša Rupčić, PhD, Editor-in-Chief, The Learning Orgnization

For any Editor-in-Chief, the quality of the peer review process is critical to the journal's development and success in terms of visibility and reputation. Often, editors rely on an existing pool of reviewers. Many of them may be experienced researchers who could be less open to the development of a particular field in a specific direction and less tolerant of new perspectives.

When I became Editor-in-Chief of The Learning Organization in February 2022, I focused my work on several values: quality, dialogue and communication, balance, and inclusivity. Let me explain: The focus should always be on the quality of the papers, which could only be judged on the basis of expertise. For this reason, I started a dialogue with many reviewers serving on the Editorial Review Board, but also with reviewers who were reviewing articles at the time. My task was to assess their expertise and potential to support the journal, but also to find out what aspect of the learning organisation and organisational learning appealed to them most.

The idea is to make the task of reviewing less stressful and more interesting for the reviewers. In this way, they are also more likely to accept the invitation to review, plan their involvement with the journal, and submit their reviews in a timely manner. I also like to personally thank the reviewers who have gone the extra mile in their work. Those who were particularly thorough in their reviews and open to new perspectives were invited to serve on the Editorial Review Board, which they kindly accepted. I should add that all reviewers who have been exceptional in their reviews have received my note of appreciation and an invitation to serve on the Editorial Review Board, regardless of age/gender/race/origin/background, which helps to make the journal inclusive so that the leaning organisation philosophy unites us all.

My involvement is also important during the review process. In addition to peer reviews, I always provide my own feedback to authors by pointing out important issues that need further attention. However, I also share these comments with the reviewers so that they can learn my perspective and that of the other reviewers and talk with me about areas that they feel need special attention. Ongoing and timely communication with reviewers and authors is key to better understanding the work that needs to be done. Reviewers often appreciate such feedback. Balanced interaction with authors is also necessary. In the case of conflicting reviews, it is my job to evaluate all arguments and provide the authors with a brief summary of comments to consider when revising their work and to point out which reviewers' comments deserve special attention.

In addition to the Editorial Review Board, the ScholarOne system provides a database of reviewers and authors from various fields. Keyword searches help to find authors/reviewers who might be the best fit for the topic. Usually, more than two reviewers are selected and invited to review the paper. Some decline, of course, but if more than two accept at the same time, they are welcome to submit their reviews. The reviewer selection process is thus free of any bias – age, gender, race, nationality, background. It is particularly useful to have the titles of the papers they have authored or reviewed – then it is useful to identify their expertise more precisely, but also to invite those authors who have written their papers more recently.

I believe that all authors deserve the same treatment. I am honoured to have the opportunity to work with veterans in the field. Some of them are kind enough to offer their help and review the papers even though they are retired. They have more time and usually a keen eye for detail because of their experience. But junior scientists can also be very valuable, and their input is also welcome. They have worked hard on their dissertations and have a comprehensive overview of the existing literature in the field, as they needed it to prepare literature reviews for their dissertations. Methodological issues could also be an area in which they are very knowledgeable. If I find that they have written valuable reviews, they will be invited to join our Editorial Review Board, regardless of their position in the academic hierarchy.

If the invited reviewers cannot accept the invitation to review, they can suggest substitutes. These suggestions are very valuable, and I usually thank them personally for suggesting their colleagues as reviewers. These experts are then added to the database, but they are of course first screened to learn more about their affiliation and expertise. In this way, our reviewer database is further enriched and diversified. However, sometimes we receive contributions that do not fit into the existing framework and represent a leap into a new field of learning organisation development. Often these contributions are multidisciplinary. In this case, Editorial Review Board and/or ScholarOne database may be of less value. In this case, I use bibliographical databases to see if other authors have already published work on a similar topic or on the topic of the paper. Then I invite those authors as reviewers and follow up on their work. So inclusivity is an important value that I base my work as an editor on - in terms of authors, reviewers, but also new topics.

The honest, constructive, and open communication with the authors and the reviewers, which emphasised the inclusion of ideas, also made my work more enjoyable. My associate editors and guest editors, who also have diverse backgrounds, have also provided invaluable support. I believe we have a strong and supportive team at TLO, which is a guarantee for future success. I should add that this way of working is perhaps more natural for us at TLO because we try to live the values of the learning organisation in our work and in our lives by developing learning relationships based on trust, transparency, ethics, and the desire to learn and develop our own personal mastery, which is one of the key disciplines of the learning organisation.

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