Over the last two months, I’ve been watching Deakin University’s venture into crowdfunding research. It has been an exciting and very successful initiative.
Deakin University is based in Australia, so they worked with an Australian crowdfunding platform, Pozible, to make this happen. In May-June 2013, Deakin ran eight funding campaigns through Pozible.
Six of the eight exceeded their targets!
Pozible is an ‘all or nothing’ crowdfunding platform, so the projects that didn’t succeed won’t get anything at all. The others will get about 93% of the contributions after transaction fees are deducted.
Here is a breakdown of the numbers. The two projects marked ‘N/A’ did not reach their target, and so raised no funds at all.
|Project title||Raised||Supporters||$ / person|
|‘Caching’ in on game play||N/A||42||N/A|
|Mighty maggots v flesh nom bugs||$9,970||129||$77.29|
|Discovering Papua New Guinea’s mountain mammals||$21,913||298||$73.53|
|How salty is your seafood?||N/A||11||N/A|
|Would you like seaweed with that?||$5,435||88||$61.76|
|Voyages of discovery||$5,005||41||$122.07|
I love what Deakin has done! When I saw what they were trying to do, my initial reaction was “Why didn’t I think of that?”. I have been trying to convince individuals at my university to try crowdfunding, without any success. By taking an institutional approach, Deakin were able to get more traction.
I love this because:
- They have demonstrated that people will fund research projects in this way.
- They showed that you can raise up to A$20,000 this way.
- They showed that you can use crowdfunding for different types of research.
- They showed that you can use crowdfunding for different stages of the research cycle.
- They allowed people to give funds in return for a tax deduction.
- They raised over $55,000 (after transaction costs) in new research funding.
The successful projects had between 40 and 300 supporters. In total approximately 700 members of the public that voted with their wallets to fund research in Australia. That’s wonderful!
I understand that some supporters may not have been giving funds to ‘research’ – they might have been conservationists or photo buffs or parents. To my mind, that doesn’t matter. The projects were clearly badged as research and people funded them. In the end, that’s what matters. Before these projects were funded, it was an open question as to whether Australians would pony up money for research projects like this. These projects show that they will.
Up to $20,000 in funding
One of these projects attracted over A$20,000 in funding. That is decent small grant – you can do something good with A$20,000.
Pozible isn’t Kickstarter. It hasn’t had million-dollar projects. Pozible has had one project that raised A$200,000+ and two that raised $100,000+. Other than that, big projects have mostly been around $60,000 – $75,000. Raising A$20,000 is very impressive in this context.
More importantly, it shows that this source of funding can work for more than A$5,000 – A$10,000 ‘top-up’ grants. I suspect that, as we go forward, the upper bound will creep higher and higher. I’m looking forward to the first Australian research project that raises A$100,000+ in this manner. It may not happen soon, but it will happen.
Different types of research
Deakin have shown that you can use this source of funding for very different types of research:
- Voyages of discovery is a geographical mapping project.
- Would you like seaweed with that is a food science project.
- Retake Melbourne is an art, photography and history project.
- Mighty maggots v flesh nom bugs is a clinical trial.
- Healthy gigglers is a public health project.
- Discovering Papua New Guinea’s mountain mammals is a conservation project.
This broad range of projects is important, as it is easy for people to say, “But it won’t work for my field of research”. These projects show that it can work for very different fields of research.
Different stages of research
Deakin have also shown that this approach will work for different stages of research:
- Voyages of discovery will buy equipment so that they can extend their work. It looks like they are extending an existing research program.
- Would you like seaweed with that will replicate international research in an Australian setting.
- Retake Melbourne will build a tool and then undertake research using that tool. It looks like they are right at the start of their research project.
- Mighty maggots v flesh nom bugs will
replicate research done elsewhereconduct a unique and world-first clinical trial. This is pioneering work. [Please note that they are NOT repeating work attempted elsewhere, as I had written earlier. See comments.]
- Healthy gigglers will use the funds to implement research findings. They have already done their research and are now seeking to publish new resources.
- Discovering Papua New Guinea’s mountain mammals are also extending an existing research program by funding fieldwork.
As part of their partnership with Deakin, Pozible implemented a system whereby people could gain a tax deduction for their contribution. This is important, as it replicates the existing process in Australia in a simple, straightforward way.
Two projects, Voyages of discovery and Healthy gigglers, only provided a tax deduction as their incentive for supporters. This goes against the common wisdom, which says that crowdfunding projects should provide incentives to attract support. However, many research projects find it difficult to imagine what incentive they could offer. Deakin have demonstrated that a tax-deductible donation is enough to attract support.
New research funding
Best of all, Deakin have attracted over A$55,000 (after transaction costs) in new research funding into the Australian university system. I’ve seen internal funding schemes that are smaller than that.
This is not just new money for Deakin. It is new money for the whole system. Deakin didn’t reduce anybody else’s pot by gaining this funding. I like that a lot.
It will be interesting to see whether the people involved think that the return was worth the effort – I suspect that the researchers involved worked hard during May and June to get their projects across the line.
Disclaimer: I have no connection with the Deakin projects other than as a supporter. I put about A$10 into each of them and promoted them through the Research Whisperer network and my own personal network.
I sent this post to Professor Deb Verhoeven, who organised Deakin’s crowdfunding campaign. She replied:
A couple of heads up clarifications – Deakin also contributed a small amount of “encouragement” funding to projects ($500 matched funding when projects realised their first $500 of public money) and a couple of related Deakin research centres tipped in small amounts of funding as well. These “in-house” pledges are all transparent (you can see them on the site) and recognise that often the biggest stakeholders in crowd funding are those closest to the projects (in more conventional pozible projects this is usually the immediate family and workplace as well). So although I haven’t seen the final financial breakdown yet, I think it would probably be more accurate to say around $45,000 in new research funding was raised.
Interestingly – we are still being approached by donors even though the projects have formally closed. So the official figures are a little under-expressed (but they are “official” in the sense they are the funds realised during the campaign period).
Also interesting is that projects received donations from a mix of individual donors and SME’s and other organisations. Again I haven’t sent the full breakdown yet but I gather the balance between these different sources varied from project to project.
The intangible returns were also really really significant – Research My World generated media exposure (traditional and social) for these researchers in ways they could never have anticipated – ABC TV News, major newspapers, all forms of radio, retweets from Stephen Fry and so on. And the uptake in digital capacity for individual researchers has been off the scale.
- Social media activities to help crowdfund research (part 1) #deakin #pozible by Joyce Seitzinger on The Cat’s Pajamas, 20 June 2013.
Joyce provides a detailed look at the social media campaign behind Deakin’s Pozible campaign.
- Kickstarter vs. the National Science Foundation by Jonathan O’Donnell on The Research Whisperer, 19 June 2012.
A comparison between the crowdfunding model and the government-sponsored funding model.
- Crowd-Funding for Research Dollars: A Cure for Science’s Ills? by Jai Ranganathan on Scientific American, 23 May 2012.
Jai Ranganathan draws a clear parallel between research outreach and crowdfunding.
- Crowdfunding Science by Jorge Cham on Piled Higher and Deeper, 5/6/2013.
For any given research topic there exists an excellent Piled Higher and Deeper comic.