The work of Deb Verhoeven and Stuart Palmer, and Rebecca English, have outlined well the growing visibility and success of crowdfunded academic research, with individuals stepping in to lend vital financial support to potential research projects in order for them to come to fruition. Crowdfunding initiatives such as the Deakin University/Pozible collaboration Research My World, Superior Ideas, Experiment, and the (now closed) iAMscientist have provided researchers valuable opportunities to finance their project in a vista of diminishing university and research funding.
But this landscape, then, raises some implications. One of the central themes surrounding crowdfunding that can resonate strongly for scholars centres on responsibility for funding/finance, and how this can be shifted by the practice. The impetus for financial responsibility, in a setting of more government and research funding cutbacks, can be more squarely placed upon individuals, rather than funding bodies, councils and governments. Thus, the question I would like to pose in this short piece is: will crowdfunding academic research allow (and possibly encourage) authorities and institutions to escape and evade the responsibility of ensuring that funds are available for valuable academic projects? This is a complicated matter though – if individuals want the project to be realised and launched, then initiating a crowdfunding venture may be the most feasible option for some. For example, the process may particularly benefit independent or early career scholars who may have no opportunity to apply for research funding at any institution or academic body, due to lack of stable employment, or have been unsuccessful in the competitive research funding environment.
On the other hand, is crowdfunding provoking a stronger sense of inclusion and communal support between the public and scholarly research, allowing both parties to become more visible to each other than before? For example, there could also be an element of valuable public inclusion at play here – some of those involved in creating campaigns may have wished to secure individual public finance for a project through crowdfunding rather than rely on, or be anchored to, specific public sector or corporate backers. This may be particularly applicable to community research projects that could then proceed without council or local government involvement. In addition, securing the public as funders and capturing their interest may have strong benefits. As Gina Lamendella, an academic who achieved a successful crowdfunding campaign for a proposed research project, stated in a 2013 article for Inside Higher Ed by Lauren Igneo: “It’s the great thing about crowdfunding.
You’re gathering public interest, and people really feel passionate about your idea... makes us feel like our hearts, our minds and our money are in the right place”. However, as Andrea Hunter has highlighted in her 2015 work on journalism and crowdfunding, these processes can also raise issues of accountability to the public who have invested their money and demands of responsibility towards fulfilling the possible expectations they may wish to impose on the project.
Overall, this situation points to the need for examining more closely the possibilities opened up by the crowdfunding of academic projects, and essentially, the resultant impact that they can generate. The infrastructure of this practice can act as a powerful tool that raises important questions within the broad landscape of reduction in funding across sectors – a timely thread that hints at the complex workings manifest within crowdfunding and the distinctive tinge of the growing shift that may be taking place surrounding financial support for scholarly research.