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Civic Crowdfunding
January 19, 2014 10:25 PM   Subscribe

Rodrigo Davis of the MIT Center for Civic Media is currently researching crowdfunding for civic and community purposes. Some of the issues he covers includes the ethics of crowdfunding (including Kickstarter's seduction guide debacle and Gawker's attempt to crowdfund a video showing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack), a case study of Kansas City's crowdfunding campaign for their bikeshare program, a timeline of online crowdfunding since 2000, and how the Statue of Liberty was made possible via crowdfunding.
posted by divabat (8 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
the Statue of Liberty was made possible via crowdfunding.

Which leads one to ask...didn't this just used to be called "fundraising"?
posted by Jimbob at 10:29 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


Crowd funding used to be called "subscription". Expensive books were published this way.
posted by jb at 11:07 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Isn't "crowdfunding for civic purposes" just "paying taxes?"
posted by KathrynT at 11:51 PM on January 19 [7 favorites]


Thanks for the heads up. I figured it was about time I actually joined MF instead of just reading.

Definitely agree with the comparison with subscriptions, and the point about fundraising. This is an age-old tactic that has evolved into something that can be done more cheaply and quickly and by more people. There are lots of examples from the past that resemble crowdfunding (large volume of low value donations, centralized collection, media campaign) but most had a very prominent organizer (e.g. a Pulitzer, Indian film director Shyam Benegal, governments selling bonds). You could argue that you see the same phenomenon with the large campaign on Kickstarter etc now -- you need to be a person of means/reputation to raise $1M. But that doesn't detract from the massive growth of sub-$100k campaigns that are producing some great things.

What's interesting to me in the civic space is that we're seeing new groupings of individuals, communities, non-profits, for-profits and governments emerge around specific projects. Public-private partnerships that seem, in lots of cases, quite promising. And yes, this raises the question of whether these goods should be funded privately, part-privately, or out of taxes. Plenty of the cases I've looked at cite tight government budgets as the motivation for crowdfunding, but plenty of others are pursuing projects that it's unlikely governments would ever have funded.
posted by rodrigodavies at 12:23 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


Glad to have you here rodrigo! I've used crowdfunding for a number of projects (including what turned out to be the biggest videogame on Kickstarter in 2011) and have encouraged colleagues to investigate it as well, particularly those in the arts community who are a) faced with reductions in government grants and b) keen to 'engage' the public.

I'm keen to hear your thoughts on public-private partnerships that involve crowdfunding. For a while I thought that some kind of matched-funding scheme could be a good way to combine the 'market-test' and low barrier-to-entry values of crowdfunding with government money, but I've seen a couple of cases where matched-funding schemes have been abused (e.g. Ouya). I wonder whether they would work better with more oversight or rules though.

Likewise, I've seen seen governments and NGOs trying to adopt crowdfunding to, at least IMO, provide a superficial populist sheen on what is otherwise quite a centralised or corporate activity, e.g. Spacehive.
posted by adrianhon at 7:44 AM on January 20


There's the possibility of abuse in any of these arrangements, for sure. I don't think it's that unusual for folks who start crowdfunding campaigns to put in their own money, and sometimes to do so specifically to create momentum/reach a goal, like in the case of Ouya. I don't see much of that in civic space yet though, possibly because the outputs are usually not-for-profit.

PPP is a really interesting space because crowdfunded groups can potentially take up roles that were previously only available to businesses. E.g. successful campaigns to fund parklets in San Francisco and Vancouver, or groups crowdfunding small public spaces in New York City under the Plaza program. These schemes were not designed for crowdfunded groups, they were mostly intended for businesses, but they're great vehicles for organized community projects. As with any project category, it's not easy to get off the ground - there are about as many failed parklet campaigns as there are successful ones - but there's great potential there I think.

Btw on Spacehive (who, NB, I used to advise), there's a very broad range of campaigns, some of which have corporate involvement, many of which don't. I think what you're picking up on is that Spacehive has been quicker than some of the other platforms to get corporate investment for campaigns. I think that will become more common across all platforms though. It's going to be important for platforms to direct that interest responsibly, and towards meaningful outcomes rather than branding exercises.

I agree that the risk of civic crowdfunding being used as a populist sheen for an otherwise government-corporate project exists. One way to counteract that is to have platforms that allow anybody to post a project - not just government officials - and to support ideas at different stages, e.g. projects that are in the ideas phase and are open to crowdsourcing input from interested parties, which could then graduate into draft plans, and so on, until they're ready to fund. That's a pretty major change in the way planning usually works in most places.
posted by rodrigodavies at 11:10 AM on January 20


*cough* The latest Ford video, provided absolutely free of charge from someone at a Rexdale Steak Queen last night / early this morning. Bonus Instagram.
posted by maudlin at 12:46 PM on January 21


Oh my god.

What is wrong with you people, Toronto? How can you possibly have elected this man once, much less probabyl RE-ELECT him? Are you all smoking crack, too?
posted by Justinian at 4:15 PM on January 22


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