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Can crowdfunding boost public support and financing for scientific research?

Crowdfunding, an Internet-based method of fundraising, has proven to be a successful method of financing a range of arts, technology and other creative projects. For example, a project called MATTER that was developed to support long-form science journalism recently raised nearly three times more than its original fund-raising goal.

Now some organizations, such as the British charity Cancer Research UK, are looking to the fund-raising model to support scientific research. In a guest blog post today on Scientific American, UC Santa Barbara biologist Jai Ranganathan, PhD, discusses why crowdfunding could increase public engagement with science and remedy the difficulty of funding research. He writes:

Science crowdfunding changes the equation by adding a powerful new incentive for scientists to engage the public with science: the potential for raising money for research directly from the public. What makes crowdfunding such a powerful potential lever to connect science and society is that the amount of money that can be raised in this way is directly proportional to the size of the audience that has been built. As an example, if we look at the six projects on Kickstarter that each have raised over a million dollars this year, all but one tapped into huge networks of people that the project creators had been building for years. I am the co-organizer of a science crowdfunding effort called the #SciFund Challenge and the results from our own projects show the same thing: money raised depends on the audience that has been built.

So, how do scientists go about building an audience interested in their research? Where does the crowd in crowdfunding come from? A great model lies no further than your radio: your local NPR station. Most of the time, NPR member stations are just pushing out fantastic programming (Fresh Air, I am looking at you). Every so often though, the stations reach out to you to ask for cash to keep the programming rolling. Whether or not you give money though, they still want you listening to the programming.

A very similar model could work well for science crowdfunding.

The full post is worth a read and goes on to describe the #SciFund Challenge, which Ranganathan helped organize. The organization trains scientists how to manage crowdfunding projects, provides community and assists with publicity once projects launch.

Previously: Kickstarter project to support long-form science journalism beats fund-raising goal
Photo by NIH Images

One Response to “ Can crowdfunding boost public support and financing for scientific research? ”

  1. Mikael Totterman Says:

    Lia, great post. I agree that crowdfunding provides a great way to both raise funds and develop a closer relationship between the researchers and the public.

    However, for crowdfunding to succeed within the parameters of the academic research enterprise, a number of issues including tax-deductibility, over-head rates, and IP issues need to be clearly addressed up front.

    At Innovocracy.org, we have been working with a collection of academic institutions including Cornell, Clarkson, RIT, and the University of Rochester to bring the benefits of crowdfunding to academia while working within complex research institutions.

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