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A community science approach to funding science

Category: Uncategorized

By Raj Pandya

What if, instead of funding scientists to work in and with scientifically underserved communities, we gave community organizations money and let them choose the science projects, and scientists, they wanted to work with? Thriving Earth Exchange is going to try this out, in a small way, with our new Neighborhood Fund. 


Introducing the Thriving Earth Exchange Neighborhood Fund  

Every community in Thriving Earth Exchange will have access to a small amount of money (think four digits, not five) that they can spend on whatever scientific activity they think best. There are some institutional limits and practical guidelines, but our general approach is to allow our teams to decide how to best spend the money. It does come with one requirement: since this is an experiment, we’d like to know how it goes. 

We really look forward to your feedback about this idea and being able to share the results of this experiment. With any luck, we’ll be able to scale up our approach and inspire others to try the same.  

Let me explain. We know that more science dollars end up in affluent, urban and white communities. 

This disparity has dire consequences for scienceScience loses access to the knowledge that resides in Black, Indigenous and Latinx communitiesand the knowledge that lives in rural AmericaScience also loses talented individuals from those communitiesindividuals who might one day help cure cancer, reduce climate change, or invent the next internet 

Communities lose even more: they lose economic growth and the life enhancing benefits of scienceSilicon Valley in California and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina illustrate how science investment drives economic growth – what if that growth could happen in Milwaukee, the Rosebud reservation, or the overlooked parts of Atlanta? Not participating in science also jeopardizes lives and livelihood. You can see this in which neighborhoods are exposed to pollution, which communities experience recurrent flooding, and who is benefiting from the green economy. Finallywithout connections to science, it is hard for these communities to have input into research agendas, which means their issues are less likely to be addressed by scientific research.  

What if we added a community science approach to funding science? What if communities got money from science agencies, and they could allocate that money toward the research, applications and education that was right for them 

There are cool things about this approach. First, it gives us a way to directly address the lack of scientific investment in certain communities. The money sent to communities could be distributed according to indices tied to concepts of fairness, things like population or social vulnerability 

Secondwe could address historical injustices by awarding money to communities who have been harmed by science or scientific activities in the pastThis approach could also be used to help compensate communities who have had their intellectual capital improperly absorbed into science.  

Third, this would incentivize scientists and scientific institutions to collaborate with communities and invest in building relationships with community organizationssomething that isn’t well rewarded or supported now.  

Fourth, it would make scientific engagement more effective. Who better to decide how best to work in a community than the leaders of that community?  

Fifth, it would give neglected or ignored communities the chance to influence direction of scientific research.  

There aren’t many examples of this approach in science, there are some potential difficulties, and this seems like a big shift in approach. In short, there is lots to learn. Thereforea good next step might be to do a smallscale experiment. That is why we are rolling out the Thriving Earth Exchange Neighborhood fund for communities currently participating in Thriving Earth Exchange. Please reach out if you are interested in learning more.  

mgoodwin editor


Melissa MullinsMar 16, 2021 at 12:22 PM

This is a super exciting shift in thinking and I can’t wait to see how the experiment works!

Caren CooperMar 17, 2021 at 5:31 PM

I think this is a great next step!

Cities are tapping residents to study climate change and extreme weather - The SurvivalistOct 2, 2022 at 1:31 AM

[…] in research, but actually directing it. Last year, Thriving Earth Exchange launched a Neighborhood Fund, which gives money to communities “to enable them to find scientists that they want to work […]

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