Science agencies fund science.
Usually this is done directly through funding research. Sometimes new facilities are funded, or larger centers. What I want to talk about are some important science-related activities that cannot, indeed must not be funded in order for them to succeed.
If you are guiding a science agency, then the notion that you can achieve certain high-value science goals only by not funding them may be news to you. It should be welcome news. In fact there are enormous ROI potentials you can only realize when you can refrain from adding money to the mix. There is a caveat here. While you cannot fund these, you also cannot manage them. Instead, they will govern themselves.
What I am referring to here is a new form of volunteer science/data virtual organization. Drawing their members from a broad swath of experts, led by the community they build (through a governance they own), and powered by volunteers, these associations offer agencies and the academy new forums for scientific discussion, knowledge management, and collective intelligence.
The oldest and best of these that I know about is the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners, sponsored by NASA and NOAA in the US. More recently there is the global Research Data Alliance, with significant sponsorship from Europe and elsewhere. The NSF is also spinning up EarthCube in the geosciences.
Let me be clear. These organizations still need support. All of these organizations require sponsors to pay their staff and expenses; there are websites and teleconferences, and some face-to-face meetings: all the tools of communication and collaboration. But the activities, the occasions for trust building, the growing sense of community, and the actual work: these are accomplished by the volunteers for themselves without being paid.
Volunteers in these organizations also realize a return on their investment. In fact, each and every volunteer should get more than they give. This math is driven by the network effect and some other stuff. That’s another blog, I’m afraid. Here I am writing to you: the agency manager who can finally get something for almost nothing!
Here are Seven Things…
…your science agency can get only by not funding them directly, but through supporting a community-led virtual organization of scientists/technologists:
Your agency gets to query and mine a durable, expandable level of collective intelligence;
Your agency can depend on an increased level of adoption to standards and shared practices;
- It will gain an ability to use the community network to create new teams capable of tackling important issues (also=better proposals);
- Your agency can use the community to evaluate high-level decisions before these are implemented (=higher quality feedback than simple RFIs);
- Social media becomes even more social inside the community, with lateral linkages across the entire internet. This can amplify your agency’s social media impact;
- Your diverse stakeholders will be able to self-manage a broad array of goals and strategies tuned to a central vision and mission; and,
- You will be able to identify emergent leadership and potential new employees.
Bottom Line: Sponsoring a community-led, volunteer-run science organization offers a great ROI. There are whole arenas of valuable work to be done, but only if nobody funds this directly.
Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the contributor alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of EarthCube’s governance elements, funding agency, or staff.