‘Get the silent majority to contribute ideas on research funding’ 

Photo: Pixabay

The Young Academy is looking to hear from scientists about how they would allocate research funding themselves. The group has joined forces with the Delft-based startup Popupulytics to set up the Research Funding Consultation, a project allowing scientists to take on the role of policymakers. According to Sanli Faez, a Physicist at Utrecht University, it is a very good idea to get researchers more involved researchers with policymaking.  

Are researchers' opinions not taken sufficiently into account in policymaking?
“No, I don't think they are. Currently, funding allocation is done by representatives and committees. Researchers' opinions are a lot more diverse than those of the people at the top. This means a lot of valuable information is missing because we don’t know what people think. It would be beneficial to have more data on that.” 

Is it sensible to give researchers more influence over policymaking? Don’t they lack a "helicopter view" because of a conflict of interest? 
“It’s very likely that will make choices based on personal experiences. But everyone has personal experiences and interests, including the people at the top. Gathering all this information is not only more democratic but also serves to underpin policy choices. Policymakers will have their positions strengthened if this consultation shows that many researchers support their views.” 

Should policymakers align their choices with the consultation? 
“Some people might find this rather populistic. But this is a smart group of people, who are well-equipped to make good choices. Alongside Populytics, we are bringing "the silent majority" into the picture. Of course, a minister can always make a decision that is unpopular with the majority, but then the decision has to be based on good arguments. Otherwise, they can't get away with it.” 

Why does the impact of research on society play no role in the consultation? Sometimes there’s a lot of demand for research into topics like cybersecurity or Covif-19. 
“That’s a good point. This may be a good idea for another consultation or for a research agency. This time, we are asking scientists for their personal input, so we’re focusing on what funding allocation means for their own work and environment.” 

There's a heated debate going on regarding the allocation of money across different scientific disciplines. Why are no questions being asked about it? 
“That’s a somewhat different political discussion. We are, however, asking how researchers would prefer to spend the money within their own discipline. Then we can tell the policymakers "at the humanities they would like to finance this type of research; at natural sciences, they prefer that kind of grant'. At present, we are spending the money in the same way everywhere because we don’t know whether's a better option. When we have that information, we can adapt the policy instruments accordingly.”

How would you fulfil the consultation yourself?  
“We have three models with different budgets that you can spend. Personally, I take different risks based on the budget. If I have less money, I spend more on research without competition, such as rolling grants. If I have more money, then half of the budget goes to what I consider a basic need: guaranteed research funding for everyone once every five years. The other half can be used for grants with more competition, as that has other benefits.” 

Have many scientists already answered the questions? 
“It’s going pretty well: we got around 500 responses in the first week and we’re going to keep collecting answers until the end of June. But you can see that the allocation of the research funding really matters to every scientist. It's always the topic of informal conversations: 'where will the money for my next project come from?'”