Researcher Workflow

Feel Flows (

The scholarly publishing sector is going through a period of “digital transformation”. As publishers seek to find opportunities beyond traditional models, the language of Silicon Valley seeps into conversation.

Understanding the actions of people in the higher education ecosystem can enable organizations to create value and deliver profit/growth. Thus, we hear rhetoric around concepts such as “behaviour”, “journey”, and now “workflow”.

Growing use of the term “researcher workflow” coincides with a de-emphasis away from the provision of “content” as the primary purpose of publishing organizations. Indeed, one senior figure in the scholarly library world suggested that “workflow is the new content” in 2016.

Pinning down an agreed definition of “researcher workflow” is tricky. As with other buzzwords, the term may create more heat than light, but recent contributions on the topic (from digital scholarship think tank Ithaka S&R) suggest that it may be here to stay. It’s in this light that a colleague asked me for a definition. Scouring social media and the Internet more broadly, I struggled to find a serious one which led me to craft something based on existing definitions of “workflow” and some reaction to its application to researcher behaviour:

Originating within management science, a workflow is a progression of steps involving more than one person, consisting of an orchestrated and repeatable pattern of activity toward a planned output. Workflow may either be sequential, with each step contingent upon completion of the previous one, or parallel, with multiple steps occurring simultaneously.
In scholarly research, workflow can be simplified (especially in the hard sciences) by visualizing a number of activities (such as research design, funding, experimentation and publication). The heterogenous nature of scholarly research (especially in the human, behavioural and social sciences) mean that such simplifications can be controversial and inaccurate.

Although I enjoy a good flowchart, my own first instinct is to wrinkle my nose at unbundling, but “researcher workflow” certainly deserves a definition. Hopefully others will improve on this draft offering.