June 24, 2020

Publishing in a Research Policy special issue

Research Policy remains the top journal in innovation studies, and the only one in the FT 50 list. For readers who haven’t published in RP (or published recently), I thought I would summarize two conference talks last week about how to publish in RP.

Last Thursday and Friday, Carliss Baldwin, Marcel Bogers, Rahul Kapoor and I cohosted a conference for our planned RP special issue on “Innovation Ecosystems and Ecosystem Innovation”. It was originally intended to be in Copenhagen after the end of DRUID, but — like so much else this year — it was forced online by the pan(ic)demic and associated travel restrictions.

As with the earlier 2014 SI, this team of four guest editors is working with a specific member of the journal’s 13-member board of editors. For this special issue, Ammon Salter will be enforcing RP standards as the so-called Lead Editor. On Friday, both Ammon and I (based mainly on my 2014 experience) talked about publishing in Research Policy.

Ammon Salter: “Introduction to Research Policy”

Ammon started with a review of RP and its impact (probably redundant for a virtual room full of scholars who are eager to publish in RP). This included its rankings in the ABS and FT lists, as well as the Google Scholar ranking of innovation and entrepreneurship where RP is #1, well ahead of a virtual dead heat between ETP/JBV/SBE).

Among some of the general advice:
  • have a central focus on innovation/technology questions
  • don’t cite articles based on their journal ranking (i.e. only “A” journals) rather than where the most relevant research is published
  • avoid a “utopian” view of the theory or phenomenon
For the special issue, Ammon emphasized the importance of making a contribution relevant to a general innovation audience — in addition to any contribution(s) to the topic of the special issue.

There was a bit of a disagreement with the audience over Ammon’s claim that “RP does not require a strong theoretical contribution”; the conclusion of one attendee (consistent with my own) is that whether or not the editors demand such theory, the current batch of reviewers certainly do so.

In response, Ammon revised his statement: “If the paper is poorly informed by theory, that’s a problem.” This I believe is an apt summary of what I saw in 5+ years as a special issue editor (and briefly RP AE): no matter how strong or weak the novelty of the contribution, if the paper isn’t anchored to (“informed by”) theory, it won’t be published in a good journal.

Joel West: “Publishing in the RP Special Issue”

In my own talk, I summarized the guest editors’ goals 
  • Integrate, synthesize ecosystem research
  • Attract new authors, insights, contributions
  • Make ecosystems visible to broader innovation community
After reviewing the submission process, I projected how we would apply RP and other top journal principles to the editing of the special issues. Below are 4 slides, which includes my general concerns about qualitative methods:

Since the conference, we have posted a FAQ with updated guidelines for special issue submission.

Clarity Above All

One topic produced unanimity among the editorial team:
  • Ammon: “Have a clear story to tell — one that you could tell in a 2-minute elevator pitch.’
  • Carliss: “The greatest sin is to confuse your reader. A linear flow is essential across and within paragraphs.”
In my (brief) time as an AE, I developed a slogan
If you don’t know what your paper is about, how are we supposed to know?
Clearly clarity is valued by the editor, by reviewers and of course by the eventual readers of the journal. I am still amazed when I find a virtually unreadable paper in a respectable (“B”/“B+”) innovation journal: how did this paper make it through the process?

If you look at our 2014 special issue — edited by West, Salter, Vanhaverbeke and Chesbrough — we at least got this part right. The papers differ somewhat in their impact, but I think if you look at every single paper, it’s clear what the paper is trying to accomplish and what evidence was used to achieve that result. 

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