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RENT-A-CROWD? CROWDFUNDING ACADEMIC RESEARCH

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BY Rebecca English,  

Web 2.0 fundamentally shifts the nature of academic work. While there has been some research into the relationship between academics and students in Web 2.0 spaces, especially around Facebook (cf., English and Duncan–Howell, 2008; Madge, et al., 2009; English and Duncan–Howell, 2011) and teaching and assessment (cf., Greenhow, et al., 2009; Pierce, et al., 2011; Richardson, et al., 2012) there is limited research into the implications of new technologies on academic research work, especially in relation to funding. As noted by Pierce, et al. (2011), “the role of computing and the ability to both generate and analyse unprecedented amounts of data has significantly remoulded many arenas of scientific research.”

[1] In the interests of democratizing academic work and increasing participation, players in universities are using Web 2.0 in multiple sites.

This paper explores the use of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding models to fund academic research. McNally, et al. (2012) have argued that crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are being “hailed in the business world as ushering in new and empowering democratic models” however it “remains underutilized and understudied and, with respect to public policy, greatly misunderstood.” [2] The goal of this paper is to explore the successes as well as the pitfalls and challenges of attempting to use both crowdsourcing and crowdfunding in a small–scale pilot study of home education in Australia. There is some work that examines the pitfalls, challenges and successes of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing in the creative industries (cf., Klaebe and Laycock, 2012). The creative industries, such as music, film and arts, have traditionally used the crowdfunding platforms in Australia, and this use may explain why the research is specifically related to their experience of crowdfunding (cf., Klaebe and Laycock, 2012).

It is useful at this point to define crowdfunding and crowdsourcing. The term crowdfunding is used to denote ventures that are funded “by voluntary donations via an open call to anybody to donate.” [3] It is organized around a Web site such as Pozible (http://www.pozible.com/) or Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com/). Some of the current projects on Pozible include a documentary exposing the cruelty of Australia’s intensive pig farming industry (cf.http://www.pozible.com/project/33686), a children’s book about a native Australian animal, the bandicoot (an animal closely related to the bilby) who steals a boy’s grandmother’s underwear (http://www.pozible.com/project/29992) and a community engagement project that moved a not–for–profit business supplying suits for women who were returning to work and helps the long–term unemployed get jobs within three months (http://www.pozible.com/project/11925). Some Kickstarter projects include a writing project about living in a van (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fosterhuntington/home-is-where-you-park-it), a strategy game (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/5livesstudios/satellite-reign) and a pop EP from a young Australian artist (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1690032595/kelsey-guards-original-ep). These sites allow creative projects to be funded via an Internet platform that brings potential project designers together with potential funders (Pozible, 2010).

The projects seeking to be funded are run independent of the platform that hosts the call for funds (Kickstarter, 2013). A project is developed, a funding goal and deadline to meet that goal is set and then the project is opened so that interested parties can pledge money. “If the project succeeds in reaching its funding goal, all backers’ credit cards are charged when time expires. If the project falls short, no one is charged.” [4] Thus, crowdfunding is generally an all–or–nothing enterprise. By contrast, crowdsourcing generally refers to the participatory online activity of open calls for individuals to voluntarily undertake a task, the key features of a crowdsourcing project is the open call format and the large network of potential participants (Howe, 2005). This project faced some issues in relation to crowdsourcing because, as a model, the open call and large network of potential participants challenged the traditional ‘ethical clearance’ guidelines imposed by the university. One of the major implications of using crowdsourcing was the need to explain the model to the ethics advisor in the faculty, who struggled to understand the nature and the scope of the platform as well as how it functioned. In addition, there were problems with ensuring that all data was de–identified.

This paper deals with the funding realities faced by academics. As public monies dry up, academics are increasingly relying on funding sources provided by businesses or commercial enterprises (cf., Chang, et al., 2009; Lam, 2010; Radder, 2010; Szelényi and Goldberg, 2011) which changes the nature of academic work, scholarship and the knowledge generated by research. At the same time, academics are asked to do more with less time because of increases in teaching load expectations (cf., Vardi, 2009; Nkomo, 2009; Tight, 2010). Thus, academics need to find ways to creatively fund their research projects and maintain their output in a competitive environment. Particularly, the push to find creative funding sources is significant in an environment “democratised” by the proliferation of digital technologies and the drive to create by Gen C (cf., English and Duncan–Howell, 2008; Massanari, 2012).

This paper argues that a crowdsource and crowdfund model can successfully generate funding for academic research work, however, it is not without its pitfalls. While there is some research into the problems of using these tools in design (cf., Massanari, 2012), there is also research that demonstrates that public participation is significantly improved with the use of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding tools (cf., Brabham 2012, 2009). These tools allow for a greater pool of applicants and thus, as Massanari (2012) states, mean that the potential for challenging professional norms of practice, particularly in design. The results of the current project suggest that where academics are working in areas that are closely connected to their communities of interest, then crowdsourcing and crowdfunding allows for more of a participatory involvement with the research subjects that blurs the interviewer/interviewee divide.  Source on

http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4818/3804

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