DIY Science Network - advocating for community access to research funding

I’d like to propose a session around a recent new project – the DIY Science Network – with a lot of parallels with Opencare. It would be great to connect these efforts where it makes sense.

I’m one of the volunteer organisers of a community of science hackers in Berlin. Since 2013 we’ve been running a local edition of the hackathon Science Hack Day which brings together scientists, artists, designers, engineers, developers and other enthusiasts with an open brief to collaborate, ideate and hack together. We’ve grown a really amazing community of passionate and talented interdisciplinary folks and we’d love to be able to develop some more ambitious civic or cultural projects. But we’re already at the limit of what we can achieve as volunteers. It’s a classic Catch 22 volunteer trap – we need money to buy us more time, but we don’t have enough time to work on finding money.

THE PROBLEM

From talking to friends in the wider network of DIY and community-based science projects (many related to issues of care) it seems this is a very common problem. From diybio community labs and bioart collectives, to civic environmental monitoring projects, to patient activism groups, to interdisciplinary science hacking communities — we all face similar challenges in growing and maintaining ourselves as sustainable civil society initiatives.

Finding the right balance to sustain a healthy community, share knowledge, and support co-creation is hard. And funding around grassroots citizen science can be particularly challenging, if not unfair: researchers that study us receive more funding than we do ourselves. And, whilst large amounts of public science funding are allocated to ‘citizen science’ at the both European and National levels, there is very little possibility for non-institutional citizen science communities to access it.

JOINING FORCES: THE DIY SCIENCE NETWORK

The DIY Science Network has grown out of a number of conversations around these topics. We exploded into existence last autumn fueled by some rather difficult and inequitable interactions with institutional partners, but are now focussed on channeling our energy into positive action. It is a meta network between DIY science initiatives: part ‘P2P: sharing best practices’ and part ‘advocacy for access to public research funding’. So far most of the work we’ve done has been about growing the network and finding our identity.

OUR PROGRESS

We took part in the Mozilla Global Sprint earlier this month with a focus on the P2P side of the project. However, for now we think the priority should really be to get an advocacy platform up and running as soon as possible in the hope that we might still be able to have some influence on agenda setting for FP9. In the short term we hope soon to secure funding to gather 4-5 European community/project organisers together for a co-design sprint to lay the foundation for the network – describe our identity, values, mission, begin to craft our advocacy arguments and roadmap next steps – and build a basic website.

At #Openvillage, we would like to keep our focus on the advocacy side of the project:

MAIN CHALLENGE

How do we encourage funders to support DIY science initiatives now? And, longer term, how can we foster a funding culture that is supportive of non-institutional science?

QUESTIONS TO ADDRESS

  • What kind of funding do we need? (fellowships? core funding? project funding?) and how much?
  • There is a lot of perceived risk in funding non-institutional projects, especially at the European level where so many stakeholders are involved. How to we allay those fears? What about ethics committees, scientific advisory boards, financial controlling...?
  • How can the impact of our projects be evaluated?
  • Does it make sense to work with intermediary organisations (fiscal sponsors) who manage the distribution of smaller funds (Individual DIY science initiatives are not usually looking for EC-scale funding budgets - think €1000s or €10 000s rather than €100 000s or €millions.), provide training/project co-design, mitigating risk for the funding bodies?
  • Is public funding even the way to go? E.g. Would be we better off concentrating on changing the culture of science-funding foundations to encourage them to support DIY science? Should we be working on developing our own business models? ...

As yet we don’t have a clear idea for a format for #openvillage - it will depend on what stage we are at by the time of the festival. But in general, we are very open to talk about how to bring in this topic in the most constructive way possible for everyone.

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Ecosystems vs. individual projects.

Hi Lucy,

A little context: Last year we ran a small experiment to build a collective bid for the MacArthur Foundation’s 100 Million USD grant. Edgeryders wrote the meta application, and then set up a simple process through which projects could attach themselves to the bid (approx requirement of work for each participating project= 2.5hr). The Edgeryders organisation was the organisation which would then take responsibility for managing the funds. We did manage to get past the first round (administrative due diligence). It was a good way to go about it in that it also helped us better understand what people in the OpenCare/broader Edgeryders community need. The design of the OpenVillage festival is based on what we learned.

I don’t know if you saw that we just won a World Bank bid. The work we will be doing will build on this idea of nurturing initiatives as part of a collective effort towards something. We’re still learning how to do this, but the results so far are promising. So maybe it could make sense to dedicate a session to sharing strategies, even past funding applications that worked for remixing etc…

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intermediaries

Wow - congratulations on the World Bank bid. That’s huge… It would be great to dig deeper into these kind of strategies. It would be great to see your past funding applications.

I had a conversation with Shannon Doesmagen (PublicLab executive director) recently - they frequently act as fiscal sponsor for other projects, fielding a lot of funding from private foundations and donors, very occasionally public funding (they’re based in the US). Most recently they’ve been managing a lot of funding that has come in for the Environmental Data Governance Initiative (EDGI). It’s a little different, but the same trust issues apply. I think they would also be happy to share the details of their practices.

In Germany, Open Knowledge Foundation fairly recently launched their Prototype Fund, which distributes funding from the German Education and Research ministry to smaller civic tech projects. Again, similar but different. I could see what I can find out about that as well.

Neither of those are so clearly about ecosystems or focussed collective action between smaller initiatives, as edgeryders is. But interesting nonetheless. I think this could be a really interesting and practical discussion.

Diverse insights

Hi @Lucy , welcome on the platform!

For this topic I think diversity is especially interesting. Insights from projects outside of DIY science would be interesting to hear. These projects have the same questions, so it would make sense to find better answers together.

We should figure out a way to make use of the diversity, while keeping a focus so that it is useful for a more niche field. We talked about it during the community call earlier today and we’ll think that through in the coming days. The first idea was to group sessions around broader central questions (eg. policy or funding) rather than themes (eg. the science theme). What do you think would be useful for you?

Panel on funding

Over the last week we’ve tried to identify common thread across the different Opencare themes. Funding and funding policy was one of them.

We’d like to do a panel on funding with a diverse set of participants. This way we use the diversity present at the festival and have multiple perspectives that can lead to new insights. I think it is interesting both ways if DIY Science Network is part of the panel.

As for a practical session around funding, we will either plan it at a later point or leave space in the program for things to be organised on the spot if there’s interest. We can plan that according to the outcome of the co-design sprint this summer.

Does that sound good for you?

funding panel

Hi Winnie,

Thanks for following up on this. Sounds like a good plan.

For sure all kinds of civil society projects must deal with similar issues around funding. We might have recourse to different funding sources and the culture probably varies, but the same risk issues must always apply if you’re trying to get funding for non-institutional projects. It would be interesting to learn how sectors that are more accustomed to funding non-institutional projects have learned to mitigate risk over the years. I’m sure a panel that collects these experiences would be really valuable to everyone. It would be cool if the DIY Science Network could be part of that.

If it’s possible to also leave some flexibility in the schedule for a more practical session that would be really good. It’s been tough to find the time to push forward with the project over the last weeks, so I unfortunately don’t have a clearer idea of where we’ll be in October at this point.