Public engagement is increasingly recognized as an important part of science. Robust community involvement can spur innovation, meaningfully connect with local communities and improve health outcomes. Recognizing this change, many major science funders now require public engagement in research studies. How can we organize more effective public engagement in research? In addition, how can this engagement drive crowdfunding for research? We define crowdfunding as the process of engaging large groups of people who make monetary and non-monetary contributions to a research study. These two questions have inspired a new practical guide on public engagement and crowdfunding in research.

This practical guide provides tools, open access resources and advice for researchers, especially those living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The practical guide was piloted and tested by TDR Global, a worldwide community of passionate scientists and experts who have been working with TDR on research on infectious diseases of poverty. The practical guide was developed by a group of stakeholders and experts convened by TDR, the UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases. The project was organized by TDR Global, SIHI (Social Innovation in Health Initiative) and SESH (Social Entrepreneurship to Spur Health). 

Two things strike me about this new practical guide:
First, the vision of scientific engagement and crowdfunding sketches out a fundamentally different relationship between researchers and the public. Instead of having expert outsider researchers providing answers, it asks researchers to work side by side with communities to design, implement and evaluate new ideas. This exciting and important approach could make scientific research more locally accountable. Second, innovative financing mechanisms to support LMIC research are urgently needed. Crowdfunding methods could help to support horizontal connections, introduce researchers to donors and decolonize some aspects of research funding.   

The Public Engagement and Crowdfunding in Health Research: A Practical Guide provides a map for researchers, innovators, community members and others on how to organize public engagement in preparation for research crowdfunding. This practical guide complements a global qualitative evidence synthesis from the same team, the TDR/SESH/SIHI Social Innovation Monitoring and Evaluation Framework and the TDR/SESH/SIHI Crowdsourcing for Health and Health Research Practical Guide.

This practical guide is ultimately a call for action. Among researchers in LMICs, this underlines the need for more creative public engagement to support research studies. The tools and open access resources exist and can provide momentum to improve engagement. Among universities and other institutions, providing support for organizing crowdfunding projects can accelerate donations and build networks. Finally, among funders, this practical guide suggests crowdfunding could be one pathway to making science more accountable, transparent and community-engaged.

John Reeder
– Director, TDR