On being new in uncharted territory…

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Tracey Coule, NVSQ Research-to-Practice Editor

On starting my new academic role, around 10 years ago, I recall asking a colleague why we did some particular thing in a certain way. Their response, “oh don’t worry, it’s always been done that way”. Probably well-meaning but not particularly helpful to someone in a new role – especially to someone with an inquisitive nature. “Excitement. Honor. Gratitude. Responsibility.”  These were the four words used by the new editors of Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Quarterly (NVSQ) in their first From the Editor’s Desk to describe how their sentiments had evolved since their selection as the next editorial team. I share these sentiments.

I am just a few months into my new role as Research-to-Practice Editor at NVSQ, the journal of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA). I have been spending time familiarizing myself with the sheer range of research covered by the journal, developing a knowledge mobilization plan and getting to know colleagues at ARNOVA through developing joint research-to-practice initiatives, the first of which is ARNOVA Talks – short feature films that aim to distill the implications of our latest research for policy-makers and/or practitioners. These are exciting developments and we will be kick-starting the initiative at the ARNOVA 2016 conference in Washington in November. It is the first of many that will aim to mobilize our research in ways that increase its policy and practice relevance, reach and impact.

NVSQ is the leading outlet for academic research but our aspiration is to become a valuable means of connecting nonprofit research to practice. This will require a stronger emphasis on dissemination through featuring NVSQ research and authors in social media activities (not least future NVSQuarterly blogs and Twitter activity) and developing partnerships with existing policy and practice-facing outlets to engage with wider communities. We will work to ensure that NVSQ reflects a balance of academic, policy and practice interests within its content through engaging in dialogue with policy and practice communities to identify priority topics. As researchers, we have much to learn from practice. Finally, we will take steps to measure the reach and impact of NVSQ research through tracking its utilization within policy and practice arenas.

Academia, and the journals that publish academic research, increasingly have a concern with impact (and not just in the traditional sense of citations by other academics), a concern with relevance, a concern with its place in society. When I took on my first academic role following 5 years or so as a policy and research practitioner in the nonprofit sector, I had a strong personal sense of some of this; after my first few months as Research-to-Practice Editor, I have an even greater sense of it. There is no doubt that developing a healthy balance between publication of the highest quality research, the mobilization of that knowledge into the public sphere and a two-way dialogue with policy-makers and practitioners will be core to the future of NVSQ.

This matters for another reason too: our field of research is growing and changing rapidly. There is an increasingly populated landscape of academic publishing by journals dedicated to nonprofit and philanthropic studies alongside publication of increasing numbers of nonprofit-related articles in more traditional disciplinary outlets. Policy makers and practitioners wrestling with social change and reform look for academic insights that can inform their work but also seek to contribute their professional knowledge and experience to the research enterprise. Today’s scholars are becoming increasingly obliged to communicate with the societies that fund and utilize their research and to seek confirmation that we are asking the right questions; it is part of what we need to do as academics. In that context, issues of reach, relevancy and impact are of paramount importance and we are committed to taking responsibility for playing a key role in policy-practice relevant research in our field. We are entering unfamiliar territory where much of what we do won’t have “always been done that way”.

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