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6. How do we deal with key personnel being “away from their desks,” be it for sickness, vacation, or attendance at ASA meetings?
7. How well do we monitor the pieces of our publication pro- cess (via a dashboard and/or a calendar of events)?
First-Iteration Solutions
The answers to these questions (which are mostly persistent ones, not subject to “one-shot” solutions) came not just from internal deliberations at the ASA Publications Office and at various meetings but from another source as well: the ASA Strategic Plan. Seeing that JASA and ASA’s other publica- tions needed help at a societal level, the Strategic Plan group made the improvement of ASA’s publications one of the four major thrusts of the plan. This gave us a very powerful ex- tra boost in terms of both workforce and resources. In addi- tion to our internal office meetings focusing on improving our journals, there were biyearly meetings of the Strategic Plan Working Group at ASA meetings and monthly confer- ence call meetings of the publications subgroup as well. This helped provide both directional guidance and implementa- tion of specific tasks. As a result of these efforts, we came to some “first-order” solutions, which we describe next (enu- merated as above).
1. The comparison with journals that JASA competes with really has to be done on a technical committee (TC)-by- TC basis. This is being done at present. However, to give a “baseline” answer, Adrian KC Lee looked in detail at competitor journals in Psychological and Physiological Acoustics (P&P). His answers gave a spread of results, but it was noted that to be competitive, we needed to shoot for a window of 45-60 days (average) from MS receipt to first decision to decide whether to accept or reject a paper or invite revision. As we mentioned before, JASA was at about 90-100 days, so we obviously had our work cut out for us.
2. The staffing issue was perhaps the biggest blind spot in our thinking. We knew we were struggling to keep up with submissions, but until Christy Holland, ASA president at the time, suggested getting a managing editor (ME) and using the Strategic Plan as a vehicle for the initial fund- ing, we did not see what was, in retrospect, an obvious need. Up to that point, ASA Publications worked with a minimal staff, which was good for ASA financially but was hurting our publications. When Elizabeth Bury came on board as ME on May 2, 2016, bringing with her a wealth of experience and talent, we quickly saw a huge change both
in our MS handling capacity and in the refinement of our processes. A major personnel deficiency in our organiza- tion had been remedied.
3. Identifying “which parts of the publication process we control” is important because we can most easily upgrade and make these steps more efficient. The main parts of the initial submission process in our direct control are the quality control (QC) of a submitted MS, the assignment of an associate editor (AE), the inviting of reviewers, the monitoring of the review process, and the decision after receipt of the reviews. The sum of these times, namely, the “receipt-to-first decision” time, is an important speed metric for journals, as previously mentioned. After a deci- sion is made, assuming it is for revision rather than for immediate acceptance (rare) or rejection (which we try to keep at the 50% level, typical of technical journals), the process time becomes a bit more individual and can depend on the author’s response. There are timelines for revisions (60 days for the first revision and 45 days for subsequent ones), and we have plans to streamline these latter parts of the process, but our primary focus so far has been on the first decision. The parts of the process outside our direct control, such as the submission through the EM peer-review system and the production and publish- ing through AIPP, also have some direct interaction with us, and we discuss how we have worked to improve those pieces of the process as well.
4. The breakdown of the publication stream into components was worked on by the Publications Office in Hyannis, MA, and by the Strategic Plan group. At the Salt Lake City ASA meeting, Adrian KC Lee introduced a “flow diagram” of the process (Figure 1) that has proven to be extremely useful. The rest of this point, which is perhaps the “meat” of this article, explains how we improved each piece.
The first step, initial QC of a received MS, is performed by Manuscript Manager Kelly Quigley. Under our old system, most corrections were performed at the initial submission stage, and as a result, two-thirds of the MSs received were sent back for correction before they were even entered into the system for assignment to an AE. This system was revised in March 2016 so that only the essential items for a proper review are requested. After this was done, the number of MSs returned decreased to about one-third and almost four days (on average) were trimmed from the length of time to the first decision.
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