Scientific research is a difficult “product” to sell to the lay public, because many studies require detailed expertise about esoteric topics to even understand why a particular project might have value at all. Conveying value to the general public takes some interesting new skills that many scientists lack: like getting out of the lab and jargon, learning to make a video, learning how to use social media, and learning how to even talk about what they do in normal language understandable by someone outside of their particular field.
In the first round of #SciFund last year, I had no idea how to get the message out about my project and so fell far short of my goal. Even in “failure” I was able to reach success of a different sort through the non-monetary support my research received from people with equipment and materials they donated directly to my STEMulate Learning program (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Success for the crowd-funding host may be measured entirely in dollars raised, but my research found success through the public exposure I got through taking part in the crowdfunding event itself. The second #SciFund round just started on Tuesday and runs through the end of May. This year, the program includes almost double the number of scientists as in the first event – and many have learned more about talking to the “average Joe” and about preparing social media so that seeds we sew early bring fruit during this month-long window.
Unlike most grants, crowdfunding brings science directly to the people and to sell an idea the scientist must first be able to explain it to his or her supporters. But by stepping outside of higher learning, even the stereotypical anti-social scientist can find support from everyday folks if he or she can clearly explain the excitement surrounding their research. Crowdfunding relies on transforming a message into clear, simple terms and then getting that message out. It relies on salesmanship as much as showmanship – and those are difficult concepts for the pure academician. It is interesting that as research fundraising transforms to meet this new public format, traditionalists in Academia are even giving some of my fellow scientists grief about bypassing the grant approval process and talking directly to the public.
Crowdfunding and public engagement in the Arts is wonderful and growing – in the Sciences it is downright amazing, given the difference in level of appeal between a new album or game and the average research proposal from scientists. However, many new science-focused crowdfunding sites have emerged following the success of Kickstarter. And it is amazing how much support can be generated even beyond just money for those who dare to reach out through crowdfunding!