[BLOG SUGGESTION] "Dear Funders" – Critique On Current Funding Practices


#1

META: Hi. I got a rejection from a funder for our project. And I could use the frustration to do something constructive.

Here is a draft for a blogpost I will publish in my blog in the coming days. I think the points made are very important. And they should be discussed much more. The reach of the OSCEdays Blog is probably better than my personal one. So if we think it is good (I have to think about it as well a bit more – I am not sure) – we could place it there.

UPDATE: I will rewrite the post. The points will be the same. But the tone will be as constructive as the critique and suggestion is meant.

Cover Image:


img by USDA Forest Services, CC-BY

Title & Body:
#Dear Funders: Please stop preventing good things from happening (here are some suggestions how)

This post criticises current competition-based funding practices which burn resources through poor process design. And it provides constructive suggestions for better solutions. If you’re involved in a funding organisation, please read the whole post. If you are a project experiencing some of these poor funding practices, feel free to send the funders this text.

_

##Personal Bit

I have been working hard for many years now. And the only constant thing, other then my work progressing (like 1, 2, 3) [LINK] is being rejected by funders. Over the years I have applied for various grants, sponsorships, and fellowshipsa and never got anything (with one honourable exception – thank you Josef Spiegel [LINK KÜNSTLERDORF]).
Of course I wonder what I am doing wrong, and try to analyse how current funding practices work. It is time to share my collected thoughts.

What I do is pushing ‘Open Source for Sustainability or Circular Economy’, and I therefore go after ‘sustainability’ funding. So this piece is about funding for ‘sustainability’ projects - not about startups, or companies, or construction projects for example.

##’Capitalism’ can’t fund ‘Sustainability’

From a very general perspective – a perspective where we use words like ‘capitalism’ and ‘sustainability’ it is fair to say, that capitalism won’t fund sustainability. Capitalism, on a general level is about exploiting and exhausting our planet and human beings. Sustainability is about saving them, and working against exploitation and exhaustion. Sustainability is about consuming less. Capitalism is about consuming more.

So they are opponents. And this means that the capitalist abilities for change making and funding things don’t work for sustainability. Funding for sustainability needs to come from sources and institutions that can operate with a different logic, like foundations or the state.

The urgent need for sustainability grows every year. And in reaction to this, so too does the list of projects and ideas for sustainable change and practices. And therefore, ever more funding is needed, even though potential sources aren’t increasing as fast. So the resources are very scarce - we need to be smart about how we use them. But when you look at the landscape of current funding practices, this is sadly not the case! There is something fundamentally wrong in how decisions are made and how funding is provided in the field of sustainability. It is time to change that.

##Avoid Competition In Your Funding (& Project) Design

This is the major point of this article: A lot of funding practices and projects are designed within the “old paradigm” of competition. But sustainability needs collaboration. We need a shift towards collaboration.

‘Competition is the strongest driver for productivity’ – was a core belief of our societies in the last decades. The rise of neoliberalism was a vehicle of that belief. But the claim was never supported by scientific evidence. And on the contrary – in the last years more and more evidence is found, that it is not! Collaboration is the stronger driver, while competition redundantly burns resources! And prevents things from happening when they are scarce. [LINK https://mitpress.mit.edu/hownot ].

We should get away from these funding and project designs!

When capitalism can’t fund sustainability – why should sustainability be funded with capitalistic logic?

I will give you some examples of bad – competitive – funding or project designs first before I start with some suggestions for better – collaborative – ones.

##Horizon 2020
Horizon 2020 is a funding program for research and innovation by the European Union with a budget of 80 Billion Dollar! [LINK https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Framework_Programmes_for_Research_and_Technological_Development#Horizon_2020]

I’ve heard claims that 20% of the Horizon2020 budget is needed to feed the bureaucracy to process the funding. If this is true it would sum up to 16 Billion! I’ve also heard that in most of the Horizon 2020 programs the chance to get the funding you apply for is 5 percent! Only one out of twenty gets it! Wow.
(I haven’t been able to verify these figures - does anyone have data on it? it sure woud be easier to discuss this if their finances were transparent and accessible)

But it is fair to assume that a lot of people who apply, don’t get it.

And I know [LINK PODCAST FOCUS EUROPA], that writing a proposal is a huge pile of work – it is months of work! And the whole process is so complicated, and the competition so hard that there are companies focused entirely on provding consulting to institutions for writing their applications. And your chance to get the grant without this consulting is practically zero!

What a huge waste of resources! That is not covered by – that is externalized from - the 80 Billion! If really 95% of the incredibly difficult to write applications fail …

The time and creative and productive energy of (mostly young) researchers and change makers is wasted here! They are forced to write about what they want to do and are held back from actually doing it. There are some positive effects from making them create these proposals [FOOTNOTE 1], but I think the negative effects outweigh them.

THIS FUNDING PRACTICE PREVENTS GOOD THINGS FROM HAPPENING!

As it burns resources to feed a resource-consuming filter process…

I stopped writing applications a long time ago – these days I hardly ever do it. Because I want to do things and make them happen, and not get stuck talking about ‘what I want to do’ instead, just so that I will contribute to a rich plate of options for funders to cherry pick from. They make me participate in some kind of lottery. Where a lot of the time, the chance is even smaller then 5%! If I had engaged in that game, probably none of my work would exist right now.

Funders prevent good things from happening.

##The Need To Send Out Negative Replies

And along with this funding or project design, there’s the need to send out rejections or negative replies. So many people get them all the time. And they are an ultimate downer.

I was asking a lot of my friends, and everyone tells me, that rejections make them feel down at least for half a day – and incapable of doing real work. Which means: Incapable of pushing sustainability.

Let me tell a short story that happened to me. Someone suggested that we apply with the OSCEdays for an award (that offered a little prize money) [LINK ZEITZEICHEN]. And we got an email saying that we were on the short list of projects. Yay! So it felt a bit safer. Our hopes were bouyed, a lot. And then we got an email with a negative reply. That was a punch to our stomachs. Especially so because the first email even had given us hopes.

I remember starting my morning that day full of energy and in a good mood – ready to take on the long list of tasks infront of me. And then in the morning I read this email. And it made me down, all the energy was gone for work, for the better parts of the day!

So the funder did not only consume my time when making me write the application. They also stole my time afterwards when punching me unnecessary hard with a rejection. The first rule of good collaboration is to respect and protect your collaborators’ time!

But these practices take out time from sustainability projects.

SO FUNDERS PREVENT GOOD THINGS FROM HAPPENING – [FOOTNOTE 2]

Funding designs like that are incredibly stupid.

They might be ok for the world of start ups. Where it is deemed necessary to ‘stop’ bad ideas and people not strong enough to push them through. But in the world of change-making for sustainability we need almost every hour we can get…

I will come to suggestions for positive funding practices in a bit. But I like to add one more story about how bad, energy consuming and counter-productive competitive funding and project designs can be:

##POC 21
POC 21 is a project, not a funding institution. I add it here to show how competitive designs even harm projects.

POC 21 happened in 2015. It was on its surface about “Open Source Hardware for Sustainability” – about exploring, developing and pushing collaborative practices for a sustainable future.

This was the claim. But the whole project was not really designed for it. ‘100 Geeks, 12 Open Hardware projects, 5 Weeks in 1 Castle in France’. That was the setting. And a a problematic premise and design decision.

Because you can’t fit an unlimited number of projects into one castle. So you have to make people apply (or they did). And then you cherry pick. And you can’t have an infinite number of people and supporters either. So you have to cherry pick here as well.

This naturally (and by design) creates a highly competitive atmosphere.

I live in Berlin where we have a relatively small open hardware community. And for weeks, the atmosphere in this community was poisoned by competition, envy and jealousy. “Who will go? Me of course. I will go. You? I don’t know about you. I don’t care for you. I will go. I have to go. Of course! I know the guys… You too. But I don’t know about you…" And so on.

Our small open source hardware community should be about collaboration. About making things possible for each other. Creating synergies. (There are project/event designs that work for example decentralized events like FabJam [LINK]). Synergies and collaboration … Not staring jealously at each others’ plates. The premise of the project lead to a toxic atmosphere by choosing a project design that created scarcity and competition.

And if you start with a bad design decision - a design decision for competition - the whole project might not turn out that well.

POC 21 turned out to be first class escapism – [LINK SAMS DOCU] a self-experience camp for likeminded and privileged people comforting each other to save the world right now, fueled by American Awesomeness [FOOTNOTE 3] and Weltuntergangsporn & pathos (world apocalypse porn and pathos.) [LINK POC TRAILER]

Where people barely spoke about open hardware. But mostly about themselves.

And if you want to fit so many people into an old caste, you need a lot of ad-hoc infrastructure. POC 21 burned a lot of their infrastructure afterwards.

Welcome to the world of sustainability change of today. [4]

img by Janne Karaste, CC-BY-SA 2.0

I added this example here to show that even projects, that claim to be about collaboration and sustainability, externalize their true costs - by harming larger communities to create a smaller community for a short while – and by harming the environment for example by making everyone travel to France and by throwing tons of resources on ad hoc one time infrastructure that needs to be burned afterwards.

#Solutions

Ok. Let’s switch to some solutions or suggestions, because that is what we are here for.

The good news is, all the practices I describe exist already, and are in use. I’m just suggesting that more funders should adopt them, and develop them further!

##Reach out to them!
This is the first important bit: Reach out to them – to the sustainability people – don’t make them reach out to you.

The best support experience I ever had was when the Renewable Freedom Foundation [LINK] reached out to us [LINK OSCEdays], to help us – at least to meet in our international team for one time [LINK TO BLOGPOST ABOUT LONDON]. And also when the Künstlerdorf Schöppingen reached out to me for some work [LINK thecityisopensource].

This is good design! It did not ask to first do some work just for them, for free.

##Support them to communicate their project

I understand that in order to make a funding decision, a funder needs to filter and find out, who is behind the project, what is it all about, and is it worth the funding. That is the purpose of applications.

In the world we had 25 years ago – a world without internet, it makes sense to have all the projects reach out to you. Because it was very expensive to gain visibility. And how should a funder know about the projects? So the funder had to invest money to gain visibility for himself – spread the call – and make the projects put in effort to make themselves visible to the funder, by sending in a paper letter.

But the internet has changed that! Everyone can set up a website very quickly and almost without costs. And the technological progress of search engines is amazing! So as a funder: Do some searching online! Find them first. A project that is not capable of creating a basic website is probably not worth funding anyway. But you can help them to set up websites and even support other funders to find and filter projects by themselves. [FOOTNOTE 5|

And what to do once you have found them, and become interested in them?

SUPPORT THEM TO EXPLAIN THEMSELVES – FUND THEIR APPLICATIONS

A funding application serves many purposes. It provides the funder with some necessary information (for example: Is the person or team behind it capable of clear communication or planning).

But writing the application consumes a lot of resources. Complicated applications favour existing and already funded institutions who have the resources to write them. It excludes young and new groups. (Which also makes sense on a certain level [FOOTNOTE 6]

So if you are making pioneers write longer proposals, then fund that! Give them a little bit of seed funding to explain themselves. Don’t consume their limited resources to serve your filtering needs!

I know that these practices exist – for example in Germany in architecture “Kunst am Bau” (art on the building) competitions. People are invited to propose something, and are paid for the work on the proposal.

And if you’re making them write a proposal, get them to write one that actually helps the project - not just you. The proposal should create a useful outcome – something the project can use also for other things – so that, even if you decide not to fund them afterwards, they still took a productive step.

There are several ways to do that. One is: help them to write the proposal. This way you already have a chance to meet them, and through collaboration you can understand what they really need. Listen to them! A “business plan” is a good metaphor. A business plan is not just for investors but also important for the founders – as it makes them ask important questions about their idea, look at it from different angles and understand it much better.

Yes, this will create a lot of work and expense for you. But this just means that you will not externalize the costs of the filter process to the projects. You can help them instead.

SUPPORT THEM, DON’T MAKE THEM SUPPORT YOU.

Look for structures like that! For structures that create synergies.

##Money Can Destroy Projects

The suggestion laid out above is of course in favour of a culture where the projects already exist first before they get further support.

This can come with problems. But it has also good sides. It means, for example that people are commited - applicants who really want to do what they are doing and are not just inventing a project to fit available funding, and when the funding expires, they will leave the project. So maybe it favours more sustainable projects.

But here is one interesting problem that can occur: Pumping money into an already existing and stable project can hurt it or even destroy it!

Because there is already a balanced and working structure. And money changes things – for example the motivation in the project, and power structure and even the goals. And whatever made the project possible so far might vanish … and the project might die.

But we know of this problem. And so we can try to do something about it.

For example start with some research on why is it happening and how to prevent it.

And it could be, or should be, part of the application you make and fund the projects to write – to reflect this problem and come up with good structures or answers how to process money in a team or project. And what happens when it is gone again.

This would be excellent, useful work! And something really valuable for society.

##Closing Remarks

Ok. Enough for today. All of this were just general suggestions:

PLEASE STOP EXPLOITING AND EXHAUSTING PROJECTS AND ACTIVISTS, AND START COLLABORATING WITH THEM!

We need collaboration for sustainability. Not competition or exploitation.

I can imagine that this might not be easy to wrap your head around at first. I am happy to assist you in fleshing out these first ideas into detailed proposals and finding out how to design collaboration, through collaboration. That is what we [LINK OPEN IT AGENCY] specialize in.

Thanks for reading.


###Footnotes

[FOOTNOTE 1 – One effect for research is that writing your idea down is the first step into the research. (And this can also be relevant for sustainability projects). Another not that obvious effect is, that for Horizon 2020 you need to build a consortium of institutions that are spread across Europe. The urge to create this consortium makes people already talk to each other to set up the proposal. A network is created and relationships. And even if the proposal is rejected – the connections are made. And connections are a good thing and of certain value for society and each of the partners. But this is just theoretically. Because I know from experience that this connections are not very strong. And count almost for nothing when the rejection comes in. They don’t translate into other things. And are marked with an unpleasant feel of failure – and humiliation for the party that drove the initiative.]

[FOOTNOTE 2 – The prize money was I think 1700 Euro. And when we assume that 30 projects applied (probably much more) and got a rejection like this – 30 days of work were destroyed. And when we say each day is worth 100 Euro (ridiculously low) – then this sums up to 3000 Euro in damage. So the damage is even higher than the done good! ]

[FOOTNOTE 3 – It is not a “halloween party” It is a “terrifyingly wicked halloween party” - the two extra words will help you believe it. And the word “awesome” is in use, a lot.

[FOOTNOTE 4 – I will share the link to this article on Facebook with the POC 21 community. Although my very smart colleague Sam advised against it - against adding POC 21 at all to the article, and he is probably right. There was a longer discussion bringing more aspects to critique up and leading towards rewriting (improving) the bit here in our forum: [BLOG SUGGESTION] "Dear Funders" – Critique On Current Funding Practices A lot of the POC 21 people I consider to be my friends. And I am sure most of them will think at first, I will mention POC 21 of a positive example. But I don’t see it that way. And I want to make them see it. Because I know, their intentions are good. And they are good people. I am happy about every new critique perspective on my projects - I can smash for example the OSCEdays in a view sentences if I would be asked too. And I am sure the POC 21 people are happy about it too.]

[FOOTNOTE 5 – You could fund the creation of a little guide how to set up a website – that would then serve the purpose of the project and yours as a funder. | And you could fund an open database about projects – making it easier for other funders to find projects to support.]

[FOOTNOTE 6 – When the miracle happened, that a strong and stable institution has emerged, this is something worth to protect.]

@BoST


#2

Great idea for a post! I agree with you and think the points made are important and useful, but it’s maybe a bit long and could use some tweaking. I can make some edits today if you like, I’ll get you a revised version by 5pm ( and you can choose to incorporate changes or not.)


#3

Sounds fantastic! Thanks Sam.

It is a bit long. (My friend Lisa offered some help as well. But you as a native speaker should go first I think.)


#4

OK, I just fixed the language, though I haven’t done much editing of the structure, because I think there are a lot of decisions that you need to make here.
I think that the really strong parts are 1) avoiding competition in your funding design, and 2) your suggestions to support applicants in writing their proposals.

I think that your criticism of POC21 is mostly valid (because I have talked with you about it and I know your specific criticisms) but it isn’t explained clearly here. I think that you need to take time laying out your argument and back up your claims better, or it will be ignored by the POC21 guys and be seen as ego/envy clash between POC21 & OSCEdays by people who are not involved.
I do think you should write a blog explaining your criticism, but I don’t think there is space within the funding topic for this argument, it is distracting.

I would suggest that a better example of competition in funding is the Advocate Europe click-fest. We have a limited amount of social capital, and a limited amount of attention and action that our friends, network and followers will give us. And Advocate Europe wants us to spend our energy annoying our network by telling them to go click on a useless, zero-sum online competition, where the very design of the competition means that the vast majority of those clicks & shares will be utterly worthless. We could be using that social capital and the attention of our network to communicate our goals for sustainability, to get people to actually do something. Instead we’re begging them to go increase a meaningless number on some competition website.

I would suggest using all caps less, as it is A BIT SHOUTY, and you’re trying to convince them to see things your way - the tone will alienate them.


#5

Great. Thanks Sam!

Will think about the POC 21 thing. Does it not come through? The argument is that we should also avoid “competition” in our sustainability project designs. And I think POC 21 is a perfect example for how much can go wrong. Because it was supposed not just to be about sustainability but also about collaboration. And ended up beeing a self-experience camp for priveliged people. Reducing the signal to noise ratio. Your documentary makes this very visible. But if it is not coming through …

Your suggestion with the Advocate Europe click-fest is great. I think it will make a great first comment. Please post it :slight_smile:

Will try to solve the cap thing differently - there are better ways to highlight quotes.


#6

No, I think it is a good critique of competition in project designs, but it is confusing as a critique of competition in funding models - it supports the theme, but it carries the reader off into a different topic, and the idea that POC21 was not as successful as claimed is not something generally accepted.
In order to get across this argument you need to do a bit of work backing up the ‘POC21 was unsuccessful in its goals’ argument (which I certainly don’t disagree with) in order to then use POC21 to back up your ‘competition is a bad model for sustainability’ argument.

I think it is easier to get across your main point clearly in a limited amount of time if your supporting points can be easily accepted and digested by the readers.

As it stands, your disapproval of the American Awesomeness aesthetic, for example, would probably be seen as a matter of personal taste rather than an empirical measure of a project’s seriousness.
Of course, I think you can back up your arguments against American Awesomeness, but there’s not the space to do so here, so you will only convince people who share your taste and perspective.

A couple more pointers:

One thing that I think is missing here is an explanation of why this approach is ‘unnecessary’ - i.e. “but how can you possibly offer funding without sending out negative replies?” is probably a thought that will come into people’s heads.

I understand, having read the article in depth, that the alternative is probably:
that you wouldn’t be receiving negative replies, you would instead receive an invitation for a useful process (eg. write a business model) and that may turn into funding further down the line, but it would not be this ‘lottery’-style hope-rollercoaster.

If you want to claim that it is unnecessary here, then I don’t think you can wait until you get to the ‘Solutions’ section to explain it, you need to explain the alternative straight away.
The other option (my preference) would be to communicate this experience at this point in the article, but without drawing any conclusions about its necessity - simply convey the emotional and practical effects of the experience.

Upon first reading of this article, my inner misanthropic capitalist libertarian read this paragraph as if you were just being a ‘sore loser’, complaining that you didn’t get the funding that was so obviously owed to you…
It made me distance myself from the voice of the writer and only later on did I see how this story fit into the overall narrative.
I think this part needs to be tweaked a little to help people understand that emotional experience - maybe they need to be more included in the experience somehow rather than watching this experience happen to someone else.


#7

Hi Sam,

thanks, that is great. I will work on the bit you mentioned above. Good call.

And on the POC 21 thing. I think I will include it in my personal blog anyway. Because, you are right of course, and what is the point, of making them angry…

But I will do it for two reasons:

ONE: The way I intend to or hope to see the post used, is that people that are seeking for funding sending it out to funders. And I don’t just want them to think about what funders do ‘wrong’. But also what they might be doing ‘wrong’. The first bit about the funding design is the vehicle for the bit about the project design.

TWO: And the same counts for funders. I don’t just want them to think about, what they are doing ‘wrong’, but also what to look for in a project.

… and the idea that POC21 was not as successful as claimed is not something generally accepted.

Jepp. And maybe this is something to think about.


#8

###POC 21 Bit again

The POC 21 bit is problematic. I asked other people for feedback - or opinions. And I got: “I don’t think it’s useful and/or constructive to include the POC21 bit. No matter how well written it is, I think it will sound begrudging and bitter, which is kind of ironic, given you are trying to convey a message of ‘collaboration’.”

Great! My reply:

The more I think about it the more I know, I want to include the bit about POC 21.

Although I know it is very very dangerous and risky. To be misunderstood. Like I want to bash them (I don’t want to). Or that I am bitter. (I am not.) Or that I am jealous (I am not). Or I want to compare it to the OSCEdays (I don’t want to, it does not make sense at all.)

The challenge is to craft it in a way that will avoid this misconceptions.

What I want to deliver is a constructive critique. Many people think, POC 21 is a good project – in terms of their goal – a collaborative, open, sustainable future. And I am convinced it is not. It sends the wrong message. And provides the wrong action plan. POC 21 was neither collaborative (all the stories I heard), not about open hardware (during the event), and not sustainable. (Look at Sams Docu, it is all there.)

Not sustainable in so many aspects. One is, that now many people think, this is the way to go…

I don’t want to live in a world of self enforced filter bubbles. That use and build strong psychological practices to convince their in group. And also to create them! (Did you know that the cherry picking for POC 21 was done by a single psychologist?).

I am an artist. Looking at the world of today. Interested in truth. And I can’t hold still when I see something, that is so obviously a lie to me.

_

So what do do? I crafted the bit more. I took out the direct comparison to OSCEdays, which is stupid (!) and totally not to control. I added it, because in the two discussions I shared my critique people asked: “Yeah. But how can you do that differently?” And I gave two examples for paths that avoid this. I thought the reader might have the same question in his head. So I added the bit there. But it is even better when there is no direct offer for a solution :-)! Let them wonder themselves. It is much better.

But this is probably why we should not have the Post - or the Post with the Bit - in the OSCEdays Blog. Because then their will be this comparison, jealousy or what ever way to see it that will prevent the message I want to send to go through.

But why include it into this article about funding? See the reply before: It is a good vehicle for it! And - almost forgot that - POC 21 is because of that stuff the perfect project to show a lot of the critique. They even delivered metaphors like burning their infrastructure “because we did not think it through.” Yes. Please think it through. So we all can go on an interesting journey. (It is absurd how current sustainability funders think to make impact. And it is absurd how some projects think to do it.)

Thanks


#9

I think that the POC21 part is somewhat better now, but I still don’t think it really fits, and it muddles your message. For example, I think it contradicts this argument:

When you’re saying ‘POC21 is a poorly designed project’ while hardly acknowledging any positive effect, it certainly comes across as competitive. It sends a message that ‘this sustainability-focused project, and all the time and effort that went into it, should not have received funding’. Even if that’s not your intention, it comes across as bitter or resentful.

For me, what would make more sense is to have a separate article that is an in-depth critique of POC21, where you can, for example, explain what the problem with apocalypse porn is, you can lay out POC21’s stated goals next to your interpretation of whether they achieved them, and address the likely responses that you will get, eg:

  • was POC21 really about directly preventing climate change, or was it about making environmental action ‘cool’? …of course you and I might agree that this is not a priority, but I wouldn’t say that it is worthless
  • do these projects need to be good examples of open source in order to still benefit the overall open source ecosystem? …I agree that bad examples do harm, but some of the results from POC21 are Ben developing an open source investment fund, Faircap going to the UN humanitarian summit and making deals with big NGOs, increased interest from media and companies in the open source idea (even if misguided) - this increased attention provides opportunities for real open source projects and processes to be supported.
  • this was just a first taste of the open source idea for these projects, and those who choose to stay open source will develop proper community building and transparent processes out of necessity.
  • yes, on a project and international level the collaboration was poor, but the process of co-living and personal collaboration taught many of us useful skills and processes which we then take into our projects and communities (like OSCEdays) and improve them.
  • it was a proof of concept, an experiment itself! its failures could have been communicated better, but hopefully it is something to learn from for future events.

I do not disagree with your perspective (more with the intensity/polarity of your perspective) but I think that a criticism of POC21 needs to be complete and in-depth - if it’s just a paragraph stuck into a funding discussion, you won’t engage people or change any minds. I’m not worried about whether you make the POC founders and community angry, I am concerned that you won’t convince them, and that would make the criticism pointless. I would love to see the POC21 criticism be its own article which you can link to from this one, where you go into depth on your points to help people really understand them.


#10

“This post criticises current competition-based funding practices which burn resources through poor process design. And it provides constructive suggestions for better solutions. If you’re involved in a funding organisation, please read the whole post. If you are a project experiencing some of these poor funding practices, feel free to send the funders this text.”

___In general I agree with the subject of the post and the call for more collaborative holistic approaches to funding…here are my thoughts.

“Personal Bit: I will give you some examples of bad – competitive – funding or project designs first before I start with some suggestions for better – collaborative – ones.”

___While yes, I agree with your critique overall, I think that some competition can also bring good attributes to project ideas (speed of development and selection) and also to project outcomes (quality).

“Horizon 2020: I’ve heard claims that 20% of the Horizon2020 budget is needed to feed the bureaucracy to process the funding. If this is true it would sum up to 16 Billion! I’ve also heard that in most of the Horizon 2020 programs the chance to get the funding you apply for is 5 percent! But it is fair to assume that a lot of people who apply, don’t get it. And I know [LINK PODCAST FOCUS EUROPA], that writing a proposal is a huge pile of work – it is months of work! And the whole process is so complicated, and the competition so hard that there are companies focused entirely on providing consulting to institutions for writing their applications. And your chance to get the grant without this consulting is practically zero! What a huge waste of resources! That is not covered by – that is externalized from - the 80 Billion! If really 95% of the incredibly difficult to write applications fail …The time and creative and productive energy of (mostly young) researchers and change makers is wasted here! They are forced to write about what they want to do and are held back from actually doing it. There are some positive effects from making them create these proposals [FOOTNOTE 1], but I think the negative effects outweigh them. THIS FUNDING PRACTICE PREVENTS GOOD THINGS FROM HAPPENING! As it burns resources to feed a resource-consuming filter process…”

___I’ve been involved in writing many H2020 funding bids (three successful, others unsuccessful) and we have never utilised these consultancy services. The process of writing and planning research is fundamental to the research process. In fact, I would argue that, writing bids for research proposals actually accelerates thought processes, because it clarifies ideas to put them on paper. For the unsuccessful proposals, I have actually built good relationships with many of these people, remained in contact and have tried to build on our initial ideas, to find other more suitable opportunities together. Many funders try to do things right, for example many will give feedback on your failed proposal as a means for you to improve it in the future. _*

“Funders prevent good things from happening.”

___Perhaps you can clarify that this is your own perspective. What about all the positive impact, ground-breaking, world-changing projects that do exist and which have been funded?

“The Need To Send Out Negative Replies…So the funder did not only consume my time when making me write the application. They also stole my time afterwards when punching me unnecessary hard with a rejection. The first rule of good collaboration is to respect and protect your collaborators’ time! Funding designs like that are incredibly stupid.”

___The language here is very confrontational: ‘stole, punched, hard, stupid’. You decided to write the application, the funder didn’t sit you at a desk and force you to do it. Funders are people, many of whom are probably passionate about sustainability and are tied to systemic rules (eg EU regulations about funding). I’m sure they would be very happy to have informative and constructive feedback, but people will only engage in a conversation that is mutually respectful.

POC 21

___I agree with Sam that this deserves it’s own fully formulated post. These are important points which are diluted by being incorporated in this article ie the criticisms of POC go beyond how it was funded.

“Solutions: I understand that in order to make a funding decision, a funder needs to filter and find out, who is behind the project, what is it all about, and is it worth the funding. That is the purpose of applications. In the world we had 25 years ago – a world without internet, it makes sense to have all the projects reach out to you. Because it was very expensive to gain visibility. And how should a funder know about the projects? So the funder had to invest money to gain visibility for himself – spread the call – and make the projects put in effort to make themselves visible to the funder, by sending in a paper letter.”

___ I agree that working with potential projects can be a more holistic approach, but isn’t it more efficient for a funder to send a beacon to projects than the opposite way around? It’s that signal to noise ratio again._

“But writing the application consumes a lot of resources. Complicated applications favour existing and already funded institutions who have the resources to write them. It excludes young and new groups. (Which also makes sense on a certain level [FOOTNOTE 6]”

___I think this is a good point. One solution would be to have coaching services for young or previously unfunded groups.

“So if you are making pioneers write longer proposals, then fund that! Give them a little bit of seed funding to explain themselves. Don’t consume their limited resources to serve your filtering needs! I know that these practices exist – for example in Germany in architecture “Kunst am Bau” (art on the building) competitions. People are invited to propose something, and are paid for the work on the proposal.”

__This is also similar to the process that Advocate Europe tries to bring.

“Yes, this will create a lot of work and expense for you. But this just means that you will not externalize the costs of the filter process to the projects. You can help them instead.”

__Perhaps this process would increase the cost of the bureaucracy, especially in the cases of EU funding. It also sounds highly undemocratic.

“PLEASE STOP EXPLOITING AND EXHAUSTING PROJECTS AND ACTIVISTS, AND START COLLABORATING WITH THEM!”

___I agree with Sam that the caps are off-putting (shouty). _


#11

i found the topic interesting with some really pertinent points, i also feel the frustration when writing bids…some days i just could scream.
I would have liked the article to be more positive towards funders, most of the teams managing funding are working based on what they can do and what they know…sadly most of them did not get any creative or innovation training.
I feel your article missed out the important role played by the “key stakeholders” those you shape the funding criteria to fit their needs rather than the overall benefit the fund could have.
I agree that funds tend to attract same players and this is even a business sector, yet for EU funding this is partly due what i feel is inadequate risk management and a result of funding cuts to core services…
I have also observed that numerous partnerships also “self-eliminate” the most innovative element of their project proposal…


#12

###On The POC21 bit

Ok. Point taken. I will not take the time to criticize POC21 in an own blogost. Because I feel that would really piss them off. And … that overestimates my feelings or interest in that project. It is barely an issue for me. It just happens to be a project I know much about - because it happens so close to me and where I work and with whom I work. And it is a project that is a perfect case for misguided actions and ideas for me.

I thought about replacing it with something else - with another project – which would be equally good. But (1) I don’t know really a lot of projects. And (2) it is like asking someone to replace a perfect example with a not so great example, when you want to make a point as author. Yes, there would have been another smile for the Mona Lisa on the shelf, but the one in the painting is quite good. And there might be even a better one also, maybe. But we don’t know it. And the author did not know it.

But you convinced me. I will leave it out. It will be misunderstood (in the circles that know the project).

I wanted the article to be about criticizing sustainability practices of today at all. Not just funders. I wanted to get people in the mood of thinking about better designs. About collaborative designs. Truly collaborative designs. … and a great example …

But yes, I will take the bit out. It is good for – at least for the length of the article.

Thanks.

###@Sharon
I covered the fact that there are relationships made also in unsuccessful applications in one of the footnotes. Why are there footnotes and this is not in the main body? Because the article was already too long. Maybe not good enough.

__ I agree that working with potential projects can be a more holistic approach, but isn’t it more efficient for a funder to send a beacon to projects than the opposite way around? It’s that signal to noise ratio again.

That is my whole point! It is more efficient for a funder. But not more efficient for the overall goal of sustainability. It is externalizing and growing filter costs! The whole concept of externalizing costs is a feature of capitalism where we somehow should come up with different answers. I have – in another footnote – this idea, that the prize money was 1700 Euro. And when 30 people apply - and the application is for each 100 Euro in time investment – then we have 3000 Euro vs. 1700 Euro – so the prize actually creates a damage to the time for sustainability work of 1300 Euro! (And there were more people then 30 applying and the time is worn more then 100 Euro).

So that is the main point I want to make.

I know that funders are good people. They want to make change. I just think that there are some interesting points to make how their practices can be improved. “Well great, you want to foster this garden. Then you should not feed it with toxic waste water.” (Too strong).

“Yes, this will create a lot of work and expense for you. But this just means that you will not externalize the costs of the filter process to the projects. You can help them instead.”

__Perhaps this process would increase the cost of the bureaucracy, especially in the cases of EU funding. It also sounds highly undemocratic.

Yes. And that is good! Increase the costs of bureaucracy - at first - for the single funder, not the costs for bureaucracy for the growing number of projects applying. How is it more democratic if the costs for the filter process are externalized to the projects (and therefor to the environment) and then a funder makes a decision based on finished proposals – which is often no different then a lottery. In sustainability there are not a lot of “bad” projects.

_

As someone active in grassroots sustainability projects I was approached a lot in the past years to “write an article about my project in a book they will publish – with articles from projects. For free of course, my writing.” This is shit in indeed makes me angry! In most of the cases (not all), because to publish a book in todays self-publishing world is not expensive. With 1000 Euros you can do it already, with an ISBN number and so on. So if they are lucky and doing a good marketing job they will probably sell maybe 200 or even 300 books. Most of them never read. And the only people that really benefit from the books are the people who have published it! Because they can put it in their Vita, or whatever.

But a lot of the costs producing the books are payed by the projects. Double. Because they wrote about them instead of doing them.

And the really worse thing is that the people with those book projects really think they help the projects!

And this prize with the 1700 bucks. They maybe really think they help the projects. But the whole procedure is about them! Just them. It is funded by big corporates that invest in a filter – so big CEOs can see, what is going on “Ah, that project we gave the prize, what is it about, ah, interesting (continues with business as usual)”. And they want to use the prize to market their company.

…I don’t describe this as a rejected projecteer. It is the “cold” view of an economist diagnosing: This is malfunctioning.

_

And yes, of course, there is no “one size fits all”. And there are some areas where competition is helpful. In fact – the studies that tried to prove that competition is the strongest driver for progress found, that it actually is a strong driver indeed. But not the strongest. Collaboration is stronger.

And collaboration would mean to coach the people – which is one of my suggestions (like you also say). As I said in the article. All the better practices exist. We don’t have to invent them. We just should use them more. And improve them.

The article is a bit strong in the language. Ok. But hopefully it can deliver the points to some people anyway.

The CAPS of course are stupid and were never intended to be used in the article. I just wrote it in my favorite text editor that doesn’t have any possibilities for formatting text and I wanted to have those parts highlighted.


#13

Are you sure that your text editor doesn’t have formatting options?

Seeing as you write a lot of text which will end up as markdown or html (eg. on the forum) it makes sense to use a text editor which will highlight formatting for you. I don’t know which text editor you use, but usually you can view the text with Markdown highlighting.

I use gedit for most of my drafts so that I don’t have to do things in the browser and risk accidentally closing tabs and losing work.

This is what this post looks like in my text editor with Markdown highlighting enabled:

Why is highlighting useful?

  • it will show when something is bold or italic
  • it is obvious when you’re missing a parenthesis and your [link]http://oscedays.org) is not properly formatted
  • it will make formatting like lists and bullet points more obvious.

Alternatively, you could use a program like retext which is specially made for displaying Markdown:

I also use pandoc for converting files between markdown, html, and odt… it’s a commandline tool though, so you have to be prepared to get your hands nerdy.


#14

Alright Lars, as I said, I agree with the overall point of the article. I simply see improvements in how your views can be communicated constructively (collaboratively?), that’s all.

I’m very happy and willing to support you and others with writing future funding proposals. I’m not saying I’m an expert, but have written successful bids with more experienced people in academia, from whom I have picked up good practice guidelines that might be helpful to you or others.


#15

I also think it would be worthwhile if we try to get specific things funded rather just focusing on OSCEdays generally (which does need funding, however!).

So, for example I am trying to work out how to get the production of an OSCEdays animation funded - I haven’t got a detailed plan yet. One thing to be careful of though, is what would happen if I tried to crowdfund it - people who have general goodwill towards OSCEdays would then give their support to the animation project, and they wouldn’t have enthusiasm/money left to also contribute to OSCEdays more generally. So this idea is still a work in progress…


#16

I agree and have been thinking the same thing. We definitely need to focus on generating funding for a discrete OSCEdays activity, such as this animation, or similar. This could also support funding generation for wider OSCEdays work. I’ve been looking at other organisations who take a similar approach.

Funny, lots of organisation I am familiar with start with a small project / activity and build up the income generating activities, whereas we have a humongous project that we need to scale back / slice up /segment, to focus the financing opportunities.


#17

Another issue with funding sustainability, is the lack of supranational funding structures an initiative like ours can avail of. The absence of political and financial structures that transcend political boundaries are a barrier to collaboration and if/we were to avail of funding (such as H2020 for example) I’m not sure it would be very beneficial for our global community. For H2020, the EU calls for impact factors for societal transitions, but largely this impact is assessed in an EU context. While I’m sure dissemination of outcomes globally is applauded, direct impact outside the EU isn’t something I’ve come across in the H2020 or KIC bids we’ve written. That said, there are funding options for two-way country collaborations (within and outside Europe). Perhaps there are others that overcome this barrier, like foundations, as you have already mentioned. It would be interesting to know more about those options.


#18

Now that it is in writing and hopefully released some tension, I would suggest to sit on it. I don’t think this will help us get funding or that it will change anybody’s policies and attitudes. My opinion is to spend our energy on finding the right funders and the right projects to convince them. Or just make some products to sell. Or crowdfund. Or whatever else. Even publish a book about OSCE, what it is, how it works and why it is the future, no mater how much resistance there is from the current entrenched model, and sell that.


#19

hi all,

now - 24d later i have the time to come back here.

I don’t intended this to be a post about funding OSCEdays.

And Silvia is right, it is not good to put it in the OSCEdays blog.

But I will probably put it in my blog … in a new version. I think the points are too important. And the post needs rewriting.