27 Jan 2015

This is a guest post by Dr. Sabrina Lai, RSRS EC Editor and Paper Manager. Sabrina is a Research Fellow at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Architecture of the University of Cagliari (Italy), and an officer at the Department of the Environment of the Regional Administration of Sardinia.

As an Editor of the Early Career Section of Regional Studies, Regional Science, three or four times per year I take part in the selection of proposals that, once accepted, will undergo a “constructive review process” designed to help Early Careers improve the craft of academic writing and have their first independent paper published.

Last year (2014) we received and evaluated some 80 proposals, which gives us an informed insight into popular areas in the field of regional studies among young academics: smart specialization strategies, research and innovation, Florida’s creative class seem to be really in fashion these days! However, as someone deeply involved, both in academia and in policy-making, in environmental planning and related issues, I find the very small number of proposals we receive dealing with the role of regions in environmental matters or with environmental challenges at the regional scale really striking. The small number of submissions in the field obviously leads to a comparatively low number of environmental-related papers published in the journal: if we look back at the sixteen papers published in 2014 in the Early Career Section of the first year of Regional Studies, Regional Science, only one paper (by Maxwell Douglas Hartt) specifically deals with an urgent environmental problem (that is, impacts of storm surges in coastal areas).  Three other papers (by Kirstie O’Neill, Laura McKim, and Xiaohui Hu) do touch upon environmental-related issues (respectively, local food production, active commuting, and renewable energy) but with different perspectives (such as food security, urban density, path creation) without being precisely focused on the environmental dimension, consequences or implications.

And yet the role of regions is crucial in the achievement of many global targets, since they can contribute to ensuring air quality objectives, promoting efficient use of natural resources, implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity, increasing the share of renewables and reducing energy consumption, to name just a few... or at least this is what we get from a careful examination of the work of the Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) and of the Commission for Environment, Climate Change and Energy (ENVE) of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union, who stated that “The transition to a sustainable future requires a multi-level governance approach; since resources and industries vary significantly from one region to the next, subnational and local governments are often best positioned to create tailored and efficient policies”.

There are a number of reasons that contribute towards explaining the low submission of environmental-related proposals. Out of these, I think that two are of particular importance.

Firstly, a perceived marginality of such topics in the field of regional studies and, related to that, the idea that “this is not the right audience” or that “other journals could offer a more suitable ground”, might play a key role. However, authors can still benefit from submitting their work to RSRS provided that they keep in mind that RSRS has a wide and varied audience, so they should carefully think about the aim of the article and structure it accordingly. Even though not many of them will be really accustomed to heavily technical or scientific language and details, “generalist readers interested in Regional Studies can understand even fairly complex techniques, as long as there is a clear explanation accompanying them – the trick lies in how you write the paper for this audience […] Do not ‘dumb down’ the explanations but – at the same time – use common sense to guide you in what a generalist reader would be expected to know or would need to know in order to follow your arguments”, as my colleague Paul Braidford wrote in a previous post about econometrics - just replace “complex techniques” with scientific language, specialised scientific topic, environmental modelling and the like.

The second important factor, to my mind, could lie in the extremely flexible and loose definition of a “region” when talking about environmental matters, which leads to different overlapping and even contrasting conceptualisations of regions, even in the same area: it is one thing, for instance, to think of a region in reference to management of water resources, and a very different thing to figure out what a region is when discussing climate change or integrated coastal zone management. This is actually not an issue as long as the underlying idea of the “region” is clearly explained, since “the ‘regional’ dimension may vary from trans-national spaces with fuzzy boundaries to clearly defined spaces at the sub-national level”, as potential authors can read in the call for paper proposals.

To sum up, we would be very pleased to receive more proposals related to environmental topics and to find out what the implications for academics, policy and practice at the regional scale are!
Please be aware that a call for proposals is now open and that the next deadline is February 15!