Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Are new journal models changing PR for science and research?

I was asked to speak at an event last Thursday on behalf of STEMPRA, an informal network for science communicators. The event, it transpired, was put together after an article appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review discussing eLife's media policy, suggesting that the role of the Press Officer could be abolished and scientists could liaise directly with the media using eLife's plain language summaries (Digests). So the event was convened as an opportunity to hear directly from eLife's head of Marketing and Communications, Jennifer McLennan who was in the UK. The rest of the panel included me, representing a traditional publisher perspective, Faculty1000's Eva Amsen, and Zoe Dunford, Communications and Brand Manager for the John Innes Centre and the Sainsbury Laboratory.

From the group's perspective, eLife's policy was offering something that breaks with the conventions of traditional publisher policies and changes how PRs work with the journal. Their stated policy is that no researcher submitting to eLife is discouraged from sharing the results of their work before publication, and that every article is published with a plain language summary, with no media access under embargo. What was particularly interesting to hear from Jennifer about though was how this works in practice:

  • eLife has six (yes, six!!) writers on staff writing plain language summaries for every article that is published. These are therefore high quality journalism-ready summaries which could be issued directly to the media (and this is what the Columbia review article suggests)
  • Jennifer contacts every author two weeks prior to publication, and advises them to contact their Press Officer, making that plain language summary available to the press officer to use
  • eLife themselves issue a table of contents out to their database of contacts approximately a week ahead of publication, but this is literally title and author information, not the plain language summaries
  • eLife haven't actively issued any press releases to the media. What they are doing is using the contact via authors to the Press Offices to have them take on this role of dissemination. This seems really smart to me, as it builds what is currently a rather poor connection between journals and institutional PRs to help spread the word about new content from that institution. It does rely on the author actively seeking out their PR office though but it appears, from Jennifer's feedback, that this is proving effective. She also commented that, on the whole, institutions already knew about those articles which were going to be particularly newsworthy ahead of her reaching out from eLife
  • Every article from eLife has alongside its research article and plain language summary Digest an 'impact statement': a summary written by the author in less than 140 characters which you have no doubt guessed is used to send Twitter a tweet about every article published.

Although I say I was representing the 'traditional' publisher view, I found myself wondering how different SAGE's media policy really was from what eLife was claiming to be revolutionary. SAGE doesn't operate the ingelfinger rule and has never actively discouraged any researchers publishing with us from promoting their research ahead of publication. We do suggest when we are contacted by PRs that they wait to time their press releases to coincide with online publication, simply because that then supports the researcher in having access to the version of record, which we most often will make freely available for a limited period to support anyone looking for the article as a result of press coverage.

As I say above, what I was particularly struck by in the meeting is how eLife is strengthening the relationship between authors and their institutional PRs though. I've long been aware of the issue that we at SAGE have in not knowing the institutional PRs and how therefore to liaise more effectively with them when there's a particularly newsworthy article being published in one of our journals. With more than 700 journals now published from SAGE we know that there's just no way we could actively promote every article in the same way that eLife is, even if we had six writers on the team (which we don't!).

What was also interesting was eLife's insistence that media access does not need to be provided under embargo. There was a lot (a LOT) of discussion about this in the room. Mark Patterson from eLife was also in attendance and I was fascinated to hear him ask why journalists would care if one publication covered a story before another. Frankly, the definition of "news" and "news value" is having it first, or at the very least at the same time as other publications. So from this PR's perspective, allowing media to have embargoed access to stories is still important. As long as journalists continue to demand this, it'll continue to be how we issue stories wherever possible. It was really interesting to have Zoe Dunford actually give a live example of one of eLife's best received articles which has had widespread press interest: she generated the coverage by providing access to the article under embargo.

The other main topic of interest was the post-publication peer review model that Faculty1000 is operating. This again was fascinating, and really does shift where PR and media come into play in the publication cycle. If an article is "published" first and "reviewed" second, at what point is it safe for a journalist to cover an article? They run the risk of covering an article which may then later be subject to negative reviews. Eva commented that any article with two negative reviews is actually then de-indexed (not unpublished but removed from search). She rightly pointed out that there have been cases where articles in traditional journals with traditional peer review have gone on to be shown as poor research, the MMR Wakefield study obviously a key example. What she said that Faculty1000 advocate is that journalists wait until articles have been reviewed. However as many around the room agreed, the difficulty is how to get journalists to wait to report on a juicy story if it's available online. Again, how might a media embargo work, and if there isn't one, what's to stop someone stealing a scoop? Most certainly one to watch as I feel this conversation will continue to evolve.

I was told that it was likely to be storified and somone was recording a podcast, although neither are up from what I can see. If they do appear will add links to the comments below.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Gamification: snap the job's a game

“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and 'snap', the job's a game" -
- Mary Poppins

Ahh, wise old Mary: you knew the principles of gamification long before it was ever a buzz word. I've been blogging on and off about the Coursera module on gamification that I just finished, and now for some takeaways.

Before I do though, I need to say again how impressed I was with the whole experience on Coursera. As my first ever MOOC, I'd say the entire package, from the course content, to Kevin Werbach's relaxed and watchable lecture style, to the multiple choice and written exercises, peer feedback and course support, it was all well designed and well executed. I enjoyed the learning experience immensely.Whilst MOOCs are being met with some (valid) trepidation from the academic community right now, there is a lot we can learn from why this works, I would say. But more on that another time. So now to the takeaways...

Gamification: For The Win
What I liked most about the principles of gamification was the simplicity of the message as quoted from Mary Poppins above. What makes gamification work is finding the fun in any task. So we're not talking about 'playing' per se (and the course goes some way to explaining the difference between games and play, and between serious games (e.g. simulations) and applying gamification techniques). We are talking about applying game principles to any activity that you either have to do or really want to do but don't have the motivation to do (exercise, or keeping to the speed limit for example). In other words, gamification gives you the tools to make participants (or talking like a game designer, 'players') feel motivated to do a task. And once you achieve that motivation? Yep, you guessed it: everyone wins. When applied correctly, gamification can help a business achieve its objectives in a way that is enjoyable and motivational for the players.

It's not that simple
Ok, so I know I said that I love the simplicity of the message. But the other key takeaway for me is that this isn't just a simple case of 'stick some points, badges and leaderboards onto your activity and there's gamification, job done'. The course builds up to a six-step design framework that encompasses:

  • Defining business objectives: like every good strategy, starting by considering what it is you want to achieve is critical.
  • Delineating target behaviours: this again isn't a new idea, it is something often done at the start of web design projects for example: what is it you want your players to do that meets those business objectives?
  • Describing players: again, applied to other good business projects, this just means working through who your target stakeholders are: what will they be motivated by? On the course we were taken through a good range of different ways to explore players, including looking at game research models such as Bartle's player types but also looking at basic demographics and market knowledge.
  • Devising activity loops: in other words, coming up with the structure that will move players through the game, and motivate them to keep playing. The course covers a lot of basic information from psychology, exploring how you can engage people straight away and then how to keep players motivated. Techniques such as scaffolding are obvious in many online games: for example keeping the range of options available to players limited to begin with, and making it easy to progress through the first few levels. The course also talks about how to build up from there, to keep players challenged. Motivation to play comes in many guises, and this was probably the biggest learning point for me, one which I'll want to do some more reading around. 
  • Finding the fun: one thing Prof. Werbach stresses many times is how easy it is to forget about this, and just think about game elements without thinking, 'is this really fun for my players'? I think this is one I've been guilty of without ever really knowing gamification is what we were trying to do. Why would players want to do what we're asking of them? Working through what makes it fun is key.
  • Deploying appropriate tools: as above, points, badges and leaderboards might be common game design elements but they are not the only ones. And in fact what was interesting was learning that leaderboards can in fact be de-motivating for some, where it feels like the target is just too far out of reach compared to their own performance. The course sets out so many different options. There's a vast toolkit available for those looking to explore applying gamification for themselves.
Motivation matters
The biggest takeaway is one I have already mentioned: motivation differs for every person and it's thinking through how to keep players motivated that I want to spend more time reading on now that the Coursera module has finished. It was a great introduction to what some of the issues with gamification can be: such as the introduction of points or other rewards de-motivating players to do something that they might have otherwise done because they were just driven to do it anyway (intrinsic motivation). Or manipulation: one example used on the course is where workers are given what on the surface appears gamification (e.g. leaderboard showing times taken to do an activity) but is in reality creating a negative environment to force workers to compete with each other. There are other examples of extreme manipulation (see this creepy film), where game systems are applied in what feel inappropriate settings. And there are examples shown where virtual rewards are substituted for genuine benefits (such as points instead of better pay). All these are areas that need further exploration.

Final certification still to come, but I think I've passed! Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about this growth area within marketing and it's something I'll be continuing to think about for publishing and education over the coming months.

Monday, 6 May 2013

On motivation, and more on the MOOC

It's a long weekend here in the UK and my parents are down visiting. They decided to use this trip to present me with a folder full of school reports, including this charming self portrait:

It forms part of a junior school record of achievement, where I was asked many questions: what was important to me, from friends to family, to how I rated my ability to work alone or in groups, what skills I thought I had, and what targets I was setting myself for senior school. It was basically a personality profile done way before I knew what one of those was. Impressive really, looking back!

What struck me was what it asked in order to identify drivers and motivators. And what was even more interesting is how what I recorded about myself as an eleven year old hasn't really altered all that much.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm in the final stages now of a Gamification course (my first MOOC). One of the key things I've been learning about has been motivation. What makes gamification particuarly worthwhile is its ability to take something otherwise dull or mundane and making it fun. Kevin Werbach's course neatly applies the principals of psychology, understanding what drives motivation, to creating game structures, whether that be external drivers, like points or badges, or intrinsic motivators like the desire to do something for others, or being part of something bigger than yourself.

What I identified about myself aged eleven was that I really hated not understanding something - I wanted to get it straight away, and even now I find it difficult being put on the spot and will spend hours preparing myself and knowing every minutiae about a subject when it's important (a typical introvert response). I also identified that I felt good learning new things. That is something that stays true now, and is one of the biggest drivers for me professionally. I like being challenged, and will go out of my way to find opportunities to increase my skill-set. I'm hungry for new information and am inspired by reading around subjects that stretch my understanding of business and communication. That's really what prompted me to sign up for the Gamification MOOC in the first place.

It makes me wonder what research has been done about the setting of motivators and the application of that knowledge for business. Definitely one to do some more reading around.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

A short whinge about Blogger

This isn't the post that I logged in to write about this evening, but having logged in I felt the need to have a little whinge.

Typically, I enjoy using my iPad for most activities. That includes writing for this blog. It's convenient, I can draft on the go, I can keep an eye on my stats, and until today I also thought I could reply to comments.

However it would appear that I can't post comments on Blogger. Not at all. Not replying to comments on my own site, not making comments on other people's blogs. That is pretty poor. I'm not impressed. I'm hoping someone is using a decent app that gets around this problem. Answers on a postcard please. In the meantime, no commenting for me...