ANALYSIS & OPINION

Supporting journal publishing practices in the global south

Journals in the developing world face challenges in becoming known and respected in the international research landscape. Siân Harris describes Journal Publishing Practices and Standards, established and managed by African Journals Online and INASP

The wives of migrant workers who travel from Nepal to other countries for work are at increased risk of contracting HIV. Gaps in knowledge about autism amongst doctors in Sri Lanka can delay diagnosis in children. Farmers in Nepal need to adjust their planting cycles to adapt to climate change. Cattle roaming freely on Bangladesh streets increase health and environmental hazards1.

These are just a small snapshot of the interesting and important recent research from countries in the Global South. Such research, conducted by people with in-depth knowledge of the local context, is vital for guiding policy and practice to address the challenges or opportunities identified. 

The research described here was all published in journals that were developed and run by scholars within the countries mentioned. However, despite these journals being open access, this research may not come to the attention of researchers working in the same fields in other parts of the world.

There are many challenges for journal publishing in the Global South, including things like lack of funding or resources, unreliable internet or limitations in language skills. Many Global South journals are set up, managed and edited by practising academics who are doing publishing tasks in their spare time.

Beyond local challenges, there are also inherent biases in the global publishing system. The Global South has for many years been underrepresented in journal metrics such as the impact factor, and when metrics are based on citations, this problem becomes self-perpetuating and inequalities and biases persist.

In response to this challenge, African Journals Online (AJOL) and INASP were approached by journal editors who wanted a way to demonstrate the quality of their journals, as well as guidance and support to operate to the same standards and processes as journals published in the Global North.

Journal Publishing Practices and Standards

The result was Journal Publishing Practices and Standards (JPPS). JPPS provides detailed assessment criteria for the quality of publishing practices of Southern journals and is initially being used to assess the journals hosted on Journals Online (JOL) platforms in Africa, Asia and Central America.

JPPS assessments provide an important guide to authors and readers as they navigate a complicated scholarly publishing landscape; JPPS badges provide reassurance of the credibility of Southern journals. Equally important, however, is improving equity in scholarly publishing, giving small, scholar-led journals in lower- and middle-income countries access to the same tools as the rest of the world – and helping them to meet the same expectations too.

The JPPS process assesses against 108 detailed criteria. These cover things like: publication of original research; a functioning editorial board; an active and accurate description of the peer-review process and quality-control processes, including journal plagiarism checks; availability of guidelines for authors and reviewers; and clearly displayed editorial and publishing policies.

Journals assessed against the JPPS criteria are given one of six levels: inactive title; new title; no stars; one star; two stars; and three stars. The JPPS badges for each journal are displayed on the JPPS website (www.journalquality.info), where the definitive list of assessed journals can be found, and also on the Journals Online websites. As such, they also form part of the Think. Check. Submit. checklist. The JPPS badges provide assurance to authors and readers that the journals meet an internationally recognised set of criteria at a particular level.

In addition to a JPPS level, the editors of each assessed journal receive detailed reports of their assessments, customised for each journal to provide guidance about strengths and areas for improvement. Journal editors can use – and are already using – the detailed feedback from the JPPS assessment to help them identify ways to improve their publishing practices and standards with a view to achieving a higher level at the next assessment.

The Handbook for Journal Editors2, and a recently piloted online course have been developed as resources to help journal editors in their journal development. Editors can apply for JPPS reassessment after six months to a year if they have evidence of improvements in publishing processes.

Background

The idea for Journal Publishing Practices and Standards (JPPS) was conceived in 2014 and AJOL began discussing with African journal editors about appropriate criteria for their contexts. At the same time, AJOL started discussing the idea with long-term partner INASP, which was running five Journals Online platforms in Asia and Central America.

The JPPS framework criteria, processes and implementation plan were then jointly developed by INASP and AJOL. INASP trialled and implemented the assessments with the journals on several of the largest JOLs during 2016/17. The framework was formally launched in September 2017 and results of the assessments began to be displayed on the JPPS website and the relevant JOLs platforms in early 2018.

Developing such a system is not quick or simple – and conducting a detailed assessment process with an emphasis on support to journal editors is a lengthy process too. The inclusion criteria and standards set out by the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) from March 2014, SciELO South Africa, Clarivate (formerly Thomson Reuters), Scopus, the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME), the Forum of African Medical Editors (FAME) Editorial Guidelines, and the Committee on Publishing Ethics (COPE) Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing were used as part of the development of the framework. 

Key to the process was also the need for continued alignment with initiatives in the countries involved and ensure that the JPPS initiative remains Southern-led and relevant to Southern needs. To ensure relevance to journals publishing from developing countries, INASP and AJOL compiled the framework on the basis of decades of experience of contexts, norms and practices in developing country journal publishing, and also on feedback from journal editors in Africa. 

In addition, we ensured alignment with other activities going on within the countries we work in. In Bangladesh, for example, a parallel and complimentary initiative has emerged to develop a roadmap for improving journal quality in the country.3 Aligning multiple activities inevitably adds to complexity of the process but it also is an encouraging sign of need for such activities and an opportunity to work more closely with strong Southern advocates of journal publishing quality.

Making a difference

Reports have now been sent to journal editors in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Central America and Africa and the JPPS site and JOLs platforms now display badges for all these journals (more than 900 journals in total). 

In addition, we have received scores of positive responses. Most editors not only thank us for the assessments and reports but also detail plans to improve their journal processes and receive higher rankings. Some of these changes required are simple. For example, the JPPS criteria are very strict about prompt uploading of content. This can be a challenge with a journal run by volunteers who are also busy with their research and teaching commitments. In response to the JPPS assessments, several journals that had got behind with populating their latest issues were prompted to catch up, resulting in their JPPS ranking changing from ‘inactive’ to ‘one star’ or ‘two star’ status depending on the other criteria met.

Responses include:

  • 'Thank you for your extensive feedback. We are very encouraged with this outcome. I will definitely work together with my editorial team members and improve on those area that warrants change.'
  • 'Your evaluation report will certainly help us to enhance the quality of our journal. We will address all issues raised during the assessment and take necessary measures to resolve the problems.'
  • 'I firmly believe that this award has increased our responsibility and hope to go forward.'

The future

AJOL and INASP have been grateful for funding and encouragement from Sida and DFID over many years to support the development of the JOLs platforms and, more recently, the JPPS initiative. We are pleased to have continued support from Sida for this work over the next year but are also keen to discuss other funding opportunities to extend this work.

On the technical side, we are working towards an online form (and database) to streamline the assessment process. This would be a tool that new journals could use in applying to join a JOL platform and also that journals already on the platforms could use in their applications for reassessment.

Extensions to JPPS might also include going beyond the JOLs platforms in partnership with other Southern journal platforms. In addition, we hope to roll out a full online course in journal quality following feedback and refinement from the current pilot.

In the meantime, we are delighted that JPPS is a finalist for the 2018 ALPSP Award for Innovation in Publishing and we look forward to sharing more about this initiative at the ALPSP conference in September.

BLOB Official JPPS website: www.journalquality.info

BLOB Siân Harris is a communications specialist at INASP

References:

1 Examples taken from research press release project run by INASP between 2016 and 2018 for research from Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. See www.inasp.info/publications/helping-southern-research-reach-global-audience

2 INASP Handbook for Journal Editors, 2018. www.inasp.info/editorshandbook 

3 Improving the journal publishing environment of Bangladesh – Parts 1 and 2, Haseeb Md Irfanullah, INASP blog, 2017. blog.inasp.info/improving-journal-publishing-environment-bangladesh-part-1-dialogue and blog.inasp.info/improving-journal-publishing-environment-bangladesh-part-2the-roadmap  

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