Editorial (20.8)

It is particularly pleasing to end our twentieth-anniversary volume with an issue devoted to the theme ‘Rethinking Impact: Understanding the Complexity of Poverty and Change’, compiled by guest editors Nina Lilja, Patti Kristjanson, and Jamie Watts. Their call to legitimise what they describe as the ‘boundary-spanning work’ whereby researchers give first priority to linking the knowledge generation with practical action echoes precisely the aims and objectives of Development in Practice, summarised in our strapline ‘Stimulating Thought for Action’. They argue for a diversity of methods for the production and sharing of knowledge, to enhance capacity, and to evaluate the impact of such efforts. However, as they emphasise, such multidisciplinary and embedded ways of working need ‘to be recognised and rewarded, and sufficient resources dedicated to [them]’.

This issue is also my last as Editor-in-Chief of Development in Practice. Although readers and contributors may not have noticed, in January 2010 Oxfam GB sold the journal to the publisher, Taylor & Francis. The new owner is committed to maintaining the unique identity of Development in Practice as a practice-relevant and Southern-focused journal. The change of ownership, however, brought significant operational changes, including my departure from Development in Practice and from Oxfam GB. Having led Development in Practice for two decades, and having created more than 20 titles in the associated book series, I have been succeeded by a new editorial team, based at INTRAC (International NGO Training and Research Centre), which takes over from 2011.

When I was appointed in 1991, towards the end of the journal’s first year, the editorial cupboard was almost bare – containing just one article, written in ‘Spanglish’ – a mixture of English and Spanish – requiring sensitive interpretation simply to unravel the language and get it to pre-publication standard. From my first day, a willingness to identify, encourage, and actively assist writers whose work might otherwise never see the light of day has been one of our hallmarks. Many of those whose articles we published when they were still firsttime or relatively inexperienced authors are now university professors and senior aid-agency officials, some with lengthy publication lists, others proud to have appeared in a peer-reviewed journal and to exert influence over the long term by being cited on reading lists. The ability to attract and work with a mix of seasoned and new authors, and in particular those who ‘span boundaries’ – whether professional, cultural, or linguistic – is one of the characteristics that sets Development in Practice apart from other development journals.

I cannot leave Development in Practice without honouring just a few of my long-standing friends and former colleagues who have in various ways played an important part in making the journal what it is today. The first debt is of course to the founding editor, Brian Pratt, without whose insistence Oxfam GB would never have imagined establishing a journal. Over the many years of our collaboration, Caroline Knowles’ combination of intellectual creativity and down-to-earth wisdom contributed to our most significant strategic developments, while making sure to keep our feet on the ground: the decision to include abstracts in translation and to go online in 1995, to found the book series in 1996, to move to Carfax (the predecessor of the new owner) in 1997, to establish a multilingual website in 2000 to celebrate our tenth anniversary: all these decisions bear Caroline’s mark. Robert Cornford has accompanied Development in Practice from its early infancy through adolescence to adulthood and has been a constant source of ideas, support, and good humour – always able to tease out something positive from the most hostile circumstances. Finally, Mike Powell, who first got to know Development in Practice in 1993, when he was brought in as external evaluator to help the senior management of Oxfam GB to decide whether or not to continue with the journal, must be thanked. He convinced us to establish a transparent business plan, setting all costs (including the hidden ones!) against income. Most importantly he helped me to understand that editorial development and marketing cannot sit in separate compartments: to produce a practice-relevant publication without knowing, engaging with, seeking feedback from – and being prepared to change in response to – existing and intended audiences is either dishonest or self-indulgent, or both. Since then he has worked alongside Development in Practice, always supportive but never complacent: the ideal critical companion.

Successive Editorial Advisers have generously lent their experience to Development in Practice and enhanced its reputation. Many others, too numerous to mention by name, have been part of what has come to be known as ‘The DIP Project’. I would, however, like to acknowledge our regular translators – Isabelle Fernández, Maria Beatriz Lessa Guimarães, and Miguel Pickard – our long-standing copy-editor, Catherine Robinson, and everyone at ELDIS and the GreenNet Collective.

But of course my deepest gratitude must be to the hundreds of authors and referees and tens of thousands of readers, who together are what keep Development in Practice alive. Today, despite the increase from three to eight issues a year under my direction, the editorial cupboard is full to bursting, and article downloads and document-delivery requests remain exceptionally high. These are sure signs of confidence and good health. I therefore trust that the journal and its associated projects will continue to go from strength to strength under the new editors at INTRAC.