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Creating gateways into research

Peter Kraker

Note: 1500 characters per essay question. Acknowledgements: I'd like to thank Maxi Schramm, Christopher Kittel, Florian Heigl, Rufus Pollock, Antica Culina and Daniel Mietchen for comments on the draft. I'd like to thank the Open Knowledge Maps team, our advisors, partners and users. I am very lucky to shape this vision together with you.

1) Tell us about the world as you see it

A description of the status quo and context in which you will be working

We are faced with a serious crisis of trust in scientific research. Public opinion polls show declining confidence in research. Anti-vaccination movements and climate change deniers are on the rise. In certain areas, only a minority of society believe in scientific facts.

This is almost paradoxical, given the fact that research is still a respected profession, and there is elevated interest in science and technology. And more research is openly available than ever: we can now read well over 100 million research articles on the Web.

At the same time, it is hard to get an "in" on research. Access does not equal discoverability or even participation. Consider how easy it is to contribute to a conspiracy theory like "vaccines cause autism": just enter the respective group online and start communicating.

But with a scientific theory, things are not so simple.

People outside academia trying to understand a research field are therefore often lost. This is true for policy makers attempting to optimize decision-making by using evidence from relevant research, for educators striving to convey the state-of-the-art, for fact checkers trying to verify statements, or for patients who would like to learn about the newest findings on their illness.

Wouldn’t it be great, if we could get into research just as easily as we can get into any other topic?

2) What change do you want to make in the world?

A description of what you want to change about the status quo, in the world, your personal vision for this area

We need to create better gateways into research. For every research topic, there are tens of thousands, maybe millions of articles. Trying to understand what's going on in a scientific area often boils down to manually checking dozens of articles. This is time that many people do not have, such as practitioners, policy makers, fact checkers, or a patient with a heart disease.

I want to empower people inside and especially outside of academia by dramatically improving the discoverability of scientific knowledge. Because better discoverability means better policy, better practice, faster fact checks and less duplication in research.

For this to happen, I want to work on two things:

(1) Increase visibility of research findings. Instead of lists, I propose to use knowledge maps, a powerful tool for exploration and discovery. Knowledge maps provide an instant overview of a field by showing the main areas of the field at a glance, and papers related to each area. This makes it possible to easily identify useful, pertinent information.

(2) Turn discovery into a collaborative process. At the moment, we are all approaching discovery on our own – and therefore repeat the same process over and over again. Take a rare disease as an example: wouldn't it be great, if researchers, doctors and patients would collaboratively map the newest research on this disease - and then share the results of their efforts for the benefit of patients, who don't have access to specialists?

3) What has prevented this change from happening?

Describe the innovations or questions you would like to explore during the fellowship year

I am not starting this work from scratch. In the year since I first applied for the fellowship, I have established an international team of volunteers. Together we have been developing Open Knowledge Maps, a visual interface to the world’s scientific knowledge. We have released the results of our work as a public good on

In its current form, Open Knowledge Maps creates a knowledge map for a research topic based 100 million research articles. With this service, we have created a lot of excitement. We were featured on the front pages of Reddit and HackerNews, and our user base has quickly grown: we recorded over 100,000 visits to the site, and more than 30,000 maps have been created to date.

We have now reached the limit of what we can do as a volunteer project. During the fellowship year, I want to explore how to turn discovery into a collaborative process. How can we further develop the existing service to create an inclusive space for participatory discovery? How can different communities interact on a level-playing field, so that they create pathways through science for each other?

To the best of my knowledge, no one has attempted a similar project before. There are, however, several closed solutions for providing visual overviews that are being developed right now. This shows that time is critical: if we do not provide an open alternative soon, we risk being stuck with proprietary solutions and wasted public money for decades.

4) What are you going to do to get there?

A description of what you actually plan to do during the year

Engage with a diverse set of communities, such as fact checkers, teachers, practitioners, and citizen scientists. I want to learn about their needs and requirements to understand how we can develop Open Knowledge Maps into a sustainable and inclusive space for participatory discovery. In addition to our established workshop series, I will initiate a user programme to guide the development of Open Knowledge Maps in a human-centered design process. Another concrete action is to establish mapping parties (similar to those of OpenStreetMap), where people get together to jointly map a research field, e.g. a neglected disease.

Further develop the existing knowledge mapping software: we will create an edit mode that allows users to modify and annotate maps. The editing history will be preserved in a Wikipedia-like model to enable collaborative building of knowledge maps. We will also add further integration with the digital open science system, including the Open Science Framework, Zotero, ORCiD, and Wikidata to make it easy to add content to the maps, and to export maps into other tools. In addition, we will further broaden our coverage of content sources, including non-publication resources such as datasets and images.

Lay the foundations for a self-sustainable organisation: my goal is to develop Open Knowledge Maps into a building block of the open knowledge society. Therefore, I will address key areas such as organizational development and a sustainable funding model.

5) What challenges or uncertainties do you expect to face?

Establishing a diverse and inclusive community: it is important to me to encourage participation of people from different areas, genders and backgrounds. To tackle this challenge, I aim to engage with a diverse set of people and to create community guidelines based on respect. I will also rely on my experience that I have gained as one of the founders of Barcamp Graz, and as a coordinator of the Open Science WG of Open Knowledge AT.

Building a large-scale system: in this respect, I will draw on my longstanding experience in software engineering (16 years), and the experience of my team. It will be crucial to address scalability from the start and build it into the core architecture. We will use a distributed agile process and adopt strategies of successful open source projects.

Creating a self-sustainable nonprofit organization: as an executive board member of three different nonprofit organizations, I have learned that it is crucial to establish a funding stream early on. From the start, I will explore a number of options for long-term funding. One option would be through donations from our users (similar to Wikipedia). Another option would be institutional funding (similar to the Open Library of the Humanities), whereby institutions pay a certain amount each year for the development of an open system in exchange for a say in its features.

In all of the above, I plan to leverage knowledge of the advisory board, our partners, and the Shuttleworth community.

6) What part does openness play in your idea?

My motto is: "Open science, all the way". Open Knowledge Maps strives to be a building block of the open knowledge society by sharing data, source code, and content under a license that is compatible with the Open Definition. In addition, we work in the open: the project progress is openly shared with the world, including this proposal and our project’s roadmap, which are both hosted on Github. The concrete targets for developing the system are published as issues in our repositories.

But even beyond that we want to really show the value of open knowledge - we want to serve as a shining example of what innovative services are possible with an open infrastructure, and thus inspire people to work openly themselves. Wherever we can, we build on top of the existing open science ecosystem, highlighting open infrastructure and content.

We have created strong ties in the open knowledge world: we have established a network of 10 partner organisations, including rOpenSci, ContentMine,, Wikimedia and Open Knowledge. We have also found great advisors and open knowledge advocates from many different fields guiding us in the development of Open Knowledge Maps.

Openness and inclusiveness will also play an important role in all social activities, which will be organized in the spirit of other open knowledge events. Mapping parties, for example, will be free of charge and they will be open to everyone interested in collaborative knowledge discovery.