Reflections of a Journal Editor

When my term as Editor-in-Chief of New Directions for Evaluation ended I was asked to write a short piece for the AEA newsletter, as I did each year whilst I was EIC. I submitted a short reflection on knowledge and publishing rather than a summary of what was in and what would be in NDE. I have been told by Gwen Newman of AEA that the short piece I wrote would be published in the AEA Newsletter, but three months have passed and it hasn’t appeared. I have no insight about why.

Below is the short reflective commentary I wrote.

As of December 2012 my term as Editor-in-Chief of New Directions for Evaluation ended, and Paul Brandon’s term began. AEA has made a fine choice in appointing Paul, and I wish him good luck in his new role.

Closing the book on six years working on NDE leads me to reflect on being an editor and the role of scholarly journals. I have enjoyed being the editor of NDE, I hope I have made a positive contribution to AEA, and I have tried to respect the diversity of viewpoints and varying degrees of cultural competence in the journal publishing game. I have enjoyed working with the newer generation of evaluators and those whose voices might not otherwise have been heard, but regret that this did not make up more of my time as NDE editor. I also have mixed feelings, even if, on balance, the good outweighs the bad.

Journal editors are gatekeepers, mediators, maybe even definers of the field, who are expected to oversee and insure the fairness of an adjudication process that results in the stamp of approval and dissemination of knowledge that is most worthy and relevant to the field. But in fulfilling this role, journal editors participate in a larger ‘game’ of knowledge production. Of course, others participate in the game as well, including authors, the reward systems in higher education, professional associations, publishing companies, and indeed journal readers. Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of “illusio” captures the ‘game’ of publishing in scholarly journals, a game where everyone must play, and even be taken in by the game, in order for the game to continue.

And so I have played a key role in this game, a game that is mostly seen as necessary, benign, civil and collegial. I am, however, a bit disquieted by my complicity in the game, where knowledge about evaluation theory and practice is commodified, packaged and embargoed. A game that sometimes defines too narrowly what ought to be published, in what form, by whom, and limits access to knowledge. The illusio of the game leads us to believe that without stalwart gatekeepers and limited (often corporately owned) venues for sharing knowledge there will be excessive scholarly writing, and that it will be of dubious quality. There is little evidence to support this fear, and a growing number of highly regarded open access journals, blogs, and websites that do not forsake quality and suggest the possibility of a new game.

In a vision of the future where knowledge is a public commodity and freely shared, I imagine journal editors might play a different role in the game. A role that focuses less on gatekeeping and more on opening the gate to welcome the sharing of evaluation knowledge for free, with unfettered access, and without the need for authors to give away copyright to their works. While it may be the case that knowledge in some disciplines has a small, select audience, evaluation knowledge crosses all domains of human experience with an attendant desire to foster improvement. The audience for our work is vast, and I wish for thoughtful inclusive sharing of evaluation knowledge.

One comment

  1. Well, none of this is much of a surprise. Of course the academia is reluctant to post your summation, it’s way too critical. Fact is, it’s critical, while complicit, so that makes it even more challenging. While I think your points are valid and important, let’s not forget that it isn’t necessarily you or me (or our roles) that matter, or even what we might aspire to, but where we are, and what is expected of us. I think it is important to keep going back to people like Foucault (etc) to keep going back and back and back. I totally applaud your position, and I too await the response (but not with bated breath).

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