Note — Feb 28, 2021

Reimagining the Research Lab

Seen in → No.162

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Two posts in the ongoing independent research lab discussion. Tom above with some ideas on backer-based financing, Peter after with public funding.

My quick notes: The lab idea is quite adjacent to the On projects, newsletters, products, and formats post I wrote. While they have a lot in common and there’s overlap, I see two different lines here: the lab thinking and creating products and services (Matt), and the one creating publications (me, Peter, Tom?). The former needs more financing which likely takes it out of the subscriber model Tom mentions. I love the “director as show runner” bit because it makes sense, and also aligns with bits of distributed work, the idea of squads mentioned before, and also aligns with the proven theatre/movie set/circus/building contractor models.

One unresolved tension here is how to mix individual backers with institutional backers. Andy covered his first year’s expenses via a grant from Emergent Ventures for example. This might be a strong argument for a more sophisticated platform than Substack to run the subscriptions through - ideally you’d like some nice way to combine individual backers and institutional backers. […]

This whole idea works because I think there’s a strong analogy between the research director of a research lab and a showrunner / worldbuilder. I’m no expert but I have a hunch that research labs only succeed with a strong willed, opinionated research director at the helm who can steer the vision, create worlds before they’re ready and secure funding.

More → Public interest independent research labs

I think there’s a real and important role to play for publicly funded, but largely independent research labs. These independent, publicly funded research labs could come with various focus areas (design, governance, public interest tech…), with different mission statements. They should probably be staunchly interdisciplinary. And they should share their research and results openly.