Every year around this time, a flurry of notes goes back and forth
about the Common Ground conference cycle and the Common Ground journals.
Each year, the same information goes around with people reporting mixed
experiences and raising the same questions.
This is a quick note to support what others have said. First off, I
want to say that I have no problem with the fact that Common Ground is a
profit-making enterprise. Such for-profit companies as Elsevier, Berg,
and Routledge publish leading journals in all fields.
In my experience, the same cannot be said of conference cycles.
Associations sponsor nearly all-serious conferences. The reason for this
is that an academic or scientific association of expert volunteers
provides the peer review services and long-term engagement required for
a serious conference cycle. Without this support, a top-notch conference
is difficult to imagine.
The experiences that people have at Common Ground conferences suggest a
far more random process. There is no significant continuity. As many
have noted, one always risks an occasional flat conference even with the
best of will and the deepest engagement. Even so, the standard process
delivers a reasonable conference more often than not. In contrast, a
process in which advisers are not engaged at all and organizers are
mostly engaged in business management is hardly a recipe for
development. This is especially problematic when none of the advisers
review or participate.
It would be different if conference participants included a broad
spectrum of leading scholars, but this is not the case when the
conference participants and journal authors are people that generally do
not appear in other venues and all reviewing is done by the same group
of inexperienced people submitting the papers.
Chris’s description is quite right and I support his views. I was at
the London conference as a keynote. So was Fil Salustri, and like Fil, I
found the event delightful. Much of this had to do with the energetic
and savvy work that Daria Loi put in as organizer. Daria was until last
year editor of the journal, but she withdrew over the fact that even as
editor, she had no real involvement. I had the same problem as an
adviser. I resigned from the journal advisory board. They kept my name
on the board long after I resigned. (The web site does not currently
list journal advisers, so I don’t know if I’m still an adviser.) I
do know that many of the former journal advisers are listed as
conference advisers. I wonder whether any of them has any real
engagement with the conference cycle.
The journal maintains two problematic practices that seem to ensure
question able quality.
First, everyone that reviews an article is listed as an “associate
editor” for the volume in which they review. To confuse ad hoc
reviewing of articles taken from the conference with editorial activity
as an associate editor is questionable. It is difficult to manage a
serious, engaged editorial group with a dozen or so editors and
advisers. To manage or properly work with over 200 “associate
editors” in a serious way is impossible. This suggests that
something is amiss in the editorial model.
Second, conference participants are encouraged to publish conference
papers as journal articles, without the cycle of enrichment,
improvement, peer review, and editorial engagement that distinguishes a
conference paper from a journal article.
This process underwrites a business model that may be quite successful
in financial terms, but it does not meet the generally accepted
standards for academic publishing. It succeeds financially for an
obvious reason. For a single conference fee, a participant gets three
ticks for the metrics. First, participants harvest a conference
presentation, usually in a city that merits a visit in its own right for
museums and fine dining. Second, they get a journal article. Third, if
they have done the work of reviewing, they are acknowledged as
“associate editors,” along with 200 or so colleagues from around
The Common Ground web site advertises the journal as “peer-reviewed,
supported by rigorous processes of criterion-referenced article ranking
and qualitative commentary, ensuring that only intellectual work of the
greatest substance and highest significance is published.” The
editorial and publishing process does not support these claims.
According to the Common Ground web site, the company -- and this is a
privately held, for-profit company -- manages conferences and journals
in 17 fields: arts, books, climate change, design, diversity, global
studies, humanities, learning, management, museums, social sciences (all
of them!), science in society, sport and society, sustainability,
technology (the entire range of issues!), ubiquitous learning,
All 17 journals have the same two editors. The editors own the company.
Some journals have a third editor. Anyone who edits a journal would find
it hard to imagine editing 17 journals – let alone 17 journals in 17
The same situation applies to the conferences. The conferences are
booked at venues with an academic patina, often at distinguished
universities. But the universities are conference venues renting
facilities to Common Ground – the universities are not conference
sponsors, nor do they play an active role in Common Ground.
I’m of two minds on the Common Ground conferences and journals. I
agree with the need for new models of academic publishing and new models
for conferences. I am skeptical of the many companies claiming to offer
these new models across dozens of fields and disciplines without the
engagement or expertise needed to make new models work.
When Common Ground first contacted me through Daria Loi, I felt that
the idea of a new publishing model and a new conference model was worth
exploring. Chris Rust was one of the original advisers. At the time of
the first Design Principles and Practices conference in London, Chris
withdrew for many of the reasons stated in his note. I remained on the
board due to Daria’s involvement and my respect for Daria. At that
time, however, I raised some of these questions, and the Common Ground
organizers wrote a reasoned and responsible letter promising significant
improvements and changes. These changes have not been made.
The editors of the Common Ground journals wrote a fascinating
theoretical article this year in a serious journal describing their
views and their critique of academic publishing. If the Common Ground
journals and conferences reflected the issues and concerns of the
article, I’d have greater confidence and I would have remained
As it is, I feel the advisers to these conferences and journals do
little to advance the field. If Common Ground were to pursue a model of
engaged scholarship that genuinely lives up to the promises and claims
on the Common Ground Publishing web site, I’d have been happy to
As it is, I am a skeptic, and I’d encourage people to think twice
before participating in a Common Ground conference. I’m even more
skeptical about the journals. The journal ranking study we undertook
last year suggested that the Journal of Design Principles and Practices
has little or no impact in the field. Authors should think twice before
submitting an article to a journal with no impact. With the few hours
that most of us have for writing, it is important to choose a journal
where be of value to the field. We now have two dozen design research
journals that range from good to outstanding. They are all actively
seeking articles. Given the opportunities available to publish in solid
journals that have broad readership, there is no point choosing a target
journal with no impact.
My two cents.
Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS
Swinburne University of Technology