Coherent Digital: Taming Wild Content to Push Research Further

Coherent Digital is here to tame more of the information we live amongst and to make it useful and accessible going forward.

Wild content. You may not know the term but you’ve absolutely experienced it. It’s the family photo album you’ve never gotten around to organizing. It’s your twitter feed. It’s every internet black hole you’ve ever fallen down. 

Wild content is all around us. In fact, it’s anything that’s not already living inside of a formalized, peer reviewed publication like a scientific journal – so about 99.99% of content.

Coherent Digital is here to change that, to tame more of the information we live amongst and to make it useful and accessible going forward. They have the tools to systematically search, cite, understand, catalog and preserve wild content for the long haul. Created by Stephen Rhind-Tutt, co-founder of Alexander Street and Toby Green, ex-head of publishing at the OECD, Coherent Digital has just released a new product, Policy Commons

Policy Commons has the same goal but an approach that is specifically geared towards the world of research. In short, it’s a one-stop shop for objective and fact based research from world leading policy experts, nonpartisan think tanks, IGOs and NGOs. At the time of writing, Policy Commons contained 1.7 million files from close to 14,000 different organizations. 

Rather than tell you about this platform though, you can experience it for yourself. Sign up here. When you first login you’ll see that Policy Commons can be browsed by organization, publication or topic. The search bar suggests hot topics ranging from ‘climate change’ to ‘working from home’. Click one and you’ll find everything from op-eds to press releases, journal articles to discussions. Results span decades and are written in a host of different languages, too. 

Policy Commons feels like a playground of information –  a verified search bar for anyone who wants the facts but needs more context than what can be found in journals alone. Here, even think tank data is formatted, cited and preserved like a formalized publication. It’s all ready for you to learn from and reference in your own work.

The breadth and value of what Policy Commons ‘does’ is possibly best seen in a comparative Google search and their approach to link rot – that moment when a hyperlink in an old paper actually leads nowhere.

Search “COVID-19 and indigenous communities” on Google and you’ll get about 148,000,000 hits. The results on the first ten pages mostly link to media outlets and there’s no option to further refine your search. In this scenario it’s not only hard to find answers but it’s hard to even see what organizations are researching this topic.

The returns on Policy Commons, however, are exclusively from policy organizations. You can refine by publishing body, date published, subject and other delimiters. Policy Commons captures information from the top organizations around the world and puts it in one place because you shouldn’t have to dig to find it. Policy Commons then preserves this information, too.

Every year organizations close down. In the past, data and research available via those organizations’ websites would die with them rendering any external citations virtually useless. Policy Commons tracks down lost/hidden data on hard drives, city archives, library databases and even bookshelves and preserves it for indemnity. So far they’ve recreated the publication histories of 100+ defunct think tanks.  

Policy Commons is open access so, as mentioned above, you can view, download, share and cite this content right now. Browse the index at will to support your research – the directory includes 14,000 organizations past and present and is being updated all the time. If your organization is missing you can suggest it. 

Even if you’re not doing research directly, Policy Commons can provide valuable context. Take research funding, for example, it’s a topic that directly impacts any and all content we consume related to research. Understanding where it comes from and where it’s going can tell us a lot about what questions are being, how they’re being answered and why.  

Use Policy Commons to:

  • Find new research: Policy reports and briefs are rich with hard statistical and factual content, much of which never makes it to journals and books.  Coverage is rich for policy areas like energy, transport, environment, epidemics, gun control and pharmaceuticals.  Some examples – UNICEF has detailed figures on solar power penetration in the developing world an The Fraser Institute has six articles on gun control.
  • Cite with confidence:  Policy Commons estimates annual link rot in this field is above 10% as reports move, are taken down or as organizations lose funding. All content found here, however, includes a stable URL, bibliographic information documenting the original and a saved copy – so you can cite with confidence.
  • Discover organizations conducting research in your area: Suppose you’re researching Ebola. Policy Commons quickly identifies twelve organizations that have recently conducted research on Ebola. Some like the World Health Organization, are obvious.  Others such as the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Asian Development Bank are less so. Going to the directory’s entry for each of these organizations allows you to find out more about each of them – what their research interests are and what their mission is. You can see quickly the state of research in your field and even identify potential funders.
  • Build an audience for your organization’s research: as a member of Policy Commons you can upload links back to your website or upload content where you own the rights. Policy Commons tracks both the links and the upload and lets you see how it’s used.  Hundreds of policy professionals are already using the directory.
  • Policy Commons also offers bespoke services to track specific impacts of reports or other work. They’ve done work for major NGOs such as the United Nations and can advise on how to build an audience as well as track historical performance.

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