To reflect the importance of the journal’s scope - npj Clean Water - for a global cross section of researchers, Prof. Bhekie Mamba took deliberate steps to expand representation on the journal’s editorial board, from China and the Global South. In this interview, he reflects on how these changes have benefited the journal’s mission.
npj Clean Water publishes interdisciplinary research across addressing the science, technology, application, policy and societal issues that contribute to sustainable supply of clean water. Much of this research is interdisciplinary and has an impact for societal issues – for example, supply of clean water has an impact on considerations like sanitation (a dangerous cousin, if you will), health and wellbeing in a community. Clean water and sanitation is a basic right that is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We want npj Clean Water to be a home to research from around the globe with impact for communities around the world.
One starting point for addressing diversity and representation in the journal was the realization that the journal was not getting a lot of submissions from China. Given my own relationship with the Chinese research community, the quality of research in this area in China, and the relevance of this research for China, I felt we needed to address this gap. With half the world’s population in China and India, and with the research we publish in npj Clean Water being of such high relevance to this region, we felt that it was critical to engage more actively with these research communities.
In general, bringing a perspective that thinks about representation, thinks about marginalization and has direct experience is very important in research. So, for example, if you have only viewpoints from elite perspectives, you might solve problems that don’t exist, or propose solutions that don’t address problems that do exist. So, in this way too, representation is very important.
We brought on Professors Yunxia Hu and Lu Shao to help us make in-roads in China and I can tell you that this really helped us establish trust in the Chinese research community! We began to see an increase in submissions from China, an increase in Chinese researchers starting to review papers for us, and we even began to draw submissions from researchers of Chinese origin from Western countries. For example, we have 14.3% increase in the number of submissions from China in comparison to the same period last year and 23% increase in the number of acceptances.
Chinese researchers rightly wonder why a journal is lacking in representation from China given that China is now one of the largest producers of research, so, increasingly, representation from China on the editorial team was a very important strategic step for the journal, its growth and success.
We already have quite a geographically diverse Associate Editorial team with three quarters divided equally between China, South Africa and Saudi Arabia and the rest are from Japan, USA, and Europe. The Editorial Board includes researchers from 19 countries.
But we are also looking to improve representation from other regions and we are going to be actively looking at gender balance. Gender stereotypes are still very pervasive and breaking down gender stereotypes is critical. Gender parity doesn’t just happen, we have to be intentional about it. Another change we want to bring about is focusing on early career researchers as there is a huge potential for us here to tap into this group as reviewers, as authors, and as future editors.
And finally, an important and related aspect is being able to collaborate across disciplinary differences to distill and communicate about the power of new technologies like nanotechnology. So, diversity in disciplinary perspective is also important.
One challenge with renewing editorial boards is making sure that we have the right balance between getting diverse representation, getting people who are willing and able to actively engage with journal activities. Another is making sure that you are recognizing and celebrating editorial colleagues who are making important contributions to running the journal! One step we have taken to integrate new members from different backgrounds and regions around the world is to support them through one-on-one onboarding sessions to welcome them into the journal, ensure they feel like they are part of the journal and that they have a key contribution to make to the journal’s success.
Prof. Bhekie B. Mamba is the current Executive Dean of University of South Africa’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology. He has occupied a number of leadership positions including being a Professor and Head at Department of Applied Chemistry at the University of Johannesburg, Director of the DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre – Water Research Node and the Director of the Institute of Nanotechnology and Water Research at the University of Johannesburg. He has experience in the area of nanotechnology, polymer chemistry and water treatment technologies. His interests focus on creating sustainable solutions that will ensure that water resources are maintained and preserved for future generations. He has published over 400 peer-reviewed articles in high-impact quartile 1 and 2 ranked journals, some of which have been extensively cited by renowned researchers, and has co-authored 22 book chapters. Over the past few years, his annual citations have exceeded 1000, which compares favourably with those of other leading scholars in his research field. He has supervised over 100 master’s and PhD students to completion.