On the path to renewal in 2023
By the New Agenda editorial collective
The Institute for African Alternatives (IFAA) has been presented with a challenge over the future of its flagship journal, New Agenda. This has set off an internal process of reflection on how to rigorously maintain the journal’s intellectual standards while uncompromisingly to the demands of South Africa at this time. We invite you, our readers, to join responding us in this exercise. We will report in each issue on our progress as we tackle the need to preserve our accreditation status and we welcome your advice and feedback. Send your comments to production@ ifaaza.org.za
New Agenda: South African Journal of Social and Economic Policy has taken its place in archives and libraries across South Africa – and also far afield – for more than two decades as a distinguished journal on the list of publications “accredited” by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). That means a lot, certainly for those South African university academics who are able to claim financial rewards for their institutions from the DHET for every article published in New Agenda.
It also means a lot to us at IFAA for whom the journal’s academic standing reflects a commitment to the rigorous standards of debate and discourse needed to defend and preserve our struggling democracy. Reliable information and clear-headed analysis are the tools the progressive, right-minded person uses to find a way through confusion and discord to a better place — for all. We like to think that is what we have to contribute to the ongoing challenge of radical transformation. We also trust in our readers to call us out if we ever fail in that endeavour.
Our status as the publishers of an accredited journal was part of the legacy established by our founding editor, Prof Ben Turok, whose death at the end of 2019 threatened to disrupt the work of IFAA. Ben was well-connected and so strongly opinionated that when he was editor the content of each edition of the journal easily coalesced around him, driven by his instincts for what was important – and by the articles and interviews he would strong-arm from distinguished contributors.
In 2022, a review panel appointed by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) recommended that New Agenda be taken off the DHET-accredited journal list. The panel found that New Agenda “does not currently meet the standard for research-led academic publishing, and needs to clarify its standing in respect of academic publishing. The journal should retain its current position as a home for contemporary policy debates led by practitioners in South Africa or transform into a proper academic journal“ (ASSAf, 2022).
Until this time, New Agenda had maintained its DHET accreditation by complying with a list of generic requirements, as indicated by the Research Office at the University of Cape Town (DHET, 2021). These required that “the journal should clearly indicate the following: ISSN, publisher (including publisher’s address and contact details), frequency of publication, editorial policy (including evidence of the peer-review process), details of the editorial board (including the status of the members of the editorial board and their institutional affiliations).”
IFAA, the publishers of New Agenda, was shaken by ASSAf’s unexpected decision and requested clarification on the DHET’s exact requirements for accreditation. It must be made very clear from the outset that ASSAf was, and continues to be, collegial, extremely responsive and helpful. ASSAf provided its guidelines for an academic journal and indicated that it has been tasked by the DHET to review all the journals on the accredited list to recommend which should stay and which should go.
From the ASSAf review it was clear to IFAA that, during the period under review from 2017 to 2019, the journal had failed to meet ASSAf’s main criteria for a scholarly publication. IFAA appealed to ASSAf’s review panel to allow New Agenda an opportunity to correct the weaknesses it had highlighted before making a recommendation to DHET.
The panel agreed and amended their “consensus view” to allow the journal to remain on the DHET accredited list on condition certain editorial processes are instituted by the end of 2023.
Each issue of New Agenda, in 2023 will report on milestones and developments towards meeting ASSAf’s requirements. In response IFAA intends:
- Expanding the editorial advisory board, with the aim of including academic and policy leaders from beyond South Africa’s borders;
- Introducing appropriate article- management and peer review tracking systems.
The ASSAf review stated “this is not a research-led academic journal. Instead, the journal focuses on policy debates and influence in the political domain, civil society, and academia.” However it also acknowledged the contribution New Agenda made “(a)s an engaged policy debates journal”.
“The journal focuses on policy debates and influence in the political domain, civil society, and academia. The focus of the journal is on stimulating policy-related debate in society and within the policy circle. The journal occupies a necessary space in the interface between research, policy debates, and civil society’s role in mobilisation for policy interventions.”
IFAA reiterates its commitment to ensuring that New Agenda brings solid, policy-relevant research to the public in an accessible and intelligible form. The journal carries research, opinions and interviews that focus on South African political and economic issues as well as those facing the African continent more broadly. It also carries relevant international news, book reviews and is in the process of researching and developing public discourse and knowledge on alternative economics.1
IFAA said in its response to the review: “There is an emphasis in New Agenda on policy that is evidence-based and which is rooted in intellectual enquiry. There is equally an emphasis on research that is coherent and well- presented and that reflects on possible policy implications in the world beyond the academy. This stance may go beyond the requirements of the academic research promoted by ASSAf, but it is appropriate for South Africa – and for the DHET – where the need for development and equity correctly challenge the “ivory- tower” approach to knowledge.”
New Agenda is not perfect, and the editorial board welcomes the constructive comments in the ASSAf review. We want to produce a journal that attracts new scholars from the universities and higher education institutions and is able to publish their work – when of adequate rigour – with due accreditation.
IFAA is firmly committed to the principle of recognising and advancing emerging academics from previously disadvantaged backgrounds and hopes to develop its mentoring capacity in this regard. Given its commitment to social and economic transformation, New Agenda provides opportunities for publication in an accredited journal to academics who may not normally be published in mainstream academic journals. New Agenda has published a number of articles featuring innovative and enterprising primary research and intends to develop this in the future.
In its earlier interchanges with ASSAf, IFAA explained why it values DHET accreditation: “DHET accreditation attracts potential authors to submit research articles to New Agenda. As it happens, most of these are rejected before peer review. But we actively work with younger academics, when this is justified, to address weaknesses and ensure that new, interesting and relevant research can be presented to our readers.”
The detailed requirements for New Agenda accreditation highlighted by the panel were laid out clearly:
- Including a formal abstract for academic articles at the beginning of each article;
- Improving the peer review process and maintaining records in this regard;
- Adjusting the composition
of the editorial board (e.g. to include academics from other countries);
- Providing a clear statement of journal guidelines for different kinds of submissions;
- Clarity on the forms of referencing and citation for academic contributions;
- The addition of journal information on the IFAA website (to indicate e.g. the kinds of articles invited for submission, names and institutional affiliations of the editorial board, and a statement about peer review.)
New Agenda is now on a reform path, marked out by the ASSAf guidelines. It hopes to continue as a publication that straddles both academia and activism. The dual nature of this journal is clearly reflected in its editorial commitment to publishing, on the one hand, high- level, theory-based analysis and original empirical research that interrogates current academic debates. On the other hand, it also publishes political commentary and vigorous, in-depth policy-related articles that contribute to public knowledge, open-minded debate and the spread of ideas to stimulate critical thinking in the political arena and broader civil society.
The journal is located in the important interface between research, policy debates and interventions, and civil society mobilisation for transformation and development. The overall mission of the journal is to help readers to be informed and active citizens who play a constructive role in political decision-making.
In pursuit of these goals, IFAA takes great care to make New Agenda attractive and accessible to a broad readership. New Agenda’s target audience includes academics, decision- and policy-makers, students, activists, researchers, and political and business leaders. Without compromising the writing quality and style of its authors, IFAA ensures that content is clear, accessible and has undergone a thorough copy editing process. Layout and design departs from academic publishing to include photographs, colour and design features to enliven the pages, precisely to improve its appeal to its broad target audience. Social media platforms are used in an ongoing concerted effort to reach and increase its readership, in particular among students and youth.
New Agenda intends to preserve its unique dual character as an academic and activist journal. But we see a need to differentiate clearly between academic articles and opinion/policy-orientated content. Different metrics for quality assessment will be applied to the different types of articles and the guidelines for article submission will clearly distinguish between the two formats.
The aim is to clearly signal the separation between the two within the journal, using design features and typographical signposting. IFAA acknowledges the need for distinct publication processes for each format, with extended deadlines, uncompromising adherence to established academic standards and requirements, and rigorous selection and review procedures for the journal’s academic content.
IFAA is also looking forward to revising the “look and feel” of New Agenda to bring it up to date with progressive online publishing, making full use of the interactive and easy-to-access features that digital publishing has to offer.
ASSAf. 2022. New Agenda Peer Review Draft Report Updated, 6 June 2022
DHET. 2021. “Department of Higher Education and Training List of Approved South African
Citation: New Agenda: South African Journal of Social and Economic Policy No 87, First Quarter 2023, March: p38. https://ifaaza.org/new-agenda/new-agenda-issue-88/