A passion for impact

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Tony Roche

Emerald Publishing CEO Tony Roche talks of his career in scholarly publishing and a love of eastern cuisine

Tell us a little about your background and qualifications…

Born in London, England during the ‘summer of ‘69’, I grew up with family in Kent before returning to London to study earth sciences and Quaternary research at degree and masters levels respectively.  As one of the first in my extended family to go to university, I am eternally grateful to my parents for their support and encouragement to pursue my studies. 

The publishing sector today enriches itself by creating career opportunities for people with a range of experiences and from all walks of life, but when I started in publishing, in 1996, a degree was widely regarded as a pre-requisite for entry to the industry. My interest in publishing was really sparked by my masters studies, working with and learning from leading academics including Professors John Lowe, Russell Coope and James (Jim) Rose at Royal Holloway and the University of Birmingham.  

The Quaternary refers to the current period of geological history, and my studies focused on the understanding of the earth’s physical/climatic environments during the period since the last ice age. This is where my interaction with research journals and scholarly books began in earnest and following the completion of the masters course I secured my first role in publishing with Elsevier, based in its offices near Oxford. The opportunity to work with the research community, contributing publishing competencies to support the progress of science and society, remains central to my passion for the sector. 

You’ve recently been appointed CEO at Emerald. What are your immediate plans?

I took on the role of CEO with Emerald Publishing in October 2021, having served on its board of directors for the previous nine years. Emerald is a global, independent publisher serving social sciences and mission-driven research communities. Central to this brief, I am committed to accelerating the work we do to support positive change in our communities – particularly given the pandemic, which has further exacerbated inequalities within the global research and publishing ecosystem. 

As one of the first signatories of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Publisher Compact, Emerald is taking a range of actions to help realise the SDGs and create positive societal impact. We’re focusing on healthy research and publishing practices, commissioning mission driven content and creating an ever more engaging customer experience for users of our digital products and services. Whilst these are priorities for everyone at Emerald, on a personal level I was delighted to chair The Hidden REF’s Communicative Outputs panel in 2021, a competition that recognises all research outputs and every role that makes research possible. 

Looking ahead to the next few years, we are focused on three goals: supporting real impact through healthy research practices, mission-driven content and an engaging customer experience. This includes developing easier and more inclusive ways to publish, offering flexible options to further deepen customer relationships and going beyond the library with services to our communities. 

As a publisher with longstanding commitment to increasing diversity within our own business as well as the across research sector more broadly, we are pleased to build on this through our commitment to equal representation across our publishing practices by 2025. Alongside this, we will continue with our aim to increase equity and participation by removing publication barriers through the introduction of Emerald Submit, which supports authors in choosing the best open access publishing route in our journals. 

Are there any areas of scholarly communications that you are particularly passionate about? 

The impact agenda is central to Emerald’s vision and strategy. For decades, ‘research impact’ has been synonymous with the ‘impact factor’, but this is just one measure of research quality and academic influence.  

Funders, researchers and institutions are now increasingly thinking towards the societal impact of research. They are looking for real return on their investment: what provable benefit does research have in the ‘real world’? The fact that impact plans are becoming an integral part of funding applications, represents good progress in this regard.

However, there remains a lack of consensus on what counts as impact, and this is turn can create disparity in projects being reviewed and recognised. Emerald is supporting its communities through provision of impact literacy tools, to help them understand impact at individual and institutional level, to develop plans for their research to mobilise knowledge beyond the academy, ultimately contributing to change in society itself.   

What are your wider hopes for the industry over the next 10 years?

Individually, and with partners, Emerald is driving positive action through the Real Impact and Interdisciplinary Research Awards, signing the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), setting up a Real Impact Advisory Board and launching impact literacy tools to support healthy practice in planning and finding new ways to bring researchers and non-academic beneficiaries together. 

We share the same ambitions as our communities for the value of research and its impact on society. And we share the long-term commitment to open research. Yet, we recognise that the journey to real world impact requires wider changes across the research ecosystem. We believe publishers are well placed to help the academy break links with old measures of impact and enjoy a fairer, more equitable environment for research to thrive. But we recognise that we are just one voice, and that it’s going to take a collective effort over the coming years, to solve the challenges of research in a global context and deliver sectoral change. 

That is why we have launched a campaign that calls for sector-wide action, bringing together research and academic institutions, policy makers, funders, publishers and service providers. Our ‘Are you in?’ campaign is set out in our refreshed impact manifesto which pledges six commitments for change.  

Society’s challenges are phenomenal, we need to work in unison along with other stakeholders across the research ecosystem, and my hope is that over the next decade the publishing industry will become more deeply embedded as a partner along with funders, policy makers, and our traditional author, editorial and library communities.

Finally, do you have any fascinating facts, hobbies or pastimes you want to tell us about?

My wife Sarah and I love to get outside and walk in the Yorkshire Dales, where we are blessed to live. We also enjoy cooking – particularly Middle Eastern cuisine – and entertaining. Some years ago, I was fortunate enough to travel and trek in Nepal, including to Kathmandu, the Khumbu Valley and up to Everest Base Camp. That sparked a love for Nepalese cuisine, although many authentic ingredients remain elusive here in the Dales! I am also an avid sport fan, having long-since hung up my boots, previously playing and coaching in football and rugby. Today, Harlequins, Canterbury Crusaders and Tottenham Hotspur continue to delight and frustrate, in various measure.

Interview by Tim Gillett