Crowdfunding for science: a helping hand for academics
As a scientist I am well aware of the limited funding for research. Scientists are not the only ones struggling to receive adequate funding. For instance, the cultural sector is experiencing financial troubles ever since the government decreased the funding. Some artists started assembling money online using platforms such as the Dutch cultural and arts oriented platformVoordekunst. Now scientists and academics are quietly starting to try out crowdfunding: assembling donations and approaching a large group of donors online. Crowdfunding as distinct donation method can be traced back to the global economic recession in 2007. Crowdfunding developed in 2006 primarily in the arts and creative-based industries; e.g. music, film and video games. One of the first crowdfunding platforms, developed in the Netherlands in 2006, was the music oriented platform Sellaband. Crowdfunding applies to a whole series of non-profit projects.
Hé! Each month I will upload a new blog series. Each series will have one central subject. For instance, the subject of this month is ‘crowdfunding for science and Universities’. A series consists out of several separate blogs, which will be uploaded weekly and shared via Twitter (@PSCVTeunenbroek) and LinkedIn. This is the first blog of the ‘crowdfunding for science and Universities’ series.
As of May 2018 I’m an official blogger for several sites. This blog is also featured on the site of De Dikke Blauwe: https://www.dedikkeblauwe.nl/news/crowdfunding-for-science-and-universities
So crowdfunding is an online donation method where those in need of money place their ideas online. Anyone with a good idea can start a crowdfunding project, but not per se successfully. The idea is placed online on a specific site by an initiator (in more traditional philanthropy we often refer to them as collectors). The site where the projects are presented is called a ‘platform’. In addition, with crowdfunding we often speak of projects instead of funding goals, more about this later. Of course another important aspect is the donor. Anyone can contribute to a crowdfunding project; small donations (around 20 euro’s) are common with crowdfunding.
Money concerns are the main stressors for researchers
If you manage to get a grand to fund your research you are often congratulated by many, as we all know the process is long, hard and difficult. Many good ideas are shot down: only 20% of the researchers manage to assemble enough funding. This means that a stunning 80% is left without funds: a waste of talent, money and time. This is especially troublesome as the number of applications have increased with 14% between 2007 and 2015. Thus, there is a real need for funding. It is therefore no surprise that researchers are searching for other ways to fund their ideas.
Especially younger researchers experience trouble with attaining funding. Also, if university personnel receive less funding for research, this is likely to affect another key task of universities: teaching. The Rathenau institute suggested that universities have to spend more of their money on research now that government support is becoming scarcer. As a result, universities have less money to spend on teaching. Thus, additional funding is not only essential for researchers but also to maintain the quality of teaching.
Crowdfunding for universities in the Netherlands
Crowdfunding is increasingly used by scientists to assemble funding for research projects. An example of a possibility is to use donations to set up a pilot study. A pilot study could greatly improve the quality of the actual study. During a pilot study a researcher can fine tune their design and test for possible mistakes. However, a pilot study costs money and time and a researcher might be tempted to skip the pilot to safeguard their budget. Another possibility is to assemble money to fund a field study instead of a lab study. Field studies are often expensive, but worthwhile: it provides a scientist with the opportunity to test their ideas in the real world instead of an artificial lab.
Several universities in the Netherlands already launched their own crowdfunding platform. In collaboration with Kentaa (a Dutch consultancy specialized in crowdfunding) the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen was the first to launch their own platform. Now a day, several universities launched crowdfunding platforms: the University of Leiden, Utrecht, Twente and also the Radboud University, TU Eindhoven. Unfortunately the VU has yet to follow the example of the just mentioned Universities. There are also several external platforms that host scientific projects such as the UK based platform science.crowd. Other examples are (in no particular order): FutSci, Experiment.com, CrowdScience and DigVentures.
Crowdfunding can be used to fund small (parts of) research projects. It is important to note that crowdfunding for research is in an early-stage. Also, in general the assembled amounts are small compared to the amounts given through research grants. Still, crowdfunding has its value for universities and researches alike: it is transparent, democratic, fun and promotes networking. In the following weekly blogs I will explaine one advantage at a time.