What links an e-paper watch, a statue of RoboCop and an open alternative to Facebook? The answer is that all of these ideas have been funded via the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. Crowdfunding is an exciting new approach where individuals can choose to dedicate some of their own money to an idea that piques their interest. Here at Jisc we have been inspired by sites like Kickstarter to trial our own take on involving the crowd in funding innovation.
In February we released Jisc Elevator, a beta website designed to allocate Jisc funding to ideas based on votes from those working and studying in higher and further education. People could submit an idea to the site via a video pitch and if enough people voted for it Jisc would consider it for funding.
We think Jisc Elevator is a useful approach for a number of reasons:
- It is driven by what the sector wants. Jisc projects are funded after an established review process conducted by experts. Elevator projects still benefit from this review but they also have an initial screening where a much broader range of people get to decide whether an idea is relevant to them or not.
- It establishes demand for an idea. One of the most difficult things for people who are applying for Jisc funding to demonstrate is that there is a real demand for the idea they are proposing. The Elevator establishes this right from the start, if you can't get enough people to vote for your idea then you don't get funding.
- It supports small, practical ideas. Previous work in Jisc has shown that small projects can have a big impact. Small projects also offer a chance to try out new technologies and very innovative ideas that have a higher chance of failure in a way that minimises the risk.
- It promotes ideas that benefit many institutions. To reach voting targets on Elevator ideas have to get votes from a minimum number of institutions so ideas have to appeal to people working in other departments and institutions and not just meet local needs.
In the future we are likely to use Elevator in more specific and targeted areas where small projects can be used to realise elements of the Jisc strategy. It is likely that Elevator will be most useful in early stage innovation because it will allow us to support experiments with emerging technologies and practice that could benefit the sector by developing new tools, services and practices. We see this as a specific tool we can use to improve the allocation of innovation funding in certain areas. We don't expect it to replace existing approaches.
We were very happy with how the trial went. In the 6 weeks the beta was live, we had 26 ideas and there were 2300 votes from 234 different institutions. There are more numbers and detailed analysis in the evaluation report I prepared on the trial.
Naturally as this was a trial, there were lots of things we think we might be able to improve upon. The report goes into some detail on this. We are about to embark on further development on the site to address some of these issues.
Of the 26 ideas, 22 reached their voting target. We then submitted these ideas to an evaluation with expert markers. Based on this evaluation we have decided to fund 6 projects - you can click on the links to see their video pitches:
- Mobile Reflections - University of Leeds - Using mobile devices to enable students to capture videos of them reflecting on their work while out in the field
- Interactive Visualisations - Oxford University - Developing an open source and easy to use tool to help researchers produce interactive visualisations that they can use for teaching, for investigating data and for disseminating their research
- Classy Apps - Kingston College - Developing a guide to using apps on the ipad and iphone for teachers to engage GCSE re-sitters
- Health CARE - City University -Developing augmented reality apps to support the learning of health care students
- Open Access Index - Edinburgh University - Investigating the development of a score to denote how engaged an academic is with distributing research outputs via open access routes
- Mobile app for course data - University of Central Lancashire - Developing mobile apps to enable prospective students to discover information about courses they may be interested in
There is a nice spread of projects here, they come from a range of institutions, address a variety of institutional functions and serve the needs of a number of different user groups. You can expect to see the results from these projects around the end of August.
We are in the midst of planning the next iteration of the elevator site. We see its immediate future as a platform for enabling innovation in specific areas. However in the longer term there are some more intriguing possibilities. Would it be useful to provide a version of Elevator that could be installed and used at universities, colleges and other organisations? Can we use the Elevator to involve more students in the innovation we fund? How can we involve innovators from outside the further and higher education sector? Lots of questions and we don't have the answers yet but we hope that by iterating our approach to Elevator we can continue to find new ways to support innovation in the sector.