If you’ve heard of Kickstarter, it’s probably because of creative projects; for example, the addictive podcast Serial’s campaign to fund a second season of episodic true crime documentary. Though successful crowdfunding has mainly been applied to artistic projects, we’re now seeing the science community taking a closer look.
The Washington Post and The Guardian recently covered the nascent use of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms by researchers looking for alternatives to traditional grants. Many sources have noted the ever-shrinking pool of government funds for new science and now, necessity is literally proving the mother of invention for a generation of young scientists whose institutions support their online pitches for small donations: videos of researchers modeling wearable prototypes, giving TED talks and more.
When it comes to health communications, crowdfunded research throws up a couple of easy lessons:
- For the scientific community: effectively communicating the relevance of your project can impact its success. Using plain language, social media, video, pictures, demonstrations and messages that answer the question, “why should I care?” could make the difference in a decision to fund an interesting study – or not. Bought-in backers keen to evangelize your research means a higher profile, too.
- For everybody else: it’s important to understand what makes good science. Whether you invest in a project yourself or, years from now, benefit from the results of a crowdfunded study, it makes good sense to check that your pet projects are designed according to best practice, use ethical patient engagement methods, collect data rigorously and follow good safety protocols.
Communicating science broadly and responsibly, with help from tools such as the Cochrane Collaboration’s consumer resources, will help to keep funders and research subjects safe, labs open and ultimately help consumers make good healthcare decisions down the line.