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Clear rules for a publishing process

Editor’s note: This post was jointly written with Analistas Independientes de Guatemala’s team

Analistas Independientes de Guatemala (Independent Analysts of Guatemala) emerged in 2011 as a group of professionals that came together on a virtual platform, to write and talk about ideas for improving Guatemala’s social reality. In August 2011, the blog received 725 visits, and, almost two years later, in April 2013, visits amounted to 49,785.

The blog was created to share the insights of professionals worried about the country’s situation, and one of the first steps the group undertook was establishing an Editorial Board, a body dedicated to editing the authors’ texts.

As Moncada and Mendizabal state, common problems among boards come from the fact that their functions are not clearly set out and thus they can become unnecessarily involved in more irrelevant tasks. Among those problems, the authors identified: time spent on items of trivial scope or importance, concentration on day-to-day items that could be handled by the staff and too much time on reviewing what staff has already done.

That was exactly the case of AIG’s Editorial Board: it did not manage to institutionalize itself due to the absence of a frameimageswork indicating how the articles should be presented (for example, whether they should be written with an academic or journalistic style). Since it lacked rules and requirements, the Editorial Board struggled to handle the large amount of work it had, becoming not only ineffective, but also hindering the publication process. Thus, a procedure that was supposed to make the publishing process more efficient and fast turned out to be increasingly slow.

After a couple of months working with many difficulties, the team decided to set clear rules, roles and responsibilities: the need for a manual that defined editing guidelines became clear. In addition to the manual, establishing criteria for authorship of the articles as well as the rights and responsibilities on publications also became top priority. Finally, the Council created distinct manuals for each type of publication and assigned editing responsibilities within the Board.

Although the experience of the Editorial Board did not turn out as expected, it left great lessons for AIG: the group realized that clear rules and processes are necessary when creating ad hoc Boards. In this case, the team also realized that procedure manuals are cardinal in any organization, since they reduce unnecessary waste of resources and ensure better quality publications. This valuable learning process may also give relevant inputs for a more holistic publishing policy in the near future, involving not only blog posts but also other kinds of documents.

For an interesting example on how to design a publishing policy, check out CIPPEC’s (Argentina), which clearly defines the types of publications the think tank produces, sets internal processes that must be followed during the planning, writing and edition phases, and determines template designs for each kind of publication available (books, handbooks, guides, working papers, and policy briefs, among others).