Where do we go from here? Future of Public Health Research & Crowdfunding

What will the new administration mean for public health research? Sitting in a room with colleagues as we discuss the state of politics and their potential impact on the scientific and public health research community-the question and overall theme that hangs above us all is –Where do we go from here?

As part of the future of the public health profession, I feel that the ability to conduct the research and continue the work myself, colleagues and the discipline find vital for addressing health disparities are in jeopardy. Even before the recent elections, funding for public health, its research, implementation and continuous practice has been declining. To those declining funding lines and stifling employment growth, we’ve entered into a realm where the ability to determine what our research priorities as public health professionals finds itself in the same debate as climate change.

Different options have been put on the table as to how public health practitioners can save themselves, their livelihoods and their research: reframing our messages, tailoring our words and project titles in an effort to somehow fly under the radar. Thinking about how to switch gears and research focus to ensure missing the chopping block. All in an effort to be able to just stay in the game. We wake up daily, with the foremost thought not being “How will we make the world a better, healthier, safer place?-but searching for the mental fortitude to continue to find ways to prepare for the worst and get ahead of the game.

As a Doctoral candidate soon to enter the “real world”, I can’t help but think what will happen to me? What will it be like to be truly beginning my career over the course of the next few years? Not to mention, the challenges placed in front of me as I seek funding to complete my studies, as well as my current job. Again, the giant, dark cloud of uncertainty.

Now is the time. Time to begin to prepare and strategize and identify other forms of funding. Other sources which will allow public health researchers to set their own agendas and continue the good fight in improving health. Given our environment, if we fail to adapt and innovate, we can safely assume that our discipline will be in even greater peril in the future.

How about crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is used as a way to raise funds for a project, business venture, or other charitable causes (donations based) from a large number of individuals. So why don’t we use it to raise money for public health research? Actually, why don’t we try?

Crowdfunding is a tool typically used to raise donations for a variety of things, from $55k to make a bowl of potato salad, to the $100k Cards Against Humanity raised to dig a hole in the ground, to actual charitable events. Such as the $1M that was raised in 48 hours to support the rebuilding of the mosque that was burned down in Texas or the $380k raised to support an elderly popsicle vendor in Chicago.

There are 4 types of crowdfunding: donation, rewards, debt and equity. Each has its place and application. Is crowdfunding the answer and the innovation public health needs? Maybe, maybe not. Public health demonstrates time and time again, that money invested in public health research and programs deliver exponential returns. Why are we, as public health professionals and researchers not offering individuals the opportunity to invest in the future solutions we will discover? The risk in donating to public health research is that someone’s life may be improved a little…and not just a lot. Like all investments, some may fail. If we go the equity route and pursue investments the risk is that 90% will fail. Returns may take years to be realized. However, have we asked people who are passionate about their health, their children’s health and their community’s health to skip the middle man and vote on the future of our global health with their dollars?

So I pose these questions not because I see crowdfunding as a panacea for public health but because in order to have hope, we have to have the audacity to believe. I believe there is a way. I believe that we must innovate and adapt or go down trying. I encourage you all to join me on this journey, email me your ideas, let’s chat over coffee and by all means chime in on mine.

#resist

Tiffany Gray, MPH, DrPH(c)

Milken School of Public Health, The George Washington University

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tgray85@gwmail.gwu.edu | @grayrtDrPHc

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