SDA Adopts a Scholar’s Spiral

Publishing as scholarship

After nearly a decade of promoting the RSD conference Publishing Ladder, SDA has adopted a cyclic publishing “spiral” to re-centre systemic design publishing on the development of scholarship. The publishing ladder was used as a model for RSD authors to further develop their research following the conference working paper in the proceedings. The ladder promoted a typical stepwise model for developing scholarly work, from an RSD paper to a special journal issue. Guest editors collaborated with design research journals FORM Akademisk, She Ji, and other peer-reviewed journals to find and promote high quality work first presented at RSD in the proceedings,

Positioning authorship in terms of a cyclic, spiral process supports a vital emergence of supportive opportunities for scholars. Going forward, SDA will employ a cyclic non-hierarchical approach to advance scholarship by adopting a spiral model for systemic design publishing.

The publishing ladder is a well-understood and an attractive option for the diligent author (A Ladder of Publication: Scaffolding for emergent authors describes the framework). However, members discussed the publishing ladder at the 2021 SDA General Assembly, offering a critique of the ladder’s implicitly hierarchical structure, with a single preferred destination, and perhaps not suitable for all members.

In response, SDA board members initiated a transition from the ladder to the Scholar’s Spiral, a metaphor motivated by three ideas:

  1. Reduce competitive implications of the ladder’s hierarchical structure, which places the achievement of the peer-reviewed article at the top of the ladder.
  2. Encourage the development of new authors in the field by promoting a holistic and high-standard process for authors at different levels of quality and readiness to start publishing.
  3. Adapt our knowledge of systems thinking to the publishing process.

SDA recognizes how the field takes shape through studies in adjacent field journals and partner societies, with conferences and journals in design research, systems sciences, interdisciplinary studies, and relevant fields. The SDA community supports young researchers, graduate students, and new RSD contributors as they pursue their own best pathways to publishing – from conference to journal, and as envisioned, other outlets for non-research and case studies. The Scholar’s Spiral also encourages established investigators to follow their path.

“Design” of the Scholar’s Spiral

There is no set form of the spiral model, as there could be many rings or iterations of research contribution and mobilization. The figure shows a simple 3-ring spiral with numbered steps as the occasions for authorship.

  • Each ring is an iteration of development, with the first ring, of course, being an RSD conference paper.
  • A second cycle could be a case report or essay, following the further development of a study or project.
  • The Contexts journal could be the ultimate publication of a completed research project, as in the ladder, or the journal can be another step in knowledge mobilization.
  • Other conferences or journals could follow, as scholar shares and expands ideas and connection, with more visibility and citations.
  • Cyclicity and variability allow authors to follow their own path rather than chase the next level of the publication.

Following a typical cycle in the SDA spiral, we can trace the following points of production and exchange in the figure:

  • RSD symposium abstracts
  • Presentation and dialogue at RSD symposium
  • RSD proceedings paper
  • Development for other conferences
  • Refereed publication of work in progress such as a case brief or relevant journal
  • Refereed publication of research in Contexts – The Systemic Design Journal

Supporting Scholarship

The most important point is to recognize how the Scholar’s Spiral intends to support the evolution of scholarship within the SDA membership by providing appropriate points for contribution, peer feedback, audience, development, and publication and promotion, all within the support of a diverse, creative multidisciplinary community.

The cyclic nature of the SDA spiral, as opposed to the ladder metaphor, balances this inclination by always suggesting that a scholar’s development of work is personalized, evolving, and part of an ongoing process. The membership ethos is to co-create the socialization and support for all members to contribute their work, find feedback and collaboration where needed, and pursue their own pathways toward research and practice outcomes that naturally build a vital design field for the future.

SDA publications spiral showing six possible steps

The SDA Publications Spiral is supported by a volunteer publications team.

Posted March 2022


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