Modern scientific research has achieved tremendous breakthroughs but the increasing complexity and specialization has created a distance between science and the general public. Scientific enquiry is now often regarded as something best left to the experts. The internet, however, has the potential to counteract this trend and empower people to ask their own questions and take charge of their personal pursuit of knowledge by making data increasingly available. At the forefront of this trend is crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, bringing diverse groups together through websites and social media to work on challenges and raise funds.

This project proposes to study how crowdfunding leverage free market mechanisms to confront the big questions of science and the pursuit of knowledge. The work involves in-depth interviews and surveys to explore what factors contribute to successful crowdfunding, and whether can stimulate increased engagement with scientific questions. Additionally, we will explore innovative strategies to promote engagement through crowdfunding: through developing educational and communication material, comparing different, and leveraging social networks and incentive engineering. Outputs from the project will include online education and training content, academic publications, and culminate in a whitepaper to outline the potential of crowdfunding to emerge as a major source of funds for scientific research and present a roadmap for crowdfunding platforms and researchers to take advantage of this emerging mechanism.

Crowdfunding has had a transformative impact on charitable giving and entrepreneurial finance but has yet to translate this impact to scientific research. This project has the potential to stimulate crowdfunding in this sector and build a lasting impact of greater public involvement and engagement in the scientific enterprise, and a greater consideration of the big questions that follow.