Anticipating future research needs: establishing new organizational structures for scientific research
The first alternative approach noted in Figure 7.1 highlights changes in the notion of a grantee institution existing separate from the funder. Examples like the Allen Institute, the Flatiron Institute at the Simons Foundation, and the Schmidt Ocean Institute all point to this new model, one in which the philanthropy brings the research enterprise in-house, blurring the distinction between the grantee conducting research and the philanthropy funding this work. There are a number of reasons why a science philanthropy might move in this direction. One is a desire by the philanthropy to have more direct oversight and influence on what research is performed and how that research is managed. Bringing a grantee institution in-house obviously gives the funding organization more control over all facets of the research effort. A second
Novel modes of responsibility 159 potential reason is that this organizational structure helps to free the researchers from the requirement of continually seeking out funds for their science. Instead, those resources are made directly availably by being in a foundation, proving a level of financial security that might not otherwise exist and allowing scientists to focus squarely on undertaking their investigations without having to spend the time and effort needed to fundraise. Third, the funder may also be able to reduce transaction costs and realize economies of scale if the research is conducted in-house. Of course, doing so also requires that the host foundation be responsible for covering all the costs and expenses of that novel institutional entity, reserving this approach for only the most well-resourced philanthropic institutions. A fourth reason for moving in this direction is that the establishment of an in-house research organization has the potential to influence the operational culture of other areas of that philanthropic institution. Foundations that establish these in-house research centers also typically provide giants externally as well, so the expectation may be that having working scientists based at the foundation can help inform how that external grantmaking is provided. For instance, this is one of the reasons noted by the Simons Foundation for launching the Flatiron Institute. Their 2017 annual report describes the envisaged contribution that the formation of this in-house research center would have on the foundation’s overall culture. The report notes that “the institute’s rapid growth has already shifted the staff composition of the Simons Foundation as a whole, which, a short time ago, focused only on grantmaking. The addition of an in-house research organization has influenced other divisions of the foundation” (Simons Foundation, 2017).
Beyond the establishment of in-house research entities within science philanthropies, these foundations have also started to move in a different direction by being the ones to maintain and oversee the management of unique research instrumentation and infrastructure. That is the case with Schmidt Ocean Institute, which has been pioneering this mode of support by taking on the responsibility of equipping and deploying an oceangoing research vessel, called the Falkor, with state-of-the-art robotic and data science instrumentation. Time on such research vessels is in high demand within the scientific community, and by focusing on crafting and sustaining such an instrument, Schmidt Ocean Institute is able to supply the oceanographic research community with an increased ability to explore the ocean using a variety of tools by air, on the surface, and underwater. Its 2017 annual report described the goals of taking this approach as helping “to inspire and disrupt the status quo in ocean research by encouraging other independent thinkers to apply diverse, practical innovation to understanding and protecting our oceans” (Schmidt Ocean Institute, 2017). The report continues by emphasizing how, in exchange for providing this kind of instrumentation to the community, the funder requires all data collected on the vessels to be shared openly with other researchers. “By mandating open sharing of data for all supported projects and by providing end-to-end data acquisition, management, processing, and sharing services to all collaborating researchers, Schmidt Ocean Institute has broken academic glass wallsand removed barriers to cooperation among the scientists, research labs, and institutions around the world” (Schmidt Ocean Institute, 2017). Similarly, a recent article reporting on this instrumentation contribution from Schmidt Ocean Institute stressed the importance of having such advanced technological capabilities for conducting ocean science as “creating a space for scientists to both study the ocean as well as test and experiment with new technologies aimed at advancing the pace of ocean science” (Herries & Wiener, 2018, p. 25). There are even other efforts within the Schmidt funding universe that look to further advance the development and commercialization of ocean-related technologies. For instance, an arm of the Schmidt Family Foundation, Schmidt Marine Technology Partners, provides funds to scale businesses working to develop new technologies in this area. As they state on their website, “we created this ‘venture philanthropy’ model to fill an often-fatal gap in support available for the development of ocean technologies, which typically require something beyond traditional grants in order to achieve full potential and availability” (Schmidt Marine Technology' Partners, n.d.).
Beyond Schmidt Ocean Institute, this approach of science philanthropies providing research instrumentation and infrastructure as in-house capabilities, especially in the domain of ocean science, has blossomed in recent years. Individual, high-net-worth donors have started to outfit a growing number of research vessels, in part to compensate for the decline in the number of government-funded ships, which has led to longer researcher wait times and an inability to explore many pressing research questions in ocean science. One news story in Science documented the rise in the number of these philan-thropically supported expedition research crafts. The article observes that science philanthropies have started to enter this space in part to address the challenges brought on by the aforementioned decrease in government funding for these technologically advanced research vehicles. “Philanthropists have launched several vessels to help shorten the queue,” states the article, which profiles the building of a new privately funded craft for science called Research Expedition Vessel (Stokstad, 2018, p. 874). Moreover, many of the research liners profiled in this piece are designed to do more than just conduct research. For instance, Dalio Philanthropies, a newer philanthropic entity, has supported a large-scale oceangoing research enterprise, called OceanX. OceanX not only features a suite of state-of-the-art, customized research equipment, but it also includes sophisticated multi-media recording equipment capable of producing a wide range of film and video content that can better share research findings and scientific results with the broader public. As noted on the Dalio Philanthropies website, these expedition vessels are constructed to “provide a platform to support the research of scientists worldwide and serve as a cut-ting-edge media platform that is used to share exciting discoveries with the public” (Dalio Philanthropies, 2019).
There are other such examples of foundations focusing on supporting the development of instrumentation outside the domain of ocean science as well. For instance, one of the more well-known instances is philanthropic support for the Foldscope paper microscope, an “ultra-low-cost origami-based approach for large-scale manufacturing of microscopes” (Cybulski, Clements, & Prakash, 2014, p. 1). More recently, science philanthropies have been involved in more systematic efforts to advance these kinds of affordable approaches to tool building. The most prominent of these is Tool Foundry, a competitive instrument development process undertaken by the innovation consultancy company Luminary Labs and funded with support from the Moore Foundation and Schmidt Futures. Tool Foundry helps scientists and engineers based at university research centers, companies, and other organizations to build “low-cost, high-quality, and easy-to-use” tools for the purpose of making the conduct of scientific research more accessible to non-experts, thereby helping to “inspire a deeper interest in science and empower people to indulge their curiosity, explore their environments, and solve problems relevant to their own communities” (Tool Foundry, n.d.). Inventor teams connected to Tool Foundry have worked on developing tools such as low-cost microscopes, radiation detectors, pollution monitoring devices, or medical imaging equipment. Building these instruments is being facilitated by the utilization of off-the-shelf parts and standardized hardware components whose design specifications are open source, available for purchase at low cost, or easily manufactured by way of distributed, on-demand printing technologies. These and other kinds of instrumentation development efforts not only help to facilitate citizen science, but they serve as a growing and important link between research conducted in a lab and ensuring positive benefits for society. Furthermore, as this field of open science hardware begins to thrive, there is the potential for philanthropic and government funders to have an impact by helping to create and deploy these novel, accessible instruments as a way of enhancing the responsibility of research and making the conduct of science more societally oriented (Pearce, 2016; Gathering for Open Science Hardware, 2017).