Without you, we are nothing: why community engagement is at the core of everything we do

Research Publishing
By: Susie Winter, Wed Mar 6 2019
Susie Winter

Author: Susie Winter

Vice President External Communications

Sometimes there is great value in stating the obvious; the scholarly publishing industry would not exist without a broad international community of researchers, students, librarians, funders, and commercial partners.

Publishing is about people, and if we are to succeed in our mission to help the community to discover, learn and achieve more, then we must regularly and honestly listen to the communities we serve.  That’s why we are always seeking ways to engage in genuine conversations with a diverse range of people about the future of science and scholarly publishing. 

The full story would be much more than one blog post, so below are just three examples from colleagues at Springer Nature, showing how we listen to and engage with our communities. 

The SpotOn approach to community engagement: Mithu Lucraft, Marketing Director, Outreach and Open Research 
Mithu Lucraft © Mithu Lucraft

When it first launched some ten years ago, our Science Policy, Outreach and Tools Online event, known today as SpotOn, provided a fresh opportunity for discussion, collaboration and innovation in science communication.

Over the years, our events have been held in both the UK and US, with an annual conference as well as smaller community networking events. The scope of these meetings has evolved year on year, reflecting the continued evolution of science communication, with innovation always at the heart of the discussion.

Being community-led, SpotOn provides researchers, stakeholders and publishers with a forum in which to exchange ideas and discuss challenges openly. Assisted by a team at Springer Nature, SpotOn is unique in that the content for the conference is planned via an open Google document and shared on Twitter so that anyone can provide feedback and ideas on themes, panel sessions and speakers.

Over the years we have explored the future of peer review, public engagement, the increasing popularity of hackdays, problems with fraud in academia, social media for science outreach, and open research to mention just a few key topics.

What we get is access to an audience who are deeply engaged in the practice of science communication, sharing new ideas and initiatives both from Springer Nature and elsewhere, enabling us to ensure that the decisions we make as a company really meet the needs of our authors, readers and customers.

“Being community-led, SpotOn provides researchers, stakeholders and publishers with a forum in which to exchange ideas and discuss challenges openly”

Meeting on common ground - materials-nanotechnology roadshows: Evelyn Ramforth, Product Manager in the Database Research Group
Evelyn Ramforth © Evelyn Ramforth

To be close to our communities, we need to get out and meet them on a regular basis. Roadshows help us to do this.

One example was a series of roadshows we organized last year in South Africa to showcase Springer Nature’s materials science and nanotechnology databases. 

While its official purpose was to help researchers, students, teachers and professionals achieve and discover more, this just scratched the surface As the roadshow format allows us to also engage with researchers on topics of interest, this meant we were able to hear directly from researchers in South Africa what matters to them.  What we heard loud and clear was how we can help them solve societal problems such as the energy and water crisis alongside specific individual products.

Engaging in this way also meant we were able to run ‘Pain Points’ sessions.  These sessions saw questions about publishing and data posed and researchers, working together with Springer Nature colleagues, challenged to find solutions; a great way of building trust between publisher and researcher by working together as partners on the same problem.  

“For me, these roadshows are about collaborating closely with the research community through a dynamic process on the basis of trust. We have to get closer to our communities so that we can serve their needs.” 

Keeping in touch online: Ben Johnson, Head of Communities and Engagement, and Davy Falkner, Community Manager

Ben Johnson © Ben Johnson
Limited budgets or lack of time prevent many researchers from regularly attending international conferences. This is especially true for young researchers or those from emerging economies.

“The best engagement is face to face and it always will be, but when regular, face-to-face contact is not possible, online engagement ensures people from all over the world can build and maintain relationships. Online communities can supplement conferences.”

Although the best type of engagement is face to face, at Springer Nature we have been developing a wide range of online communities, such as our new Nature Research Communities.  These allow editors, authors and academics to post and share blogs with other researchers working on subject-specific research content, ensuring people from all over the world can build and maintain relationships, supplementing conference attendance when regular, face-to-face contact is not possible.

Davy Faulkner © Davy Faulkner

“We want blogs to spark a dialogue – to keep the conversation going and to ensure we keep abreast of the changing needs of the community.”

In addition to online communities focused on specialist topics, Springer Nature also coordinates a range of BMC blogs which broadcast interesting content published in BMC journals. These are written by Springer Nature staff, authors and researchers and are aimed to be accessible for people across all fields of science and even interested non-scientists and are visited by over one million people each year.

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

We know that community engagement, whether through face-to-face contact, telephone calls or online platforms, is nothing new. But regularly revisiting the ways we talk to our communities and assessing how we strengthen relationships with researchers and customers is now more important than ever. Our goal as a publisher is to be genuine partners to the research community. We believe that by building trust through dialogue we can work together for better communication of science and research. 

To get involved in the conversation

Share your ideas for SpotOn with spoton@biomedcentral.com or tweet @SpotOnLondon

If you are interested in setting up a SpringerMaterials workshop at your institution please contact Evelyn Ramforth

For further information about the Nature Research Communities contact Ben Johnson and the for the BMC Blog Network contact Davy Faulkner

Susie Winter

Author: Susie Winter

Vice President External Communications

Susie Winter is Vice President External Communications at Springer Nature where she heads up external communications for Springer Nature in its position as a leading research publisher. 

Susie joined Springer Nature from the Publishers Association, the trade association for the publishing industry in the UK where, as Director of Policy and Communications, she was responsible for developing and leading the PA’s work across the policy agenda as well as promoting the contribution made by the UK publishing industry at both a UK and European level.  

Prior to that she was the first Director General for the Alliance for Intellectual Property, working to ensure that the importance of IP rights to the UK economy is recognised.  Having begun her career as a Press and Broadcasting Officer for the Liberal Democrat Party she then spent several years at communications consultancy Luther Pendragon.