As a researcher in a Faculty of Education, whose work is concerned with families who choose non-school and alternative education pathways, my work sits outside traditional or mainstream funding interests. The numbers choosing these approaches to education, although growing, are still a minority of the total educational market. The majority of parents still send their children to the local public school or the local private school. My work is on a fringe and that means making a case for why grant bodies would fund my research, in an area that involves such a tiny minority of education choice, is really difficult.
As such, I’ve had to seek out alternative funding sources to support my research. Research is not free: there’s the transcribing, the reviewing of literature and the time taken out of the other work that is required of academics (read teaching). In order to explore the increasing numbers of Australian families who chose to home educate, I decided to collect money via a crowdfunding campaign, and to employ research assistants using a crowdsource model. This decision posed problems for ethics, as the use of crowdfunding was unknown to the ethics panel (many of whom had never heard of, and thus had no understanding of, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing). Other problems included ethical blurring of research being paid for by the community in which the research was taking place (although, the hard sciences do this frequently as drug companies pay researchers in institutions to undertake research on new drugs), community members accessing the interviews for transcribing (for crowdsourcing) and copyright concerns for non-academics reviewing literature that is restricted to the academic community.
Another issue was transparency of data. If people in the community were involved in transcribing and writing up data on other people in the community, how could ethical concerns about privacy, de-identification and transparency be respected? In order to manage these concerns, I used my crowdfunding campaign to pay for transcribing. I also knew that the community that had funded my research wanted to have access to the findings. As such, I made sure that publications arising were in non-paywalled journals (JUAL and Home School Researcher). And, any that were paywalled (such as the two book chapters arising) were emailed and shared within the community through various Facebook groups. It was also important to advocate for the community that had supported my research and, as a result, I was involved in a parliamentary inquiry into home education in another state as part of my work, because the community asked the government to recognize my involvement on their behalf.
However, using these journals has implications for promotion, as there is limited acceptance of journals that don’t have a high impact factor in promotion applications. Thus, it can be counter-productive for promotion to explore the topics I look at and to use alternative funding sources. However, the faculty was interested in my use of crowdfunding and called me back from maternity leave to give a talk about the experience. They were confused about how it worked, and many did not really understand the process. There was also interest in financing issues, as the crowdfunding campaign was in PayPal and it does not show up in faculty monies that may also be used for making a case for promotion. The university process needs to move with the times and accept this new reality. Particularly in an environment where governments hold scientists and researchers to ransom, fail to fund university departments adequately, but still expect large research output.