Our crowdfunding project is dead…
As many of you know, over the last 4-5 months I have been desperately trying to launch a large crowdfunding project to raise £100,000 in order to fund 1 year of research into an oil spill sensor system. The key feature of the project was that I would be able to be totally open and share the story of research with a wider audience of people with an interest in science, as it would be 100% funded by generous donators. Not only that, but I also wanted to promote feedback from those funding the research to help drive the direction and encourage better public engagement with science. Ambitious goals, but I really felt that crowdfunding a piece of research was the best way to achieve them, or at least partially achieve them – I’m not sure one project is going to change the way an entire nation perceives science…
But it is not to be.
When I first envisaged this project, I realised that I was going to be attempting something never before tried at a UK university and something larger than any previous crowd-funded research project (that I know of). Because of this, I realised that the project would almost certainly be contentious within the University and we would need to make sure it had a clear “Yes you can do this” from those in charge. As I covered in my previous post about the frustrations of this approval process, getting a clear un-ambigious answer has not been easy. I won’t bore you again with the decision-making structure of the University but suffice to say that this project has now been talked about on every level available and the unanimous reply has been “Hmm, interesting… you’ll need to get approval from X”. This reply has led to the final decision on the project running around in circles for the last 3 months with absolutely no sign of progress what so ever. The reason for this people passing reply is because this is a very new idea and very different from normal funding, and the University is keen to make sure they have considered every possible risk, prior to launch. Unfortunately for them, because it’s new the risks are mostly unknown, and it is very hard to risk-assess unknown risks. So while there is no clear reason not to do the project, as we have answered all the basic questions about the obvious risks, the unknown risks still possibly exist. The end result being lots of people passing the project around waiting for someone to either take on the potential risk and sign it off or find a way of de-risking unknown risks….which might be risky.
So given this 3 month cycle of motivational fun that has endeared me to no one (turns out people don’t like being constantly asked to make a decision they don’t want to make) I am going to have to admit defeat. I can’t keep working away at a project that is going flat out nowhere, with no prospect of any of the problems holding it up being solved. I do understand the need for caution and consideration by the University, and a number of people have been fantastic at helping me get this project going, but unfortunately it’s just not been enough to persuade those that make the decisions to let it happen.
I will post again in the next week with a bit more of a post-mortem on where we got to in the project and what I hope others can learn from our attempt to go ahead with this grand idea. I really hope that while I may not be running a crowdfunding project I can inspire/help someone else to try. One thing that has remained constant throughout my working towards this project has been the enthusiasm for this idea from almost everyone I meet. If I can’t run an open project then the least I can do is be open about why it didn’t work.
Executive summary: Very new funding idea + unknown risk = no project
[ED: I did ask the author to do a cartoon to go with this post. The 'drawing' below is what he gave me]