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Adaptive and Industrial Approaches to Scholarly Publishing Systems

Adaptive and Industrial Approaches to Scholarly Publishing Systems

The design of scholarly systems typically adheres to one of two paradigms: industrial or adaptive. These paradigms define the approach to the two most critical elements of the system—technology and workflow. Understanding the interplay of these four elements —industrial, adaptive, technology, and workflow—is critical for grasping the limits and possibilities for forward movement within the scholarly sector.

The Industrial Mindset

In recent-ish history, scholarly publishing has been designed with an industrial mindset. This approach emphasizes a unidirectional (like an industrial conveyor belt), stage-gated process where each stage is optimized for error correction. The forward progression of objects (manuscripts) through this system is supposed to be robust and reliable, with each stage designed to catch and correct errors before moving forward. This, in the minds of the designers, creates a predictable and precise workflow.

These systems are not inherently concurrent, as concurrency disrupts a forward linear momentum. This last point is interesting, because concurrency is what we need to enable rich collaboration. So, industrial systems are only collaborative like a baton relay is collaborative, you must pass the baton forward (and not backwards), but the collaboration ends there.

Examples of Industrial Systems:

  • Open Journal Systems (OJS): OJS is a prime example of an industrially designed platform. It provides a structured, linear process for managing and publishing scholarly work.
  • Phenom: Another example, Phenom offers a comprehensive but rigid workflow, ensuring that each stage of the publishing process is meticulously controlled and monitored.

These systems are designed to support industrial workflows, where the focus is on a linear, predictable process. We can see the upside in that, especially where the primary directive is to have predictable costs at scale (true, although in different ways, for both OJS and Phenom). However, the down side is that this rigidity-by-design means that the workflows are not easily adaptable to changes or variations. When faced with a new publishing model industrial designers will tend to design and build a new (rigid) system.

The Adaptive Approach

In contrast, the adaptive design philosophy creates flexible and non-linear systems. Adaptive technology and workflows empower you to select the workflow and order of operations that suit your needs. It is not an 'anything goes' system—unless you want it to be—rather, it allows you to tailor the workflow to your preferences. This approach adapts to changing circumstances and requirements.

Technology in Adaptive Systems:
Adaptive technology is inherently flexible, capable of handling variations and adapting to new ways of working on the fly. It can accommodate diverse tasks and adjust to evolving needs without requiring a complete system overhaul. This flexibility allows for the organic integration of new processes and innovations, enabling the system to grow and evolve with minimal disruption. Additionally, adaptive technology often (almost necessarily) enables multiple users to interact with the system in different ways at the same time, via concurrency—the key ingredient to effective collaboration.

Interestingly, while adaptive technical systems are naturally suited to adaptive workflows, they can also support industrial workflows if needed.

Examples of Adaptive Systems

  • Kotahi: Offers a high degree of flexibility in workflow management, enabling users to customize processes according to their specific needs and preferences. Its adaptable nature supports a wide range of publishing scenarios, making it a versatile tool for a large variety of scholarly publishing workflows.
  • EJP : Known for its ability to handle variant workflows, EJP is utilized by scholarly publishers to accommodate diverse editorial processes. Its adaptable framework allows for customization and scalability, catering to the unique requirements of different publishing models.

Given that I designed Kotahi, it will come as no surprise that I believe adaptive systems are the way to go, which requires adaptive technology. Many of the problems in scholarly workflows stem from the industrial design philosophy. These systems have proven expensive for end users (journals) to adapt, create additional inefficiencies due to the need for manual management of exceptions that impede forward progress, and fail to adapt to the changing needs of the sector. (EJP doesn't have it right either but, broadly speaking, has the right idea).

The Quadrants

While industrial technology typically enforces an industrial workflow, adaptive technology, as mentioned above, provides the flexibility to support both industrial and adaptive workflows. This means that the primary factor shaping how people work in adaptive systems is not the technology itself but the chosen culture of production.

Take these four combinations by way of illustration:

Industrial Tech + Industrial Workflow: A classic setup optimized for linear progression, and designed for gated movement requiring precision and error correction at each stage.

Industrial Tech + Adaptive Workflow: Challenging and often impractical, as the technology struggles to support the flexible workflow.

Adaptive Tech + Industrial Workflow: Capable of maintaining a structured workflow while allowing for flexibility and forward iterations/optimizations without having to re-tool the entire system.

Adaptive Tech + Adaptive Workflow: The ideal combination for maximum flexibility and responsiveness.

In Adaptive Systems, Workflow Equals Culture

The crucial factor in scholarly publishing is getting the workflow right. However, "getting it right" varies between approaches. In industrial systems, this means conforming to the system's predefined processes. In contrast, adaptive systems emphasize the system conforming to the user's needs, offering flexibility and customization to fit diverse workflows.

Adaptive technology allows you to determine how you work based on choice rather than prescription. These choices are drawn from the broader cultural fabric of your organization, reflecting its values, practices, and desired outcomes. In this way, workflow in an adaptive environment becomes an expression of the organizational culture and mission, rather than conforming to the processes and values of an externally predetermined system.


While industrial designs have dominated, leading to rigid, structured workflows, an adaptive approach offers greater flexibility. Adaptive technology can support both industrial and adaptive workflows, providing users with the choice to work in the manner that best suits their needs. This adaptability can enable legacy publishing cultures to gradually evolve towards more suitable and efficient ways of working. However, it is important to recognize that while we are seeing new emergent models (eg PRC), legacy industrial systems will struggle to adapt to these new requirements.

Ultimately, the culture of production plays a pivotal role in shaping workflows, empowering people to choose how they work, rather than being constrained by technology. By embracing an adaptive mindset in both technology and workflow, scholarly publishing can become more efficient, flexible, and responsive to the evolving needs of the academic community.

© Adam Hyde, 2024, CC-BY-SA
Image public domain, created by MidJourney from prompts by Adam.