eLife Latest: January 2022 update on our actions to promote equity, diversity and inclusion

This third report on our work to address inequities in research and publishing shares our recent progress and plans for the first half of the year ahead.

From a pandemic without an end in sight to the ongoing climate emergency, the world faces a daunting array of challenges in 2022 that are only set to widen inequalities within and between nations. These global challenges have implications for everyone, including the research community. At eLife, we hope to help address these challenges by promoting greater equity in science and medicine through action.

Here, in the third of our twice-yearly updates, we report on our activity over the last six months and share our plans for the first half of 2022. As before, our progress since our last report has been mixed, with achievements made across a number of projects, including some in addition to those outlined last July, while some other ambitions are either yet to be realised or being reconsidered.

For example, since launching it last year, 45% of eLife editors have now responded to our diversity monitoring form (up from 40% in April 2021). This gives us an improved yet still incomplete view of the diversity within our editorial boards. To date, almost 85% of authors submitting a manuscript have opted to answer at least one of our updated demographic questions. Similar questions in our anonymous reviewers’ survey have a lower response rate (about 18%); we’ll soon however implement a new mechanism to collect demographic data from reviewers in a more timely fashion that also can be linked to a private record of the manuscripts they have reviewed.

Alongside the above, other activities that took place over the past six months most notably include running our third and most-inclusive round of the Ben Barres Spotlight Awards, recruiting the 2022 cohort of eLife Community Ambassadors, and taking the steps needed to become a carbon-neutral organisation.

With the work completed so far as a foundation, and equipped with the lessons about how to match our ambitions with our available resources, going forward we will concentrate on a more focused set of priorities to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in research. Over the next six months, this will encompass the following areas:

  • Developing a framework for sustained action
  • Addressing bias in peer review
  • Encouraging inclusive and equitable research
  • Underpinning action with equitable technologies and platforms
  • Supporting inclusive and empowered communities

As always, questions and comments are welcome. Please feel free to share your feedback via a comment or via email: edi@elifesciences.org. Anonymous feedback may also be shared via this form.

Report prepared by:

Stuart King, Research Culture Manager

Developing a framework for sustained action

There is a long road ahead for us to reach our ambition of being an organisation that has fully embedded the value of equity, diversity and inclusion within all that we do. Over the next six months, we want to proceed along this path by developing a unifying framework for our efforts in this area. We hope that this will allow us to better understand and communicate how different actions and initiatives each contribute to a longer-term vision. We also hope to build upon the staff training from last year and empower our teams to confidently adopt an intentionally equitable approach when designing and delivering projects.

Next Step: To help achieve this ambition, we will first:

  • Articulate a set of guiding principles, questions and resources that can be applied to promote equity, diversity and inclusion within all key areas of activity and projects at eLife

Addressing bias in peer review

Peer review is and has always been the core of what eLife does, and it is crucial that this process is fair and objective. Yet, it is people who make decisions in peer review and everyone has biases that can unintentionally influence their decisions. The fairness of peer review can also be threatened when seemingly objective criteria lead to inequitable outcomes because they ignore systematic inequalities within the research ecosystem.

Given the central role of editors in peer review, increasing the representation of traditionally underrepresented groups within our editorial board remains a major tactic to help us address bias. We are readying to launch a call for self-nominations for editors from Latin America to help us start seriously addressing the lack of geographic diversity within our editorial community. This project was not completed last year as originally hoped, though we have now added additional resources to see that it is accomplished early this year instead.

In addition, since we know that achieving greater representation across our editorial board will not inevitably result in equitable involvement or unbiased decisions, we have other actions planned to also help us better understand and address various forms of bias in peer review as described below.

Next steps: Over the next six months, we will:

  • Run an open call for self-nominations for editors from Latin America and the Caribbean (carried forward from July 2021)
  • Aim to increase the response rate to our diversity monitoring form for editors to above 50%
  • Design a data-analysis pipeline to aid routine monitoring for bias in our peer-review processes
  • Pilot giving eLife editors regular personalised feedback to empower them to address any potential unconscious biases in their editorial activities and decisions

Encouraging inclusive and equitable research

Addressing bias in peer review is one important area where we can take action to promote equity in science and medicine. Another is seeing that more of the research that we review is itself being conducted in inclusive and equitable ways. To support this overall goal, we will look to develop and adopt policies to help us leverage the influence of peer review to help dismantle systems of oppression – such as racism, sexism and colonialism – wherever they exist within the research enterprise.

This year we will start by researching policies to confront the practice of parachute research, whereby researchers from wealthy institutions, typically in the Global North, carry out fieldwork or institutional visits in lower-income countries and take back data or resources without meaningfully collaborating with local researchers or involving the local communities.

Next step: In time for our next report, we will:

  • Research and prepare a potential anti-parachute research policy

Underpinning action with accessible and equitable technology

Technology is a significant tool through which eLife can support the research community and drive research culture change. As such, we want to make sure that the technologies we develop are accessible to all and built to meet the research community’s needs.

When developing our journal website, accessibility and usability have long been important considerations, but we recognise that there is more that we can do, especially for readers who use assistive technologies. As such, in the next six months, we will begin a multi-phase project working with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to assess our website’s accessibility. Any lessons learned will also, in time, be applied to other eLife platforms, such as Sciety, wherever possible.

Next step: By July, we will:

  • Commission an expert usability and accessibility assessment of the eLife website

Supporting inclusive and empowered communities

eLife is more than a journal and technology innovator, we are also part of the wider community in research communication. From our staff, to our editors, to our early-career advisors, we have experience in convening groups to help address issues faced by researchers.

2022 sees the introduction of a new cohort of eLife Community Ambassadors, all eager to create widespread change in research culture. The first eight months of the updated programme will now be dedicated to learning and community-building among the Ambassadors before these early-career researchers move on to an advocacy stage.

Next step: In time for our next report, we will:

  • Onboard and begin to equip the 2022 eLife Community Ambassadors with dedicated training in equity, diversity and inclusion issues and best practice