Mass Appeal: Crowd-Funding Political Science Research

John Sides May 1 '12

This is a guest post from Aleks Ksiazkiewicz, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Rice.


One of the most difficult things about being a junior scholar (and perhaps a senior scholar too) is finding funds for small research projects and pilot studies. Crowd-funding, which relies on receiving small donations from many individuals, presents a new way to fill this gap.

Most of us have already been involved in crowd-funding in one form or another: children sell Girl Scout cookies, public broadcasters run pledge drives, and political campaigns solicit partisans for donations. The internet has allowed individuals to take this model to a whole new level by soliciting contributions from around the world as seed money for innovative ideas.

The crowd-funding phenomenon was first popularized in the art world by sites like <a target=”_blank” href=””>RocketHub</a> and <a target=”_blank” href=””>Kickstarter</a>, but it has recently moved into scientific research. The <a target=”_blank” href=””>SciFund Challenge</a> is one initiative that is harnessing this resource by providing a periodic venue in which scientists from any discipline can petition the masses to fund their research. The first round took place in the fall of last year and raised over $75,000 with projects receiving on average $1,500 and some receiving over $10,000.

While I am the only political scientist participating in the second round of SciFund, there are several projects that political scientists may want to check out (and perhaps choose to support): <a target=”_blank” href=””>mygenopolitics project</a> on genetic effects in political attitude change, <span>Cathy Day on <a target=”_blank” href=””>the effectiveness of farming subsidies</a> in the United States, Karyn Boenker on <a target=”_blank” href=””>public opinion on energy policy in Hawaii</a>, Jennifer Valpreda on <a target=”_blank” href=””>deforestation in Argentina</a>, and Eran Elhaik on <a target=”_blank” href=””>applying population genetics to historical study</a>.

As a participant in the second round of SciFund, I have found the process of preparing a project to be very rewarding (and of course I hope the fundraising will be too!). Since the goal is to raise funds primarily from non-scientists (or at least non-specialists), I have had to think about how to explain my dissertation research in accessible language and in a way that provides a compelling narrative to lay individuals.

Moreover, part of the incentive structure is to provide rewards at different levels of donations and it was genuine fun to come up with cost-effective but attractive offerings, like a video lecture via Skype or a hand-knitted double-helix (since I work on behavioral genetics). SciFund has also helped me to connect with scientists in other disciplines within my university and elsewhere as part of reviewing each other’s project pages and coordinating fundraising strategy.

I encourage all of you to consider joining SciFund for its next wave once applications become available (or try any one of several other science crowd-funding services like <a target=”_blank” href=””>IndieGogo</a>, <a target=”_blank” href=””>Petridish</a>, or <a target=”_blank” href=””>FundaGeek</a>).

(An earlier version of this post was included in the International Society for Political Psychology Junior Scholar Committee spring newsletter.)