It’s always uncanny when disparate activities align, both through the loose tendrils of online presence and the digital traces of research activity. I’m currently running a crowdfunding campaign for an ethnography of bitcoin use. Which you can find here:
How this campaign and opportunity came about is the interesting bit. As with all good ideas, one thing lead to another…
Prior to this study, I collaborated on a study of the impacts of cyryptomarkets upon drug use trajectories (through NDRI, Curtin University) (2013-2015). During that study, I presented preliminary findings and conducted a member check (a methodological approach to verifying social findings) with the Bitcoin community. You can still find the YouTube recording of this, which we made so that the cryptomarket community also had access to these early activities online.
Cryptomarket drug sales were facilitated by Bitcoin and this was my first exposure to the cryptocurrency and the community ethos surrounding this innovation. The Bitcoin community was a homologous (legal) community that I could check my early understandings and observations with. However, they themselves proved to be fascinating in how they were using technological innovations to disrupt the financial sector and I have stayed connected in the hope that I would be able to work with them in the future.
More recently, I had been looking into crowdfunding as a research funding activity over 2016. As an early career researcher, I needed to build a funding track record but was in the precarious position of short-term contract affiliations with universities and couldn’t apply for funding. So like the focus of the study, there is an issue of financial inclusion here for me. After a hiatus working for Deakin Library to establish some financial stability and continuity, I made the call to return to part-time research and my personal passion for studying the formation of digital community in frontier spaces. Simultaneously, I was approached by a crowdfunding platform, https://experiment.com, to join a network security challenge based upon my research publication from the Silk Road research. At the time, we had taken the Bitcoin study from a research proposal through to ethics approval, but it was languishing as an unfunded project.
The invitation to develop a crowdfunding campaign came at the same time that I had decided to relaunch the project based upon my personal passion for this topic. The combination of these two events with the opportunities they presented to get the Bitcoin study off the ground was a moment of serendipitous alignment. Because the Bitcoin use study is about a decentralised peer-to-peer payment system, I felt that this worked with the logic of a crowdfunding campaign and could engage the community to support the project as an additional angle.
In my opinion the biggest challenges to launching the crowdfunding campaign include the amount that it is viable to set for a crowdfunding campaign, the level of interest and engagement that you research topic may have for the public and the skill and attention that the active researcher needs to bring to promoting the campaign so that it reaches the audiences who would like to engage with it.
From research into successful crowdfunding campaigns, a viable amount of money to seek is around 4-5K. This is the rule of thumb amount that a campaign is likely to gain from first and second networks (people the researcher knows and the people they know). This cap of likely success means that the research needs to have a small component that is fundable as a seed to get the project up and running. In our case, this is the data collection. This topic, the study of Bitcoin use, is also timely as we all are affected by and aware of economic instability and political backlash occurring in the UK, USA and India for example. These global events affect the flows and value of money, particularly where governments are no longer trusted to keep value in the currency and people turn to alternative monetary forms not only for trade, but as a store of value and investment return.
In addition to this, engaging the different stakeholders and audiences through social media and news media outreach requires time, attention, presence and social media knowledge. These can be challenges for many researchers who are not adept in the environment and may require skill development. Whilst the success percentages are higher for crowdfunding campaigns (despite their all or nothing criteria), the effort required to run them can be the same or more as it takes to apply for central block funding that may support larger sums of money. With a project such as the Bitcoin study, which is in its early days, however, the logic and opportunity provided by crowdfunding to reach and engage the relevant communities is worth the effort as it will spill over into increasing our opportunities to connect with and do ethnography amongst the cryptocurrency community.
The skills that I have needed to develop for this project have included producing and editing a short video that will translate well and widely in the social media environment. This video is available on the crowdfunding page and appears to be a crucial element in the success of a campaign. The other learning curve has been the inclusion of the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, as a donation option. This has been an interesting experience, one that I considered necessary considering that I would like to engage the cryptocurrency community in supporting and participating in this research. One of the key points for the campaign is that it is an all or nothing funding strategy, so all pledged donations need to be returnable if the campaign does not reach its funding goal. The crew at the experiment has worked with me to make this possible for bitcoin, which is a payment system where the payment is designed not to be reversed (!!!). Ironic that.
If you’re interested in participating in or learning more about the scope and approach of the research, you can download the plain language statement (and consent forms) here: pls-and-consent_bitcoin-study. Essentially, we’re interested in: people’s uses for bitcoin alongside other digital and “non-digital” currencies (aka fiat currencies), business uses and applications for cryptocurrencies, the possibilities of cryptocurrencies within trade finance and international remittances and the role(s) that cryptocurrencies may play during large scale political and economic instability (such as in India where demonetisation is happening, during Brexit and in response to the presidential election in the US).