All Things SciComm

Charlie Rapple on Kudos, Climate Change, and The Founder’s Perspective

May 16, 2022 ScienceTalks Season 1 Episode 12
All Things SciComm
Charlie Rapple on Kudos, Climate Change, and The Founder’s Perspective
Show Notes Transcript

In the second part of their conversation, Nikesh Gosalia and Charlie Rapple dive deeper into Kudos and the gaps in the system that led Kudos to extend their support to researchers directly. Kudos’ main goal is to present findings as part of a global narrative. They discuss Kudos’ foray into “showcases,” an audience-centric informal way of sharing research findings, and the publishing industry’s response to it. They also touch on Kudos’ work on climate change, from communicating climate change data to internal organizational practices. Charlie shares her founder’s perspective on turning an idea into a company and the importance of prioritizing according to skillsets. Lastly, Charlie talks about her old-school strategies to stay updated with scientific developments.

Charlie Rapple is the Chief Customer Officer and Co-Founder of Kudos, which helps authors maximize the impact of their published work. She is a contributor to The Scholarly Kitchen, an independent blog on scholarly publishing and communication. Charlie has been the Honorary Secretary for UKSG and Associate Director of TBI Communications. She can be reached on LinkedIn

All Things SciComm is a weekly podcast brought to you by ScienceTalks. Follow us:

I know that Kudos not only works with publishers, societies, institutions, but also supports researchers directly. Can you maybe, you know, talk about how did that process evolve? Why did you think about offering services directly to researchers, and maybe very briefly talk about what kinds of services would be beneficial for researchers? Sure yeah, I think, as of what we were doing evolved, and as the kind of world evolved around us, and we began to be more tuned into what people were struggling with, we could just start to see this couple of gaps emerging. I think one is obviously that institutions are not structured or funded in a way that they have the capacity to communicate all the different research they support. They have fantastic teams and experts who do a fantastic job with the sort of the best research coming out of an institution. But the nature of their model is that they just can't extend that level of support to everything that's happening within an organization. There was a need for researchers to be able to tap into other sources of support and skills and services. We started to see that as well as providing what we are doing through institutional models, we could also support people directly where we were the right fit for what they needed to do. And then, I think the other sort of gap that we saw emerging was this sort of the fact that the most powerful way to interest broader audiences, is to make it really meaningful for them, which means kind of pulling together stories around research, that are not going to draw neatly on research that's only happened in one institution, or only in one field, or only in one publication. Actually, the real story of research advancing and progressing tends to happen in a kind of much more holistic way. There is a role for somebody who is not constrained by any of those silos to be drawing it together and saying, "You know what, this is really interesting. Look at that piece of research from Australia, that bit from Sweden, that bit from Nigeria, let's put all of that together. Gosh, isn't that interesting? What a tale that tells us about where we might all be in 10 years' time or whatever." I think that that was a real penny dropping moment for us, seeing that actually that need wasn't being met. And there was a role that we could play. And we had some skills and a platform that could fit this need perfectly. We have spoken a lot about publishers, societies, institutions using Kudos in a certain way. And a lot of information is available within the industry. But how does Kudos also help disseminate that information outside the industry? Yeah, this is an area that I think we have really stepped up to the plate in the last few years actually and become much more active in what we do. Because I think at first, we sort of, you know, didn't want to be too arrogant. Well, somebody somewhere must be doing this or must be doing that and gradually, it's like they are really not actually or not in any sort of structured way that makes it easy for researchers to tap into and take advantage of. We have really started to do more around the kind of showcasing on themes and topics, the storytelling around those topics, and doing more promotion, and recognizing that we can't just be another place that information exists. The value that we can add is to sort of spread the cost of promotion across an entire audience or a partner base of researchers and publishers and societies, and everybody getting more kind of bang for their buck if we then centrally create and promote these stories and these showcases. So, we have been doing a lot of work around using the social media, using paid search and advertising, doing PR activities around it. And again, using all these existing channels, where these existing audiences exist, to then push out stories in a much more proactive way and in a much more audience-centric way so that it's not about here is one publication or one piece of research. But here is the narrative. Here is some really interesting information that covers five or six different pieces of research, and we will promote that as a group. And then, really think about when the people then come through and read more information on our site. How are we then going to surface more stuff that's of interest of you? So, yeah, the sort of dissemination publicizing promotional side of things is something we have really stepped up because it just wasn't happening in a kind of comprehensive way anywhere else. You briefly mentioned showcases, so typically, showcases give research findings, which have normally been very formal, social media or a blog kind of a look. After you have implemented showcases, any interesting observations that you have seen from the scholarly communications industry? Yeah, I think it's been – so, this is still quite a new area of development for us. And I think what has been really interesting is that this thematic approach is really popular. And it's the sort of magazine-style approach that we are taking. It's not sort of radical in itself. We are really looking to things like Pinterest and other sorts of medium sites and things like that, that have inspired the user journey that we have developed. But the ability to do that and to partner with other people so that that's happening across publishers, across universities, that feels like it's the piece that has been missing. And so that it's been exciting to see the kind of the interest in that, the support for that. The willingness of publishers and institutions to experiment a little bit with us on this and to all kind of learn together about when you create that kind of interface to scholarly content. And then, when you promote it, which channels are most effective for bringing people to that? And what people do once they have got there? And how do they use this information? Or sort of what value does it give them depending on some of the different ways that they might describe themselves if they are a member of the public or if they are a clinical practitioner or somebody working as a policymaker or in an industry or something like that. We are really starting to drill into capturing that kind of audience information and then looking at the differences in terms of how people find and use this information. And so that the showcases have been sort of the really powerful frontend for a lot of that experimentation and data capture at the backend. And it's been really exciting to have so much publisher interest in that, because obviously, there's going to be a lot of lessons that we all learn as a group for what we can do more of in future, to help reach these different audiences and help report on that engagement to researchers, to institutions who really need to be able to understand more about how do you make sure that the research is influencing the audiences that it has potential for. I mean, we all know climate change is a real thing now. And we all have become more aware. We are starting to do our own bits. But I am also aware that both for you individually, Charlie, and even for Kudos as an organization, it has been a major cornerstone of your foundation. What efforts have you made in that regard? It might be really interesting for the listeners to hear some thoughts on that. Yeah, absolutely. This became a big focus for our work last year when the COP26 meeting was held in the UK. So, it felt very close to home for all of us here. We really wanted to think about, is there something that we can do? Is there more that we should be doing, which of course there is? We started by working with publishers, with universities, researchers, to try and collate a collection of content, a curated collection of content, saying, look, this is some of the key stuff around climate research. We will bring together, and we will explain in plain language, what this research was and what the implications of that should be for us. It was a really interesting process because it combined some of the earliest climate science. We had papers put forward for inclusion that included some of the really earliest science from the 1960s. Well, we have realized for the first time, and we had the data for the first time that said, yes, the growth in carbon dioxide does contribute to an increase in temperatures. And some of those really early findings and studies right through to having very, very current data in there and the science in there with the latest developments around how are we going to make green fuels more efficient, or more effective, or more scalable, and things like that. So, really interesting span to help people kind of understand and shape people's understanding of, you know, yes, there is climate change. Well, actually, yes, here is the data that shows that. Is it largely caused by human activity? Here is the data that supports that assertion. So, really trying to address the core aspects of it as well as, you know, and at the cutting edge of it, what should we build or be doing or how is science going to save us from this and that sort of thing? That was a really interesting piece of work that when we launched, we had I think about 100 summaries of climate research. And we are now closing in on, I think, 300. So, it's continuing to grow. We are continuing to add new explanations of climate science in a way that anyone can understand. We are aiming to make this something that schoolchildren can understand that you don't need a high level of education, because it affects everybody. We also want to make sure that the summaries that we are adding can be easily put through kind of browser auto-translation so that wherever you are in the world, you have got a hope of kind of understanding this research, understanding its implications for you, what you can do personally, or how it might be going to affect you in future. And again, to try and expand that reach, we have been promoting that really actively through social media and adverts and lots of blog posts and articles in the press and things like that. Really recognizing that it's not enough just to make these summaries available, that you have to push them out there. And you have to do that with striking imagery and catchy headlines and clickbait essentially. But kind of ethical and not misleading just, but you don't need to try and mislead people with the climate science. The findings are serious enough and eye-catching enough by themselves, when they are distilled down to a headline and an advert. It's been a really rewarding piece of work to be doing. For me, it feels personally like the bringing together of my whole career, everything that I have done to focus on research communication is really finding a mission to serve with this kind of project. You sort of were asking about the implications for us at Kudos. It has trickled down to things like, you know when we did our first exhibition after coming back from the pandemic, we sourced completely renewable materials for that. We built a standout of cardboard but ordered the one that could be folded up and reused again in the future. So, really, it's been very interesting for me, personally and professionally, but also for us as an organization to kind of put our skills and our abilities behind some of these big themes. And we are doing that now. We are launching the same kind of thing around coronavirus and pandemics and what is it going to mean for the world to live with these kinds of things potentially more often in the future, but bringing forward a similar initiative, actually, which we have planned for a bit further into the future. But we are bringing forward one to deal with kind of war and peace, and what research can tell us as individuals in the wider world about, how we should use our vote, what should we know about why wars start and how they can best be ended? And what can we best do to support veterans and refugees and people who have been victims of war and forced migration. So, there's so much that research can – so many ways in which research findings can benefit people in the wider world and have really relevant implications. We just need to keep taking down the barriers so that more people understand that, find it, have the information they need to change their behavior, or whatever, in the right moment, right place, right time. This is fascinating. And it's such a great initiative, Charlie, because like you rightly said, there's so much data that's available there, but it's behind paywalls. And at the same time, there is so much of a need to understand that in simple plain language. And Kudos is pretty much kind of doing that. And you have answered that question already for me that, has the climate change initiative motivated you to pick up so many other relevant topics, but you have already kind of mentioned that. So, that's a fantastic initiative. Kind of moving away from the industry, I just had a question which a lot of listeners, I am sure, might be curious about as well. So, wearing your founder's hat, having been in this role for the last 10 years, what would be your one tip or learning or any deflection, Charlie, in terms of anybody looking to convert their passion, their experience into full-time work? Yes, great question. I think, well, personally at Kudos we are lucky because there were three of us that founded the company. And that has meant that all along the way, when we have had things that we didn't know what we were doing, or we have had to do things that were really difficult or painful or hard to make decisions, we always had each other to draw on and kind of bounce ideas from and to support each other. I think that, you know, I am so grateful for that. I look at people who are sole founders of organizations and think, my goodness, who was supporting you through that journey. I think one of the things that seems obvious in retrospect, but I don't think really, I understood at the time is that whatever the nature of your innovation, your idea, in the end, you are running a company and make sure that you distinguish between those two things and understand where your skillset is best placed. Are you going to be best at continuing to develop the ideas and is your inclination and your aptitude suited to furthering the fate of what you do with what your market needs? Or you are going to be good at running a company, managing people, looking after observations, operations, and finances and things? Because they are very, very different. You might be able to do both, well done if you can. But more likely, you are not. And I think it's really common to see sort of founder-led businesses struggle, because the founder is still the CEO, or whatever the equivalent position is. And their skillset is not in running a business. And they don't want to be running a business. They want to be out there, leading the innovations. I think that's something that it gets lost in the mix. And particularly, in our sector, you see loads of very cool academic-led innovations and enterprises. But so many, too many that sort of collapse under the weight of becoming a business, as opposed to a side project. I think being realistic about that and getting the support you need, and the people around you, to run it as a business is probably one of the biggest lessons that I just hadn't really thought about prior to getting to the point of needing that kind of support ourselves. That's a wonderful insight and thank you for sharing that, Charlie. I know that you are very active as far as, you know, our industry is concerned in terms of writing your own thought leadership pieces. But how do you keep yourself updated with science-related news or industry updates? Oh, I think I am pretty old school. I mean in terms of the actual research that's going on, it's through Kudos, you know, people are posting their work on our site every day. I have a little feed of that, that I keep an eye on. So, that keeps me up to speed with kind of what's going on out in the wider world of research. In terms of the more SciComm or more industry-oriented stuff, I am on email discussion lists, email alerts, newsletters, things like that, blogs, and going to events, actually, or participating in online events, is probably one of the ways in which that information, I focus on it most exclusively, and therefore sometimes get most from it. But I am pretty old school. Yeah, it's mostly email based. But that's fine. I mean, yeah, I do the same. And I am sure a lot of people do that. So, thank you for that, Charlie. It was a very fascinating conversation, as always, and I know there were so many insights based on our conversation, but just to kind of talk about a couple of things, just the importance of promotion in the context of research and the way you explain that, was wonderful. I think the increasing involvement of so many stakeholders, right, starting from funders, to societies, to publishers, to institutes, researchers themselves, of course, and a lot of the organizations like ours is starting to grow. And that's very encouraging considering public engagement, dissemination, promotions becoming so important. I thought one other insight, which was really powerful was the fact that storytelling doesn't have to be just restricted to probably one university, one institute, a certain set of researchers. It's now taking it across countries, across geographies, across institutes, and that was such a wonderful insight that obviously through your experience with Kudos that you gained, and now you are doing more and more work around it. But yeah, I mean, I thought there were so many useful insights. As always, like I said, thank you so much for your time, Charlie. Oh, thank you. It's great to hear that there has been that something is gained from it. And it's been great to chat. Thank you for some great questions. Great thoughts to be considering together. Thank you, Charlie, for being our guest on All Things SciComm. Thank you everyone for joining us. You can subscribe to this podcast on all major podcast platforms. Stay tuned for our next episode.