Financing infectious diseases of poverty research in LMICs is often difficult. In response, a Sri Lankan research team decided to use crowdfunding to raise money for a community-based Leishmaniasis study. Despite competing demands from COVID-19, the team raised $7,244 to evaluate a community health intervention designed to improve community awareness about Leishmaniasis and enhance adult sand fly vector control and surveillance (Annex 1). During COVID-19, another crowdfunding study raised € 2.3 million, resulting in a cluster randomized controlled trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.1

Crowdfunding is the process of engaging large groups of people who make monetary and non-monetary (e.g., in-kind contributions, communications support) contributions to a health research project in this context. It can help mobilize local resources, democratize research, enhance South–South collaboration and increase research accountability. A global qualitative evidence synthesis found that crowdfunding builds bidirectional communication between researchers and the public.2 This can increase the public’s trust, awareness and understanding of science.

Public engagement is a two-way communication process in learning and engaging with the public for mutual benefit.3 Public engagement in research includes producing new ideas, sharing information, forging local and global partnerships and enhancing research methods. Public engagement is increasingly recognized as an essential component of scientific research because the public are patients, funders and research participants.4

The purpose of this practical guide is to build capacity for researchers, innovators and students to enhance public engagement and consider crowdfunding. It is designed to be relevant to people in a broad variety of settings, regardless of experience with social media or Internet bandwidth. We are particularly interested in supporting crowdfunding in resource-constrained settings.

Some key definitions are provided below:

Key Terms Definitions
Audience individuals or groups who are either directly related to the creator or interested in the project
Backers representatives who fund part of the campaign through a monetary donation, also known as donors
Beneficiaries members of the community who will benefit from the campaign (also referred to as end users)
Campaign a set of organized activities led by the creator to appeal for funding from the public
Creators researchers, innovators, or students requesting financial support from the public for their research
Institutional champion people at the creator’s institution who support the research cause
Networks personal, professional and other relationships between the creator and the public
Organizers a group that hosts the campaign and bridges the creators and their potential backers. Potential organizers include platform-based private companies, research universities and community organizations
Platforms online-based applications hosted by an organizer
Public relating to people in general and especially the local community
Supporters broader network of people who contribute to a project, including backers, beneficiaries, and others