Microfinanced Science

Ever had an idea for an interesting project that you knew you could pull off if only you had the funding for it, but didn’t think you could qualify for any established fellowships? Alternatively, have you ever wished you could contribute directly to research projects you thought were cool without that funding being diverted towards other projects?

There exists a new method of funding research, called Research Microfinancing, which allows anyone to put up a proposal for a project, and anyone to donate to it. Here are a number of Research Microfinancing foundations:

The way it works is you submit a proposal, complete with a proposed budget to one of these websites. Your proposal is circulated among peer-reviewers who determine whether your proposal qualifies as a serious project with an appropriate level of planning. If it qualifies, then your project is posted on their website, with a certain monetary threshold listed, determined by your proposed budget. Anyone at all can read the project details and donate to the project. Once the donation amount reaches the listed budget threshold, the money is released to the researcher, and the project can begin. Most of these foundations have a few reporting requirements to ensure the researcher is working on the proposed project, and progress is being made.

The best part about this system is that you don’t need to convince a review board that your project should be funded based on arbitrary or exacting “broader impact” requirements. If anyone- anyone at all -thinks your project is worth funding, they can contribute to it. You also retain the intellectual property rights to anything you produce.

Right now, most of these organizations are a bit underdeveloped simply because they are new, but this could be the future of scientific funding. This is a way to free scientific funding from the bureaucratic oversight of large foundations and governments, and to put control in the hands of curious individuals. What this system needs most to help it get off the ground is publicity. So if you think this is as cool as I do, spread the word!


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