Author: Meagher, Gabrielle
Date published: April 1, 2011
Many readers will be aware that since late 2010 the A/57 has been in a stage of transition from the editorship of Professor Deborah Mitchell at the Australian National University to a new team formed from the Universities of Sydney and New South Wales under the auspices of the Australian Social Policy Association (ASPA). We would like to take this opportunity in the first issue published under our editorship to explain the background and rationale for this change and to outline the future directions that are being set for the journal.
First we would like to pay tribute to the excellent work carried out over eight years since 2002 by Professor Mitchell and her editorial assistant Ms Louse Sims in maintaining and developing the journal as the foremost generalist academic publication in the field of social policy in Australia. We are not proposing major changes in focus for the A/5/ at this stage. Rather we want to build on and further develop its reputation as a high quality journal of social policy in the current context of academic publishing in Australia. This means recognising the demands posed by the Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) initiative, though not being driven by it. It also means reflecting the new arrangement of publishing under the auspices of a recently-formed professional association, the ASPA.
Why the affiliation with ASPA? An important goal for the association is to contribute to the development of theory, policy, practice and education within the professional field of social policy. One key way such organisations make this kind of contribution is by publishing peer-reviewed research journals. For academic members, a journal provides a means of disseminating and debating the findings of their research within and beyond the academic community. For policy-makers and practitioners, a journal provides access to current research and, ideally, a source of new concepts for policy and practice development and a critical mirror for existing ways of working.
ASPA's Steering Committee and then its Management Committee discussed at length how best to approach including a refereed research journal in the association's activities. Should ASPA start its own journal? Was there an existing journal with which the association might affiliate? A range of factors were taken into account in the deliberations. On the one hand, the reasons behind establishing ASPA itself - including the need for a space for building and sharing social policy knowledge - arguably pointed to the need for a new journal. On the other hand, the journal field is nothing if not crowded: the ARCs ERA list of outlets for 2010 included no fewer than 663 journals in fields cognate with ASPA's: policy and administration (112), political science (245), social work (112) and sociology (194). Further, the ERA process itself makes the process of establishing a new journal more complicated than it might otherwise be: a new journal would not be ranked, and an unranked journal would likely face particularly stiff competition for manuscripts in the already crowded field.
On balance, it seemed that affiliating with an existing journal was likely to enable ASPA to develop its research dissemination role most effectively and most rapidly. The existing journal with a mission that best aligned with ASPA's was the Australian Journal of Social Issues, published by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) for the last 45 years. The A/5/ has been included in the Social Sciences Citation Index for many years - something that can take a long time for a new journal to achieve.
The timing was right for all parties - the existing editorial team at ANU had served a significant term and was ready to hand over the reins, while ACOSS had come to the view that publishing an academic research journal was no longer a major priority for an advocacy body. Accordingly, in December 2010, ASPA entered into an agreement with the ACOSS to take over all aspects of publication of the A/57 by June 2012, and the ASPA Management Committee appointed us as editors. Since then, we have been working on putting together the current issue, developing some new policies on matters such as special issues, and negotiating the transfer from a manual to a fully electronic submission system. Ms Karina Wilmott has also joined the A/57 team as our editorial administrator.
Potential authors will notice some changes to the Notes for A/57 Contributors section at the back of this volume and readers are encouraged to view these. Principally they include: no longer publishing the shorter 'debate or commentary' pieces, which we have found generally to be less successful than longer, more developed scholarly articles; and a revised policy on themed or special issues.
We have also included some new, specific guidelines for the use of qualitative material in submitted articles. This is an area where our experience has shown that potentially interesting articles can sometimes be undermined by research material which has not been analysed in great depth and which is presented in ways which leave questions about its validity and reliability. Further, we have added a stipulation concerning articles based only on reviews of existing research, which in general would not be accepted for publication unless they use a high standard of systematic analysis and introduce significant new insights on the topic in question from the material reviewed. Finally, the revised guidelines specify in some detail information authors need to provide when submitting a manuscript.
In terms of the process of manuscript submission, the new guidelines foreshadow the adoption of a web-based electronic manuscript management system. This latter process we hope will lead to a quicker and more effective means of handling the peer-refereeing and editorial decision processes which will benefit authors and referees alike. This is in the process of being set up, so authors can, for the time being, continue to submit papers by email and will be directed to the website once it is operating fully.
The A/57 has long been the leading social policy journal in Australia and all these changes are intended to maintain this position and improve further its quality and potentially its future ranking. We look forward to collaborating with readers as contributors, referees and guest editors over the coming years, to further enhance the quality, reach and impact of the research published in the journal.
Gabrielle Meagher and Tony Eardley