Kudos and the Knowledge Cooperatives: Bringing Quality Information to the People
by Justin Hoenke
We live in the age of information. Every moment, from the time we wake up until the point in the day when we set down our phone for the evening, we are bombarded with ideas, images, and other content from every possible source on every possible platform on every possible type of device. What do we do with all of this information? Where should we go to get the best information out there? Whom can we trust to provide us with clear, unbiased, and easy-to-understand information about important topics? Enter Kudos and its Knowledge Cooperatives.
Over the last month or so, I’ve been chatting over email with Charlie Rapple, chief customer officer and co-founder of Kudos, about one of the company’s newest product types called the Knowledge Cooperatives. Founded in 2012, Kudos works with publishers, universities, corporations, and others to “make it easier for researchers to build, measure and report on the audience for their research,” according to the company’s About page. Simply stated, what Kudos is doing with the Knowledge Cooperatives is ensuring that the quality research that’s out there can be easily interpreted by and shared with those who need it the most. “The Knowledge Cooperative model ensures more people find, understand, and act on research into topics that affect the general public, or that require behavioral change,” says Rapple. “The cooperative approach means information from multiple publishers and universities can be gathered in one place, and explained and presented in a consistent way, making it easier for non-specialists to explore and absorb it.”
Information by the people, for the people. That’s what makes the Knowledge Cooperatives so groundbreaking and important in the Information Age. Let’s turn it over to Charlie Rapple for more on this great initiative. Our conversation has been edited for clarity.
Please give us a brief overview of the Kudos Knowledge Cooperatives.
They are collections of plain-language summaries of research on public-interest topics such as climate change, coronavirus, and mental health. They bring together research from different disciplines, universities, and publishers, so that the public, the media, policymakers, industry, and other audiences both within and beyond academia have one place where they can learn about the evidence around a particular topic. The summaries are professionally written to be easy to understand and to draw out the “key takeaways” we can all act on, on questions such as “Are masks effective?” or “What causes extreme weather events?”
How did this project start, and how has it grown over the years?
Kudos has been showcasing research for 10 years—helping researchers explain their work in plain language, to help more people find, understand, and act on it. We had begun identifying and promoting clusters of summaries on topical themes. The COP26 climate meeting in 2021 was a catalyst for doing more in this area—not only clustering and promoting the summaries that researchers had added to our site, but also commissioning new summaries to round out our coverage of a topic. We launched our Climate Change showcase to coincide with the COP26 meeting, with sponsorship from 20-plus partners in the scholarly communication sector: Impact Science, American Chemical Society, AIP Publishing, American Meteorological Society, American Society of Civil Engineers, Annual Reviews, BioOne, Brill, Cambridge University Press, Canadian Science Publishing, Copyright Clearance Center, De Gruyter, Delta Think, Elsevier, Frontiers, Geological Society, IOP Publishing, IOS Press, Royal Society of Chemistry, Springer Nature, and Wiley. There are now more than 200 professionally written summaries on topics ranging from human rights in relation to climate to what each of us can do to help the environment. As soon as we launched, we had thousands of people reading the summaries, and so we have expanded this model to other topics. We have launched a coronavirus showcase and will shortly launch one about artificial intelligence.
The Knowledge Cooperative model was developed by Kudos and Impact Science. Can you tell me a bit about this partnership? How does each member of the Knowledge Cooperative team play their part?
We use the term Knowledge Cooperative to represent the range of publishers and other scholarly communication organizations that have joined together to help the public find and understand research on important topics. These big issues don’t sit within any single academic discipline; the research about them crosses the boundaries of universities and publishers, so you need this cooperative approach to bring all of that information together in one place and interpret it as a whole. We’ve been working in partnership with publishers since we started Kudos, and we have led a number of cross-publisher initiatives, so it made sense for us to take a lead on these collaborative efforts to showcase research. Impact Science was an obvious partner to help us develop and launch the model—we had worked with their team before to summarize research and create multimedia infographics and videos to communicate research. We knew their team would do a good job of explaining research in a way everyone can understand. In terms of what each of the partners does, the publishers pick the research to be summarized, Impact Science’s team creates the summaries, and Kudos builds and promotes the showcases.
You said this in an email to me and I love it very much: “I just believe so wholeheartedly that research doesn’t ‘belong’ only to academia. I think it’s Article 27 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights that sets out that everyone should be able to access and benefit from scientific advances. It’s so important that people have a direct, unfiltered way of finding and understanding research that they might be able to apply or benefit from.” Can you elaborate on that?
Not long after we started Kudos, I heard Chris Lintott, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford, give a talk in which he discussed “threshold fear”—the sense people have that science is not for them, they won’t understand it, they shouldn’t try, they should just walk on by. I remember the talk and the phrase so vividly because it really encapsulates the problem we’re trying to tackle at Kudos generally and with the Knowledge Cooperatives and topical showcases. People shouldn’t be afraid of crossing that threshold; people should feel encouraged and welcome to explore knowledge. Most science can be explained in a way that anyone can understand—maybe not the detail of how it’s being done, but the ultimate aim of what a project is trying to find out or how its findings might benefit the world. For us, a big part of that is language—telling the story of research in plain language. But it’s also about design—presenting it in showcases that draw on the design of sites such as Instagram and Pinterest, which are very visually different from traditional scholarly information sources. And it’s also about promotion—not just putting stuff online and expecting people to find their way to it, but putting real proactive effort into helping people find that material.
Tell us a bit about the process for the people who are writing the summaries for the Knowledge Cooperatives. What are the approaches that your writers take?
It has been a real collaborative effort between the subject specialists and the communication specialists. The subject specialists all have Ph.D.s in the subjects they are covering. They distill down the essence of the article or book from a public interest point of view: What is it about, and why is it important? The communication specialists will help to refine this, perhaps drawing out some of the examples or details that will most resonate with broader audiences. We also use readability tools to check that the end result can be read by people for whom English is not their first language or who have not had access to higher education.
How do the Knowledge Cooperatives tie into the OA movement?
One of the motivations behind the OA movement is the idea that the public, as taxpayers whose taxes are paying for a lot of research, deserves greater access to that research. For me, as an arts graduate, having access to research papers themselves is not that useful—in many cases, I just can’t understand the language in which they are written; I can’t translate it down to a simple understanding of what that research is about and what the implications or recommendations or next steps might be. I think when it comes to public access to research, the bigger issue is not whether or not people can access the literature, it’s whether or not they can understand it. So, I’ve focused on trying to provide that explanatory layer, which I believe has the potential to make research much more accessible to all.
What’s it like working with the companies that are doing the research on these topics? How have they responded to the Knowledge Cooperatives?
We’re typically working with publishers that have nominated content for the showcases from articles and books they have published. Given the kinds of topics we’re addressing, publishers are really engaged at a corporate level—the climate change showcase was a really timely initiative for publishers that were expanding environmental policies, and the coronavirus showcase has lots of useful guidance for companies in terms of how to manage things like long COVID in employees. But it’s not only the corporate level, it’s also something that the people working in these organizations feel really passionate about on a personal level. It’s been really rewarding to work with people who share our enthusiasm and our belief in the importance of getting this information out there to accelerate its ability to make a difference in the world.
As well as working with the companies that have sponsored these initiatives, we have also made contact with the researchers who have written those articles and books, to let them know their research has been summarized and promoted through the showcase. They love to hear that, and they then get involved in publicizing the showcases to their networks. I don’t think I’ve ever met an academic who doesn’t want more people to engage with their research, so they really embrace this initiative and feel proud to be included.
As I dove into all of the information sheets and graphics you sent me about the Knowledge Cooperatives, I was blown away by how easy they were to follow. It really pulled me into the topics and made me want to keep reading and learning. Can you tell me about how the design and the overall feel of the Knowledge Cooperatives came together?
Our whole team is really focused on using design to reduce that threshold fear I referred to earlier. We want to make exploring science feel more familiar and comfortable—like exploring any other website people are used to using—so we’ve adopted the tile layout familiar from news websites and sites such as Pinterest. We brought in designers to come up with visual identities for the showcases, including the imagery and color schemes. We have an integration with Unsplash that enables us to choose striking free imagery to accompany each story, which brings those story pages to life and makes for a really attractive showcase when you put all of those images on tiles on one page. And we work really hard on identifying related content (back to the clusters I mentioned earlier) and linking those stories together so people can follow a thread of interest through lots of different pieces of research on that topic. It’s fun to do, and it’s great to hear that it drew you in.
As a public librarian, I see the Knowledge Cooperatives as such a great tool for public libraries to have in their arsenal as they educate and connect their community members to the information they need. How do you think Kudos and public libraries can work together? If a public library staff member is reading this, what would you say to them about the Knowledge Cooperatives?
It is great to hear you see these showcases having a role to play in meeting the information needs of public library patrons. They are a perfect example of the type of audience we have in mind: the “science curious.” To public library staffers, I guess the first thing I would say is that the showcases are free! They are sponsored by the members of the Knowledge Cooperative so that they can be free at the point of use—anyone can read the summaries. Each showcase also has a mailing list for members of the public, media, patients, practitioners, and so on to be able to sign up and be notified when new summaries are added. I would love to hear from public libraries about any materials that we could usefully provide to help patrons find and explore the showcases. And members of staff can of course sign up to our blog to be alerted to the new topics we’re launching—look out for our forthcoming stories around artificial intelligence, which will answer questions about what it is, how it works, how it’s being applied, and whether it can be trusted.
Any final messages or sneak peeks about the future or anything else you’d like to add?
Other showcases coming up include a mental health one and an equality, inclusivity, and diversity one. I would love to hear from librarians with any other topics they think would benefit from the Knowledge Cooperative treatment. What else do you get lots of inquiries about, for which you would welcome a one-stop starting point of simple explanations around that topic?