Alternative funding for science: a nice complement or a new paradigm?

October 23, 2014

[ crossposted from Study on Alternative Science Funding  ]

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 11.29.27

Next week in Seville, we will present and discuss the findings of our study in the JRC workshop on Science 2.0. Previous research shows that traditional reputation (impact factor-based) and funding (roadmap-based) mechanisms act as bottlenecks to Science 2.0 adoption: they are perverse incentive mechanisms that focus on “publish and perish” exclusively or that fund low-risk, top-down research priorities often carried out by the “usual suspects” who are familiar with the complex bureaucracy. The workshop will focus on new, alternative reputation and funding mechanisms that could overcome these bottlenecks and act instead as drivers of Science 2.0 growth. We here provide a preview of our findings to stimulate discussion.

Our presentation will focus on a definition and a proposed conceptual framework for alternative funding systems, as described in this previous post. By alternative funding we refer to mechanisms that are provided by private players (e.g foundations or crowdfunding) and that use more open, bottom-up ways to select priorities and proposals (e.g. inducement prizes, sandboxes).

We will then present an overview of alternative funding mechanisms in real-life, based on our mapping. This shows that there are many such mechanisms (more than 70) and that they tend to prioritize applied research and on societal challenges, and in particular health-related issues. As the figure above shows, bottom-up and demand driven are two different dimensions, that frequently overlap. A question arise: if traditional funding also moves towards more applied and demand-driven approach, who will fund basic, curiosity-driven research?

Finally, we will outline the early results from our analysis of 4 case studies of research projects funded by alternative mechanisms, selected among these 22.

Our research shows that alternative funding is not just reflecting a different nature of the funder, in terms of private vs public, but that it actually affects HOW the funding is distributed. In particular, alternative funding mechanisms typically are not prescriptive with regard to the ex ante definition of the content of the research, recognizing that the funder should leave as much freedom as possible to the researcher to identify the right approach. As such, crowdfunding, philantropy and inducement prizes tipycally set very broad priorities. Similarly, the evaluation of the research projects is typically agile, ex-post and with low administrative burden. The proposal is typically short and simple, and the decision on who to fund is either left to “the crowd” or based on the actual results achieved, or purely on the quality of the idea.

As a result, the funded projects are often carried out by people that do not typically receive traditional research funding; and on issues that are not covered by the traditional programmes. Alternative funding mechanisms are effectively addressing the shortcomings of traditional research funding, but at the same time they do not cover all fields of science homogeneously.

It remains to be seen to what extent this “alternative funding” can upscale. We can already envisage different scenarios, where alternative funding substitutes traditional mechanisms; where alternative funding remains a niche; or where the two approaches co-exists and traditional funding mechanisms are improved thanks to lessons learnt from alternative funding.

We look forward to discuss all this at the workshop, and let us start the discussion already now on this blog!

Infographics – when policy reports become like Ikea furniture

July 8, 2014

Policy reports are becoming more and more visually appealing. Well designed templates, figures, summaries, infographic, snappy and tweetable sentences.

This is good and to be welcome. Yet I can’t help thinking that there’s a common pattern with Ikea furniture.

What are the features of Ikea furniture?

  1. appealing design
  2. extreme usability and fitness-for-purpose – they meet exactly our need and fulfill immediately a need
  3. low durability

The first two features mirror closely what is happening in policy reports. My impression is that the third point is also a feature of new policy reports: less attention for robust evidence, and focus on data points that can be easily communicated. Policy reports have shorter and shorter durability.

I do not think that this is a necessarily true. Good design does not imply superficial findings. But from what I see around me, it often happens to be true.

And maybe it’s a bigger trend? You could apply the three criteria to most products – think mobile phones.

Maybe the big news is that policy reports are becoming more and more similar to consumer products? The consumerization of policy?

Of Tables, Mindmaps, Venn diagrams, Scrabble and metro maps

June 16, 2014

Some time ago I stated my passion for mindmaps, tables and Venn diagrams as tool to capture relations between entities.

I just realize how important a tool could be, for analytical purposes, metro maps. They allow to create many different links between many different groups.

The most famous application is probably the 2008 web trend map

In the policy domain, it’s becoming more and more popular as a metaphor of joined up policy making. Here is a map, from the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs.

I am trying to learn how to build such maps. In the meantime, I realize that Scrabble could be used for a similar structure.

So my questions are:

  • Could a Scrabble visualisation be used in the same way of a MetroMap?
  • What is the meaning of the different representation forms?
  • Is there any logical meaning in this sequence: Mindmap > Table > Venn > Metromap?

UPDATE: I would visualize my thinking as in this image – but I dont know what is the link between the elements!



Mapping the EU data economy: inspiring cases of #dataintensivepolicy #policy20

May 23, 2014

One of the most interesting projects of this year is the EU data market study. With IDC, we have to define, map, measure and engage the big data landscape in Europe.

We are now working on a report of data-intensive policy making. Basically it’s about the use of big data in decision making in government.

We’re identifying inspiring cases to show what are the risks and opportunities of big data applied to policy making.

Projects we consider as inspiring are:

As usual, we’ve set up a Diigo group where we collect relevant cases. Please join the group and submit relevant cases, or simply tweet such cases using #dataintensivepolicy

What are the most inspiring examples of data intensive policy making?

Open government for growth: learning from the best at #forumpa Rome 29th January

May 22, 2014

In the context of a project for the European Commission, we’re organising an event in collaboration with ForumPA  (the biggest e-gov fair in Italy) in Rome in a week or so.

The goal is to build on the policy recommendations that we developed with stakeholders at the last workshop in Brussels. How does open government help us to untangle new opportunities for growth?

The key issues to be addressed cover:

  • Governance, policy and strategy: e.g. how to avoid fragmentation and ensure long-term innovation?
  • Cultural change and uptake: e.g. how to establish trust between government and business?
  • Implementation, standards and technology: e.g. how to ensure integration within the publis sector and with third party service provider?
  • Feedback and service re-design: e.g. how to channel it in the institutional process to stimulate innovation and high-quality service delivery?

The work will be opened by the European Commission. We’re then having some of my favourite initiatives coming there to speak:

  • - the Greek government Diavgeia initiative
  • - Barcelona Smart City
  • - Helsinki CitySDK
  • - Network analysis built on OpenCoesione data
  • - the Bulgarian Single Point of Contact for business
  • - the Wheresmyvillo Belgian initiative to monitor public-private partnership

The workshop will be highly interactive, alternating cases studies with policy discussion.We will also use the app to vote, helped by its developer who will participate to the workshop.

At the end, we should come up with hands on recommendations for the next European Commission on how to stimulate growth through openness!



What I said at #openconf14 : openness as a goal and as a tool

February 21, 2014

My final presentation at #okioconf14 is embedded above and downloadable here. Finally it became quite different from what I originally planned. Some new concepts, different from previous speeches, are:

  • openness in both science and government share common drivers, impacts and barriers
  • openness should not be a dogma but a strategy, it should be finely adapted to pursue specific goals: for instance, co-creation does not work.
  • but openness is also a goal in itself, a value necessary to both democracy and science. Science is reproducible or is not science.
  • one key question we must address is: is open government just for young, rich, cultivated people? is it beneficiary mainly to the elite? We must work urgently to answer this question.
  • overall, we have achieved lots but have promised more, and we are just waiting for a “bubble burst” of inflated expectations of open government.

what I’ll say at #okioconf14 : discussing early ideas

February 13, 2014

Next Friday, I’ve been invited to speak at And I very much look forward to it.

Normally, I give speeches to policy-makers and I have to convince them about the importance of openness. This time, I am preaching to the converted. And as always, I want the speech to be a little bit out of the comfort zone.

Right now I’m trying to think about what I’m going to say. Let me share with you some random thoughts, so that I try to find a good story to tell. Forgive me if this is all a bit random.

I want to talk about openness in different domains: open public services; open policy making; open data; open science.

I’d like to talk about the fact that opening up should not be expected to create dramatic change. We failed dramatically in managing expectations: we promised to change government for good, eliminate corruption, improve policy, and create jobs through apps based on open data. It didn’t happen. It’s not that once you open data and processes, people flood there to reuse the data, create new services. It does not happen this way: not in open government, not in open data, not in open science

Openness does not automatically generate change. It simply removes some of the barriers to change. The key argument is not about the benefit of openness, but about the cost of non-openness. Unpredictably, somewhere, somehow, openness enables impact.

We should not hype the benefits of openness, but denounce the illogicality of closeness.

Another idea I want to share is that it’s not about total openness. We should not be rigid. We should recognise and accept some form of intellectual property, competition, individual interests, egoism and vanity. We need sharing literacy, not sharing culture. Openness is for all, not only for the evangelists!

I think we would all benefit from a more lightweight approach to openness. Don’t push it as the solution to all problems, but emphasise how illogical it is to be closed. Don’t claim that everything should be open, but accept that some things are not for sharing, that sharing does not apply to everything. A kind of third way of openness :)

Once you recognize this, you can really have an impact, because you try to act on the incentives to openness – rather than convincing people that open is good.

Also, I’d like to talk about openness as a mean, not as a goal. I’d like to link openness and sharing to the move from product to services. When the economy it’s service-based, it makes sense to give the product for free, because then you can sell services on top of them (e.g. open source software). But is it right? Is it really true that we should renounce totally to selling reproducible products just because they can be reproduced? Are high margin by definition bad? And conversely, sharing is important today also as a way to be known, to have an audience and then to sell. It’s a kind of advertising or marketing.

So maybe I really want to talk about the possible co-existence of openness and capitalism. Something like “Openness: the highest stage of capitalism“. That would be a good title for my talk.


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