Domhnall Macauley: What is the BMJ?

Domhnall Macauley What is the BMJ? When I ask people at outreach lectures and seminars, I get various answers ranging from the traditionalists who see still the BMJ as just another paper journal in their Friday morning letterbox, to others for whom it is multimedia medical communications opportunity. For one clinician lecturer, we are a podcast that he listens to while cycling to work on his academic  day.

But Linda Clarke  made  it all fall into place in a social science context when she spoke on “Communities of Practice – Building Knowledge” at the UKCRC  Centre of Excellence for Public Health Research in Northern Ireland. Drawing on the work of  Etienne Wenger, a cognitive anthropologist, she listed the actions necessary to cultivate a successful community of practice. Could we view  the BMJ as a community of practice- see what you think:

  1. Design to evolve. Evolution is part of our being. Would you, our reader,  have thought 10 years ago that we would no longer publish full length research papers in a paper format, that video and audio would be an integral part of the journal, and that you could comment online and be an immediate part of the research translation process?
  2. Create opportunities for open dialogue within and with outside perspectives – The BMJ is your BMJ and together with open and constructive community within the organisation, we try, as much as possible, to engage with you, our reader, through outreach, lectures, seminars, and conferences and Masterclasses,  but also online through rapid responses/letters and doc2doc.
  3. Invite  different levels of participation – Some engage with the BMJ weekly, even daily, and these are what Wenger might call our core group. We have a wider group of readers who engage  regularly, but not to the level of the leaders. And, we have a peripheral group, a very large following, who, although they might be called passive participants, are still part of the wider family and benefit from BMJ involvement.
  4. Develop both public and private community spaces – The concept of a medical journal as a meeting place providing a community space has been made possible by Web 2.0. The BMJ Group community site doc2doc allows doctors to share ideas and participate in public debate and discussion.
  5. Focus on the values  of the community – Our mission, like yours, is to improve outcomes for patients. We try to create opportunities for you, our community, to  discuss these shared values, and how we can work best for patient benefit. Our aim is to help doctors make better decisions.
  6. Combine familiarity and excitement – We hope that, together with our core medical research and education, there is always something to challenge current views and make you think differently. 
  7. Find and nurture a regular rhythm for the community – The traditional rhythm was weekly and now the website changes twice daily. We want to be on your favourites list- where you know there will always be something new, interesting, exciting , and educational.

Are we a community of practice? How do you view your BMJ?

Domhnall Macauley is primary care editor, BMJ