Partners in Research is a project at Georgetown University to help fill the growing gap between demand for biomedical research funding and the declining budget dollars available through the National Institutes of Health (H/T The Washington Post). Research scientists at the Center present proposals to a group of donors, who select proposals to fund from their pooled donations.
This certainly resembles the new trend in funding projects, where crowds provide small donations to support existing projects. But it bears a strong resemblance to angel networks or giving circles, which are smaller groups of donors that provide larger amounts per person. Partners in Research is still operating on a small scale. The latest competition was amongst four researchers, of whom two would receive $35,000 grants.
While the funds are needed, there are limitations to the approach. Besides a smaller pool of money, the input of donors does not guarantee that the proposals will have the benefit of outside expert review. The University can review proposals that will be up for competition, but the donors need not be trained in relevant fields of science and medicine. For both reasons, Georgetown focuses grants in this program on seed money for exploring new research areas, bridge funding to assist with funding gaps between traditional grants, and start up funds for new researchers. (Other crowdfunding programs often focus on these kinds of grants.)
With the trend of flat and/or declining traditional funding for research, it would be nice to determine if crowdsourcing can scale large enough to replace some of the traditional investigator grants while maintaining the capacity for outside expert review.