PRW 2023 Series Part 1: Leveraging Feedback and Analytics to Shape the Future of Publishing

Making data-driven and strategic business decisions is pivotal for driving advancement, fostering innovation, and maintaining a competitive edge. Harnessing critical anecdotal and analytical user data is key for scholarly publications seeking to make informed improvements to their editorial and production processes that will positively impact their business, stakeholders, and published works. Publications that lack visibility into user data can experience a series of disconnects in their publishing workflows and policies, such as misaligned direction and prioritization, inability to identify pain points, limited customization opportunities for target audiences, reduced satisfaction and engagement, and more. To gain useful insights, publications can proactively solicit direct feedback from Authors, Editors, and Reviewers and track performance, usage, and impact metrics of their workflow systems, publishing policies, and research output. However, publishers often face challenges as the channels in which this data is collected and analyzed are often highly-manual, time-consuming, vary significantly across different organizations, and are typically conducted outside of the editorial workflow management system.

Responsible for delivering an intuitive and efficient workflow, publications can leverage anecdotal and analytical insights to identify and address specific bottlenecks through strategic enhancements. Is the manuscript submission workflow too tedious for Authors, and if so, where is it failing and how can it be improved? Is the review assignment and submittal process clear for Reviewers? Where do Editors struggle the most and why? Are letters and other forms of communication from the journal effective? Are there better means of supporting and guiding users? How can the journal become more accessible? As publishers measure these areas (and beyond!) and implement iterative improvements, they strengthen their relationship and commitment to their user community through open forums and strategic, user-centric tracking. Solutions can come in many forms, such as additional instructional text on certain pages, linking or embedding support resources in purposeful areas, simplifying required workflow steps, expanding diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA), adjusting letter templates and deadlines, and much more. For example, the use of analytics during the submission process can allow Editors to track where Authors are pausing and even leaving their submission as incomplete. Editors can track specific pages in the workflow and record the number of times that an Author has ‘clicked out’ of the submission process at a given page. Improving this workflow can ease Author frustrations and help prevent a decline in submitted articles from researchers that quit the workflow prior to completing submission.

In our pursuit to better understand how analytics can pave the way to enhanced solutions and to determine how Aries Systems can support publishers in this endeavor, we explored this topic during a new Discovery Roundtables session at the 2023 Editorial Manager User Group (EMUG) meeting held in Boston, Massachusetts this past summer. An interactive workshop designed to help inform our product development roadmap, the Discovery Roundtables session included facilitated group conversations focused on three key topics. In honor of Peer Review Week (PRW) 2023, which is dedicated to the theme “Peer Review and the Future of Publishing,” we are highlighting discussions held on each topic at EMUG 2023 in a three-part blog series. This first installment serves as a summary of the insights gained from attendees on the application, challenges, and potential of journal feedback and analytics through the Discovery Roundtables workshop.

Using the “Current State, Future State, Ideal State” workshop style, Aries staff expertly guided discussions with multiple groups of editorial office staff to pose potential solutions under a three-tiered timeline. This allowed attendees to share how their publications collect and use this data now, brainstorm realistic and tactical opportunities for advanced data collection and desired areas of impact in the near-future, and conceptualize long-term possibilities in a perfect world with endless resources. To fuel ideas, the Aries team prompted groups to consider the following:

  • How are you currently collecting feedback and analytics from users, and how do you use that data?
  • Is this process manual? Do you have workarounds in place? Who is doing this kind of work?
  • How might you solve this need within EM, outside of EM, or some combination?
  • How do you currently communicate features/notices to users? How do you determine if a newly implemented workflow is successful?
  • Do you currently run any surveys? To whom and at what cadence? How is it distributed?
  • What information, policies, guidelines, or governance would you like to see in place around automated, integrated feedback and analytics tools?
  • If we could start from scratch and the “sky is the limit,” how would you build this out in an ideal world? What is currently too costly, too manual, too limited in scope to make this out of reach?

Various members of editorial staff contributed their ideas and creative suggestions on how to enable in-depth collection of feedback and analytics and subsequently make enhancements to their operations and publishing platforms (with Aries) through understanding. In the “Current State,” most groups acknowledged their use of the Enterprise Analytics Reporting suite in EM/PM to generate important analytics for their publications’ performance and user engagement today. Others indicated that they currently conduct external surveys outside of EM, link Google form or WordPress surveys within letters, leverage excel spreadsheets or tools like Adobe Analytics to collect and analyze data outside the system, use custom text in EM or external platforms like Salesforce to communicate with their users, and more. While these practices mark a great starting point, this exercise underscored gaps and inconsistencies that opens a need for more formal, robust feedback and analytics solutions within Editorial Manager.

Once the groups voiced their current feedback, analytics, and communication channels, they were invited to brainstorm ways in which both they (as the publisher) and Aries (as the software provider) can elevate this process. Under the “Future State”, attendees expressed their desire for more customized opportunities for messaging (such as through HTML), more automated and custom reports, pop-up messages and announcements from the journal to a specific user role, feedback survey templates, annual report dashboards, better insights into user journeys, and integrated analytics and feedback tools. This input from users at EMUG serves as a call to action from Aries consider potential solutions for our customers on our strategic development roadmap, including the integration of in-product feedback tools and analytic tracking tools with EM.

When prompted to consider what feedback and analytics management would look like in their ideal world without limitations, the attendees pushed the limits of their imagination! Groups envisioned functionality such as tracking industry user trends on a larger scale, using standardized industry benchmarks to inform and analyze against their metrics, in-application polls and use cases, integrate in-product AI/human chatbots or instant messaging, option to import/ingest data from another analytics platform to combine with EM data and dashboard, tracking letter effectiveness (such as if the user has opened the email), ability to define active vs. Inactive users to purge and clean up the database, and more! While out of scope for immediate action, this feedback from attendees is invaluable to inspire other short-term solutions and can greatly impact feedback and analytical management and innovation in the long-term future of scholarly publishing.

“Hosting lively, interactive discussions with Editorial Manager customers to explore the endless benefits of feedback and analytics to their workflows during the first-annual Discovery Roundtables workshop was a fantastic experience,” stated Jeff Christie, Aries Senior Account Coordinator. “It is truly rewarding to help shape the future of peer review and publishing, as we continue to celebrate this Peer Review Week, by connecting and collaborating with our user community to better understand and solve for their evolving needs.”

“The Discovery Roundtables workshop was a huge success, sparking thought-provoking dialogue and generating various creative ideas on the potentials of advanced analytical and anecdotal data,” said Nick Paolini, Aries Product Manager. “This open forum provided us with valuable insights into where publishers stand today with collecting and using this kind of data, some possible first steps towards near-term wins, and an inspirational long-term vision. Together with our user community, we mapped out opportunities to expand analytics to drive enhancements to peer review and the future of publishing – which is what this year’s Peer Review Week is all about.”

For Editorial Manager/ProduXion Manager users unable to attend EMUG 2023, we invite you to please share your thoughts, ideas, and feedback with us on this topic to contribute to our strategic product roadmap!

Peer Review Week (PRW), an annual, community-led global event, explores topics related to current trends, advancements, challenges, and opportunities related to peer review as part of the larger publishing and research ecosystem. Held September 25-29, PRW 2023 will celebrate “Peer Review and the Future of Publishing,” earning the top vote through a worldwide poll of the scholarly community against proposed themes. Aries Systems is a proud member of the PRW Steering Committee. Follow along with our three-part blog series this week!


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*Suggested solutions and enhancements generated from the EMUG 2023 Discovery Roundtables workshop offer valuable input towards Aries’ strategic vision, but are not guaranteed to be implemented on the product development roadmap