My great-grandmother Emma, crowdfunding and the audience relationship in research

Saara Taalas, Professor of Business Studies, writes about crowdfunding in the Boldness blog.

Kevin Doyle writes insightfully about the relationship between art and public funding (Boldness blog, 20 August 2015): “We need less debate amongst ourselves. We need less debate on how to communicate with politicians. Instead, we need more direct action to engage with the general public. The more of the general public we reach, engage with, convince and get on our side – the easier all of our efforts will be in regards to public funding of the arts and culture.”

The audience relationship in science and research is crucial to the future of academic research. If research is not considered to be extensively significant, financing will not continue.

The field of research has already been suffering for years. On the one hand, academic research is seen as an ivory tower in public discussion. On the other hand, the academic world is increasingly seen as an expense in the public sector. The need for a direct audience relationship is now more pressing than ever before.

When carrying out research into crowdfunding and the phenomena related to the medialised economy, I sometimes think of my great-grandmother Emma from Hämeenkyrö in South Ostrobothnia in Finland. As a farmer’s wife, she was not a member of the elite, but she was a self-respecting woman. I feel proud when I see her signature on the charter of the Finnish Cultural Foundation, and I appreciate the faith in the future that she must have felt when making a donation. She contributed to the future, even though we know now that the future also entailed a war with heavy losses. When making the donation, Emma was also investing in the continuing education of her great-granddaughter, who was awarded a grant 60 years later. Extensive fund-raising campaigns have also been carried out many times since then. Student unions have collected donations for student accommodation for decades, and universities have recently been actively raising funds for their operations. As well as crowdfunding, funds donated by patrons of education and culture have been key to promoting academic research and higher education in Finland since our independence. Scanning the future is at the core of research.

Crowdfunding calls for new ways to respond to interest from the public and the media, and researchers must be willing to step into the spotlight, which is unlike what has been customary up until now.

Without information about the final results, we must be able to communicate complex issues comprehensively or adopt new communication methods that are centred on cooperation, for example. In other words, research language targeted at members of expert panels is no longer enough. The situation must not have been easy for the 30,000 schoolchildren who went from door to door collecting funds for the Finnish Cultural Foundation in 1938. They collected a total of EUR 2.8 million Finnish marks from around 170,000 donors. I feel collegial sympathy for those children. I know it must not have been easy to convince my great-grandmother.

Columnist Annukka Oksanen (Helsingin Sanomat, 12 September 2015) oversimplifies things when she states that the stock exchange is a form of crowdfunding. This is definitely not the case. In crowdfunding, a group of people, mostly under their real name, want to see an important project materialise. For them, ownership means being concerned and contributing to the future, much in the same way as parenthood or sponsorship. Crowdfunding is a combination of three elements that are typical of the digital transformation but are lacking in the stock exchange. These include a digital media space where a diverse group of people and operators set out to implement a practical project as a network and a future-focused assignment that serves to make a reality of a project that may seem impossible for a small group. The goals can also include changing conventional operating methods and attracting extensive attention to the project.

Crowdfunding involves compensation, as most of it is based on advance payments. By paying the amount that they see fit, people can invest in an art performance or a new book and receive a personal thank-you note signed by the artist or author. The production may turn out to enjoy cult popularity, which is a bonus. In other words, crowdfunding does not generally seek financial profits or ownership of shares. Instead, its purpose is to support the implementation of the project through advance payments. Internationally, in the field of art and culture, crowdfunding has rapidly become a significant way to secure funding from fans and active followers. Correspondingly, the public can also directly contribute to the implementation of an important research project.

Crowdfunding can also play a key role in projects that fail to secure private or public funding. The University of Uppsala, for example, recently started a crowdfunding campaign to support malaria research. Malaria is a global problem, but funding low-science projects is not always possible in high-profile research programmes, and low expectations of financial profits do not necessarily attract investments from pharmaceutical companies. Many research projects fall through this gap and fail, for no reason, to secure funding.

Crowdfunding not only makes research possible in terms of funding, but also creates an open media relationship between the public and the party implementing the project.

Most researchers are driven by a genuine desire to contribute to our common future in many ways. This motivation is sometimes lost in a funding system that is not transparent and is based on endless application processes.

Kone Foundation is supporting the Crowdfunding Programme for Science and Academic Research. Implemented through, it is the first extensive pilot project in crowdsourcing in the field of academic research in Finland. This definitely does not mean that research will be listed on the stock exchange. Instead, it is one way of increasing the visibility of researchers and projects and engaging the people who are interested in our work, as providers of funding and part of the research team.

In research, it is not only the final result that is important, but also the ways in which the research is carried out.

The values of academic research are open and encourage participation. This is one way to bring the public closer to the projects – and closer to the energy and inspiration that is always involved in genuine academic research. Research is carried out for the future, and history is created as a by-product. The power structures in funding for research are changing in the process. I hope that crowdfunding will empower researchers to present their work outside academia and that the public will be inspired by the trends of research. I also hope that we are reforming the audience relationship in research as we go along.


Saara Taalas is a professor of business studies at Linnaeus University in Sweden. She is a member of the advisory committee of the Digitisation project of KAUTE Foundation.The project is included the 2015 Crowdfunding Programme for Science and Academic Research, which is supported by Kone Foundation.



Saara Taalas

aara Taalas is a professor of business studies at Linnaeus University in Sweden.