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New Funding Models for Folklore Research & Studies

Lack of academic funding has marginalised the study of folklore in comparison to other disciplines and to our own colleagues internationally. New financial models have to be formed and partnerships established both in the public and private sector for funding of folklore and folklore research. This paper proposes formation of a number of relationships and financial models. The models rely less on the traditional and diminishing public sector funding sources, but increased use of the private sector funding and improved technology and media sources to provide research, analysis and distribution of findings.

This document is intended to provide a backdrop and reference point for more detailed presentations on substantive matters of the direction of folklore. Whatever direction folklore takes in the future it will require funding, unless it is confined to a hobby, conducted by individuals in their leisure time for their own personal and intellectual satisfaction, though there is certainly no criticism of this approach.

I don’t propose to visit the well trodden ground of:

  • Why folklore is not an academic discipline.
  • Why public funding to the related humanities subjects is inadequate and contracting — the same amount of money has to go further as a result of more extensive higher education.
  • Why grant processes for funding are so complex to access.
  • Why funding bodies have increasingly limited capacity.

Suffice it to say that the funding models I discuss in this paper are probably applicable to most, if not all, of the related humanities disciplines. Equally, we have to accept the current reality that, in the UK and even in the USA judging from Professor Diane Goldstein’s remarks, it is easier to gain recognition and funding for folklore research and studies if the word folklore is not mentioned but assumes the guise of archaeology, anthropology, ethnology, English or other academic disciplines in which the studies of folklore are accommodated.

Activities for which there are funding requirements

Let me approach the funding by setting out the activities for which there are funding requirements. I present them in the “production sequence” for the activities which require funding:

  • Funding field work.
  • Funding access to data collections including artefacts.
  • Collation and assimilation of collections.
  • Funding scholars and scholarship to publish research.

Funding field work

Field work is the research and development component of folklore. The work comprises collection of raw data through observation of objects and people and their behaviours and dialogue and responses to pre-scripted questioning. The critical element is recording the finding in some form of visual audio or written form such that it may be easily subject to additions, consolidation, tabulation and analysis. Providers of funds for research and development normally require some sort of “return” be it commercial, personal or institutional recognition and frequently legal rights to the material collected, which may be subsequently exploited. Increasingly generic communications and technology applications provide the mechanisms for time and cost efficient collection of raw data, reducing the cost of field work. However, the costs of good preparation in terms of setting the thematic scope and limitations on data collection and scripting the sequence and functions are essential to successful data collection. Field work is not treasure hunting, hoping to “encounter some valuable surprises”, and should not be embarked on in such a manner.

The key costs lie in acquisition/ use of the technologies and their efficient use in data collection — much of which is required in the preparatory stage and review of collected data. Technology providers are more than happy to provide financial sponsorship for advice and use deployment of their technology. They will frequently supply resources to “operate the technology”, but they do require attribution by some form of public recognition or association with the field work or what is delivered through the field work. Field work normally requires some elements of travel where new funding models are unlikely to emerge. However, the growing refinement of communications technology is enabling remote conduct of field work.

Funding access to data collections including artefacts

The funding of access to data collections in public hands is reducing exponentially. Data collections are being digitized as libraries, archives and museums are able to fund the presentation of their collections for on line access. Inevitably, public institutions and charities who have a level of obligation, sometimes enshrined in their own constitutions or even in law, to make their collections accessible to the public, have taken the lead in digitizing initiatives. Private collections will be slower to digitize, unless they welcome greater accessibility to their collections. For reason such as privacy, security and avoidance of the inconvenience of addressing unsolicited requests for access, private collections will inevitably be slower to digitize. Of course, digitization does not benefit researchers, who need to access the original documents or artefacts for their research. The costs of travel and accommodation to view the original material still have to be funded, though the requirement for such travel diminishes as more public collections are digitized.

Funding collation, consolidation and assimilation of collections

In this section I look at the issue from the museum, library archive perspective. Museums, libraries and archives traditionally serve three core constituencies researchers, the general public and academic institutions, from schools to postgraduate and learned institutions.

“Researchers” need not be accredited scholars and curators. They may simply be enthusiastic amateurs such as collectors or historical enactors. The key characteristic is that researchers are experts. Experts have more knowledge and experience of their domain and can thus select optimal strategies for reaching information goals and can better predict the consequences of their actions. Thus researchers tend to search and seek to impose or derive connections between the disparate pieces of information that they find. In response to the problem of audience diversity, Marable (2004) proposed a user centered “integrated online exhibit model” designed to present common content to different user groups in different ways best suited to their particular needs.

The model comprises three elements:

  • Multiple points of entry
  • Connecting storylines
  • Layered content (3 layers defined)

Multiple points of entry allow different groups to access or select a presentation mode that best meets their needs, e.g. storylines for visitors who would like some context and inspiration, powerful search engines for those who require access to specific information rapidly.

Connecting storylines provide links between presentation modes, encouraging and assisting users to vary their modes of enquiry and broaden their searches.

Layered content means superimposing on the content different presentation modes to accommodate the requirements of different user groups.

The model can be applied successfully to the design of heritage websites, building exciting and informative sites that are based on searchable collections or archives. It is noticeable, however, that although these sites refer to “learning” as an activity, they do not explicitly set out to address the needs of teachers and students in a formal learning context. In other words, they address only the first two of our three core constituencies. Although three layers are proposed, layers 2 and 3 are in fact targeted at the general public, thus giving us only two user groups: experts and generalists. Conceivably another layer is needed to manage the more formal structured learning activities required by teachers and students.

Laurillard’s taxonomy

Learning experience Methods/technologies Media forms
Attending, apprehending Print, TV, video, DVD Narrative
Investigating, exploring Library, CD, DVD, Web resources Interactive
Discussing, debating Seminar, online conference Communicative
Experimenting, practicing Laboratory, field trip, simulation Adaptive
Articulating, expressing Essay, product, animation, model Productive

Table 1. Laurillard’s taxonomy of educational media (Laurillard 2002, 90).

Laurillard’s has previously been used to guide the conversion of face-to-face teaching to online delivery and support. It may be similarly applied to the online presentation of museum, library and archive objects by matching the required learning experiences of the main target user groups to appropriate modes of presentation.

In more detail, Laurillard’s model disaggregates learning into five different kinds of experience:

  • Attending or apprehending a lesson as a largely passive recipient of information.
  • Investigating or exploring some bounded resource in a more active way where decisions about what to attend to, in what sequence and for how long, are managed by the learner.
  • Discussing and debating ideas with others.
  • Experimenting with and practicing
  • Articulating and expressing ideas through the synthesis of some new product.

These five different kinds of learning experiences are best supported by different media types which she characterizes as narrative, interactive, communicative, adaptive and productive respectively.

Narrative media are essentially linear, highly structured and non-interactive. They are a vehicle for transmission of information and ideas but not, on their own, appropriate for supporting the iterative dialogue that is central to knowledge construction. Videos, animations, exhibition information panels and storylines are examples of narrative media employed by museums.

Laurillard makes no distinction between exhibitions and other linear media such as film and performance.

Interactive media offer resources for learners to explore in a nonlinear way. Users can decide for themselves what to look at and in which order. It is important to understand, however, that in interactive media the given text, in its widest sense, remains unchanged by the user. Catalogues, databases, search engines and physical layouts of galleries, bays and shelves offer opportunities for self-directed exploration, but their contents remain unchanged by the viewer.

Adaptive media are similar to interactive forms but with the crucial addition of “direct intrinsic feedback” on learners’ actions (Laurillard 2002, 126). That is to say, actions result in consequences that are inherent to the task/system under consideration. A tennis analogy would be that serving a ball so that it clips the top of the net provides intrinsic direct feedback to the player about the need to raise the serve. Additional, extrinsic, commentary from a coach is unnecessary in such a situation. Simulations and hands-on exhibits that can be used to experiment with phenomena such as light, electricity, mechanics and sound are commonly used by museums.

Communicative media are simply those that support feedback and discussion; e.g. email, discussion groups, video conferencing, etc. Laurillard argues that feedback and discussion are fundamental to knowledge construction, enabling an iterative dialogue between tutor and learner through which theories and ideas are conceived, shared and transformed into knowledge and understanding.

Productive media are defined as tools that allow learners to express themselves and to demonstrate their understanding. Creative and communication tools are less commonly found in museums, libraries and archives websites, no doubt because of the problems of ensuring appropriate quality and network security.

Funding scholars and scholarship to publish research

This is a real “hot potato” — a much wider debate than funding folklore research, but I make no apologies for playing it again. The vastly increased access to higher education causes academics to question whether their primary responsibilities are to seek truth and to serve society. Is it the death of the intellectual, the birth of the salesman, in our universities? Some academic activities might serve the national economy, but it cannot be the key driver of all teaching and research. Is their core responsibility to society, global society, and not to the economy?

There is a growing dominance of the market vis-à-vis other forces, some would say inroads of the market into where it does not belong, particularly in core activities of education and health. What is really causing disquiet is the growing university-industrial complex, its threat to the intellectual integrity of the university, its erosion of the public sector ethos of the university.

Funding is increasingly being shaped by a market ethos, rather than a public service ethos, even when it is public sector funding. Some assert that there is an erosion of a public service ethos from within the public sector, in the universities, in broadcasting, in the state itself. Is the private sector is paraciting on the public sector on a massive scale, utilising infrastructure and educational level built up in public sector and creaming off what it can use at cut price. Is more being invested in public infrastructure for commercialisation than income received from it?

Research is being judged by the funding it brings in even more than what it puts out. Outputs are assessed in terms of numbers of articles in specific peer reviewed journals deemed to be of high quality. Does this produce a proliferation of mediocre research? For example, is conceptualisation weak and confused? Is contextualisation thin and random? Are conclusions bland and shallow? Is writing pretentious, clumpy, uninspired and uninspiring? Is research being driven by metric dashboards and promotion prospects and not by curiosity, exploration, and conviction? Do we need to resist the MacDonaldisation of universities and not produce MacDonald sponsored PhDs? My answer to all these questions is that much as the more conservative academics may complain, they have to live with the realities of the market.

While we need to ask how the funding of research in all areas is shaping the nature of projects, choice of methodologies, disclosure of results, we cannot ignore the commercial realities. Occasionally, There may be worrying cases of slanting or suppression of results, more in the sciences of climatology and medicine than the humanities frankly. There are conflicts of confidentiality vs. collegiality, private interests vs. public good.

Do we need to scrutinise the new orthodoxies as much as we did the old ones, particularly the way market imperatives are driving teaching and research?

The changing research priorities are affecting teaching. Some claim that the priorities devalue teaching vis-à-vis research. At the same time teaching is becoming more demanding and subjected to questionable interventions, procedures and terms. Many teachers absolutely refuse to consider students to be customers and to enter into quasi-market relationships with them. Degrees are becoming too narrowly focused on turning out job ready workers with exact skills required by the market to the detriment of their having time to work out their world views and to study the nature of the system in which their work will be embedded.

As to research, is there a distortion of research by questionable priorities in research funding, but also by preoccupation with research funding?

To be specific, the monograph system’s current reliance on market revenue constrains meaningful innovation in virtually all other components of the publishing value chain. Transforming the publishing model for monographs, therefore, requires identifying an alternative funding model that frees the system from such constraints.

Changing the funding model has the potential to accelerate digital distribution, encourage the evolution of digital-specific research publication genres, and facilitate new forms of quality review and certification. Moreover, a rational funding model would allow university presses, libraries, and other institutional stakeholders to form effective partnerships that would leverage the complementary competencies of each. These collaborations could reduce duplicative activities and help align press and library publishing missions and strategies.

Expanding the current model to launch university presses at more institutions could increase the volume of monographs published. However, without changing the market model, this approach would not reduce the financial burden on existing press institutions nor address the market failure for monographs. Further, although other academic institutions could form new university presses under the existing funding model, the trend has been in the opposite direction.

Several new initiatives are implementing novel market-based models with the potential to reduce profitability pressures on presses. One project depends on a collective purchasing model and another relies on a content aggregation strategy. Other initiatives such as Knowledge Unlatched seeks to create a global consortium that would act, in practical terms, as a library purchasing cooperative that would benefit from scale economies in buying scholarly books from publishers. A publisher would set a title fee for each book, intended to cover first copy costs, with the effective price per library contingent on the number of participating libraries selecting the title. Publishers would set the title fee for each book independently, which would obviate the need for a negotiated title fee price point.

Publishers make a basic digital version of each book available on an open access basis. Participating libraries would receive print and electronic editions of the titles they select at a discount as an incentive to participate in the scheme. Publishers would be free to pursue sales to other market the core of the issue and the fear of some sections of the academic world is commercialisation of scholarship. In crude terms this means “publish what will bring direct or indirect revenue contribution, principally in the form of repeat and higher research funding.” Availability of funding attracts scholars, aspiring scholar and those who may not even aspire to be scholars but can turn out interesting research — research, which may not employ traditional scholarly methods and which can be distributed in a number of media. I suggest some scholars fear the invasion of their space by those who are not trained scholars but will attract funding. In consequence research may not be done for scholarship purposes but to deliver value to a private enterprise initiative which has commercial objectives at its core.

Conclusions

Let me set out some brief conclusions:

Technology

  • Deployment of technology and technology applications is a key theme running through any funding models. It achieves efficiencies, lowers costs, and is a critical element in delivery of research results. Sometimes it replaces or manages the administrative and documentation tedium of projects. Technology speeds the delivery of research. It may even de-skill certain tasks and there is no harm in that.
  • Technology makes an important contribution in reducing the costs of research and research delivery but if technology is to be successfully deployed, it functional uses must be clearly set out in the preparatory work scheme.
  • Researchers require detailed appreciation and training in the use of technology in their research studies. Indeed, some form of certification should be a pre-requisite to access/application for research funding. Within academic institutions, the IT service or where there is such a faculty, the ICT faculty may usefully provide such training or provide the skills.

Uses of media other than print media

  • Funding other forms of media distribution opens up the funding opportunities extensively.
  • Audio /visual/graphical forms of presentation should not be seen as subsidiary, secondary or even second rate form of distribution.
  • Paper records endure better and at lower cost than other forms of recording. It is appreciated that long-term storage, archiving and even accessibility to such publications is technically more challenging due to the velocity of change .We see that in a very real way with storage of music on tape or CDs. The quality of music deteriorates more rapidly than it does on vinyl.

Commercial Sponsorship

  • Like it or not commercial sponsorship does have a role and is not incompatible with scholarship to the extent that scholarship will have to be funded increasingly from commercial sources or philanthropic institutions which have their own objectives.
  • What is inherently wrong with commercial sponsorship — after all, public funds comprise extensively of the taxation proceeds of commercial activities?

Redefining/ blurring the distinction between scholarship and interest

  • Funding scholarship for scholarship’s sake started its terminal decline when the opportunities to access higher education was opened to larger number of people and became what some would term “less elitist.” Whether that is right or wrong is not a matter of debate for this paper, but it is an inconvenient truth to some.
  • Scholarship has to make its delivery more attractive and marketable to attract funding. The delivery presentation and delivery media have to be more attractive to the reader/listener or viewer.
  • Scholars have to come to terms with new criteria for assessing research submissions and concede that they will be joined by those who only have a specialist interest in the subject but are better packagers and deliverers of the content.
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Bob McDowall is a former president of the Folkore Society, but is also engaged in the research and analysis of cryptocurrencies and the technology which supports their operation. He is a fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) and is a member of the RAI Finance and Administration Committee.