[ crossposted from Study on Alternative Science Funding  ]

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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!