Jennifer, thanks for this post. You reference Carly Kocurek and Allyson Whipple's crowdfunding campaign and echoed Carly's own experience with verbal abuse that occurred as a result. And certainly, Sarkeesian's story has been well publicized which has only drawn more threats from the male gaming community. While this registers as a high, if not the highest, concern associated with crowdfunding academic projects which may aggravate particular segments of society simply by virtue of the research question explored, I wanted to discuss your risk #2.
I like that you bring to light the pedagogical opportunities and difficulties which can arise, such as time constraint. Digital culture is a deserving topic of study and I think assigning students to establish crowdfunding campaigns is a great way for them to learn the realities of navigating a landscape which is becoming increasingly more ubiquitous for various professions. The task of increasing visibility across multiple platforms and inspiring would be donors to donate is applicable on many different fronts. I could easily imagine such assignments becoming more common for public relations classes, as we all as business, marketing, and the digital humanities of course. I think it would also be useful to address neoliberal culture which certainly necessitates the need for crowdfunding in academic culture, and other areas as well. Letting students be exposed to the various cultures through the process of crowdfunding would be very useful. What positives came out of this process for your students? What do you think they learned?
I want to thank you for a great post trying to unpack some of the issues with the concept of crowd funding and academia. I think that your post and Jennifer de Winter's both look at the ways that academia and crowd funding are not natural companions in similar ways.
As I was reading your post I was really interested in the idea that if we as academics must turn to these popular avenues for research, how does that affect the kinds of research that can happen at the university. On a platform where attention is integral to getting one's message across for more monetary support, projects cater to popular topics and marginalized research can become even more marginalized. Not to sound overly optimistic, but this seems to run counter to what academia is supposed to do.
I am likewise interested in how platforms like Kickstarter benefit from the fact that many fans see themselves as experts who would be able to discern what would be a good project. In many ways, Kickstarter might be a good way to gauge public opinion on pet projects, in the way that Lego Ideas does.
All this is to say that I do not have a lot of answers either. I've seen several fan and academic projects come out of Kickstarter, but more projects that were either failures or much more work than the creator imagined.
Thank you both for your thoughtful responses. I don't know that I have any answers, but I am interested in exploring the questions both of you raise. As Tim points out, one of the reasons we've developed intellectual property agreements, and IRBs, and publication contracts is to identify and clarify the rights, responsibilities, and potential liabilities of researchers, faculty, institutions, and research subjects, for example. For the most part, because these contracts and agreements have been negotiated in a context—especially in the humanities—where things like cross-institutional collaboration, crowdfunding, and commercialization of research work product weren't present or accounted for, the contracts and agreements are completely silent about and maybe even actively discourage them.
Taking a fresh look at, and if necessary renegotiating these instruments would hopefully result in agreements that are clearer about whether they are even intended to cover situations involving crowdfunded research, and if so, how rights and responsibilities are to be distributed among institutions, faculty, and researchers, even if they don't necessarily provide much guidance with regard to public participants from outside the institutional setting. Institutions and professional organizations also might consider how to identify best practices in crowdfunded research. Getting to one of David's questions here, best practices might address questions of when IRB approval should be required—e.g., for publication in professional journals, or when the project is going to be used as part of a P&T file, or maybe in every case in which human subjects will be involved, are just some possibilities. Best practices guidelines might also discuss how project contributors will be credited, what access to and rights in the research output they should have, what information must be disclosed to potential backers, and how much control—if any—those backers have over the project once it's funded.
Institutions need to begin a conversation that begins with the question of whether it's a good or bad idea to allow institutional resources to be used in crowdfunded academic research. For those institutions that decide the answer to this first question is "yes," then the conversation should turn the question of what can be done to ensure that crowdfunded academic research is conducted in a fair and ethical manner. Part of answering this second question involves creating an environment on campus in which people understand the rights, responsibilities, and potential liabilities involved in crowdfunded academic research as well as recommended best practices for apportioning the legal and ethical risks and benefits of the project.
Thanks for the all the questions! We have been collecting information on the patterns of behaviour demonstrated by donors across the different project "rounds" in Research My World. However, for privacy reasons we don't have detailed demographic data on donors. What we do know (from the evidence at hand) is that the vast majority of donors give money to one project only. So they are exercised by one particular "problem" rather than a broader philanthropic reflex. The second smaller group of donors we have identified are people who have given to more than one project but in which the projects are led by the same researcher. In other words, these are donors who are "following" a researcher rather than giving to a specific research problem (we have some interesting Social Network Analysis visualisations of this). Finally, at an anecdotal level, looking at the projects that failed to meet their financial target: it seems that the public do want to understand how the research problem fits into a larger sense of the world. Projects that are unable to link the specific problem they have identified to a wider viewpoint (sustainability, community well-being etc) don't seem to be well supported. We would love to more research on our donors - possibly as part of the next round which opens in a few weeks.
I may have answered some of your questions in my reply to Sarah (above).
Like you, I am also intrigued by the question of disciplinarity in Crowdfunding. My own view is that Crowdfunding initiatives like Research My World are post-disciplinary - in the sense that the public are not especially invested in the internal divisions between academics (no matter how seriously we take them) but in the relative relevance of the proposed project to their own interests or concerns. Instead Crowdfunding is an opportunity to redress the more profound division between universities and the public.
We have had some interesting anecdotal evidence of how the public perceives particular types of research however. For instance one researcher was explicitly told by someone that although they knew her research was critically important and would have a huge impact on the community - they would not give any money because in their belief the government should really fund medical research. This was heartbreaking to the researcher who knew that the particular funding being sought was for a problem that would never make it onto the government's radar. Conversely, as a humanities researcher, I have never found myself in the luxurious position of having someone tell me that the government "should" fund my research!
Generally speaking, Crowdfunding has been highly successful in raising funds for creative arts research. And we certainly haven't observed any trends for or against specific disciplines in the 21 projects we put to the crowd to date.
Hopefully that answers some of your questions :)
It is certainly worth noting the differing sorts of risks that come with crowdfunding, especially in the means that many don't think about those risks. Once the transaction of giving the project money has been completed the participant doesn't typically think about what happens as the campaign is still ongoing. What was certainly interesting was the addition of the crowdfunded game, Choice, Texas, as it has been used as an example for one of the other responses to this survey, so being able to visualize the 'other side' of crowdfunding that we don't see within that subject was interesting and very eye-opening.
You've also brought up the, potentially, seldom thought of point of the project and those that are creating it to open themselves up to the public in a way that many may not seem could potentially create backlash. Though within academic topics aren't protected by those means, nor does it constitute any negative backlash, it does open the waters for communication within the topic that is created. While currently enrolled in a class that speaks about Social Capital in many forms the portion that was brought up about the struggles to use that social capital to bring in more backers for a project is certainly something that has come across my social media accounts in increasing numbers as the popularity of crowdfunding sites increased and the riss involved in that area is a very big one.
There are certainly a lot of factors to think about when it comes to crowdfunding academic works.
David has touched on many of the thoughts I had as I read through your post, Carly. To echo, I appreciate your focus on the unseen labor of crowdfunding. Honestly, though, and not that David draws a direct analogy to any extent, the labor of crowdfunding as relates to academic research versus, say, an artist’s next album is, I think, very different. Regardless, David’s point about the labor of “manufacturing popularity” potentially becoming a distraction, indeed, raises a concern for the academic researcher.
While academics are technically employed for the labor of their research, and some for their teaching, we know that the compensation for such labor is rarely commensurate with the volume of the labor itself. And, it’s redundant to state, but academia has notoriously glossed over, overlooked, and/or neglected to recognize, credit, and/or compensate all kinds of labor, especially insofar as women’s labor goes.
That all said, I find myself wondering whether or not there’s any probability that (crowd)funding one’s own research becomes an expected part of the methodology of some projects. Just thinking about that is exhausting, as the research process itself, though rewarding in many ways, is also often exhausting and, of course, labor-intensive.
A related aside…a MediaCommons tweet was just favorited by Crowd Assist, one of the crowdfunding consultants to which David alluded. Hey, I wonder what it would look like to account for marketing and management fees into the overall cost of the research, essentially asking funders to help cover this fee as well. Maybe this would free up researchers reliant on crowdfunding to focus on their work and not be distracted by managing what amounts to another project in and of itself in some cases.
Thanks for your post Rebecca, you offer an enlightening account of your experience. My take away from your post reflects what I feel has been a consistent theme developing throughout this discussion…both theoretical and anecdotal.
"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."
I feel as though the above excerpt from your post emphasizes the most substantial obstacle in the goal of procuring new channels of funding/opportunities (be they methodological, pedagogical, etc.; and which, to be sure, crowdfunding can indeed offer) is the unwillingness of the institutions and universities to adjust policies to reflect the changing landscape in regards to both digital cultures and economic constraints. This cultural dynamic could perhaps be generational, in which case it perhaps requires a new guard to be hired into these advisory positions that more clearly understand the utility of these new tools and can adjust policies accordingly.
But then still, as Dr. Wittkower spoke to in his post, there is a reluctance of academic culture itself to recognize or engage the public for fear of a negative perception which reveals a problematic self-conception as it regards the role of the academic in a "web 2.0" environment. Gramsci's conception of the organic intellectual and the traditional intellectual is useful as a point of distinction. I think we're in the midst of a paradigm shift in which communicative technologies can work to blend these distinctions based on access to scholarship and the various channels through which people can express their own work or ideas. Concerns arise when we recognize the passing of perhaps less rigorous research and more stylistic forms of scholarship which can lower the bar of what is to be expected, conversely, it opens up lines of discourse that could challenge institutional thinking and revitalize discussions.
These discussions are truly important as we move forward and continue to navigate our location within a neoliberal culture.
Carly, I think that you are very spot on when it comes to the portions of crowdfunding that most people don't see, how much work that goes into it. I'll admit when I first heard of it that I thought you give them money, you get the perks, whatever it is you've funded gets made. It wasn't until I had participated in a few crowdfunding projects myself that I realized why there is such a push for digital or non-tangeable items are given away as the 'prizes' for the campaign; the cost for shipping as well as potential creation of them. Not to mention, as you have said, the work that goes into the promotion of such projects.
However, as you have also mentioned there is academic value that can come from it. Not only the fact that there are more people you can reach out to who may be able to help more with said campaign or project that is being promoted, but also extending a reach of something others may have not known they wanted to learn more about. There are numerous positives that can come out of it and awareness is certainly one of them.
Carly, thank you for your contribution. What I took from your post first and foremost was the reference to the unseen labor associated with crowdfunding which is generally left out of the celebratory rhetoric that often frames the process. Also, you make mention of the actual costs involved in your project versus the amount of money you asked for. I've crowdfunded myself (my project was a personal art project outside of any direct academic interest) and I can attest to what you describe. Although, what should we make of this necessary, but in some ways, unrelated labor? (Unrelated in the sense that it exists outside of the actual goal of the campaign) Does the need to "manufacture popularity" distract from research methods or processes in a meaningful way? I wonder if you found or Allyson found yourself immersed in discussions that had nothing to do (in the direct sense) with the main goal and purpose of this game? The freedom afforded to those who crowdfund and rely on channels not supported by institutional frameworks which uniquely burdens the research process. The combination of marketing and rigorous research certainly necessitates, or substantially benefits from, two different forms of knowledge (crowdfunding consultants are a thing).
While speculative, I could imagine the balancing act needed to run a successful campaign centered on academic goals, together with the increasing difficulty to acquire funding through institutions themselves, could initiate a shift that falls into a neoliberal trap transforming this process into "common sense" or a process justified (constrained) by market logic. To be sure, mentions of neoliberalism underscore this whole discussion and I don't mean to shy away from more nuanced analyses. Although, I do think these developments work against more rigorous engagement that would otherwise be free from external distractions. Thus, should we be concerned that crowdfunding could leave research vulnerable to neoliberalization (i.e. a continued reduction in funding in the wake of new access to funds which remove risk from institutions), a less rigorous attention to methodology, as well as an altering of an approach to research due to the recognized need for "popularity" which is necessary for a successful campaign?