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Thoughts on the Elevator

The JISC have been running an experimental funding system known as the JISC Elevator.  The introduction on the site’s homepage describes the concept well:

JISC elevator is a new way to find and fund innovative ways to use technology to improve universities and colleges. Anyone employed in UK higher or further education can submit an idea. If your idea proves popular then JISC will consider it for funding. The elevator is for small, practical projects with up to £10,000 available for successful ideas. So if you have a brainwave, why not pitch it on the elevator?

A small team of us from the University of Edinburgh Digital Library submitted a proposal: The Open Access Index #oaindex.  The video submission is shown below…

I’ve previously blogged about the experience of creating this submission.  This post however contains a few observations about the Elevator concept, and the proposals that have been submitted.

First off – I’m a big fan of this system for a number of reasons:

  • It gave us an avenue to submit this type of proposal for a small amount of funding (only a few thousand pounds)
  • It provided us with a public platform and forum to socialise and discuss the idea
  • It adds a more open peer review stage to the process
  • It could encourage proposals from first-time bidders (although the public nature of it might put some people off?)

It will be interesting to see if or how the concept evolves overtime.  Last week I got to chat about this with Andy Mcgregor the JISC Programme Manager in charge of this, and Owen Stephens.  A few ideas that arose include:

  • Restrict the number of votes that any one person can place – make voters think harder about which ideas are most worthy of funding as there is only a limited number of projects that can be funded
  • Perhaps allocate each voter a set of votes or mock money or shares – they decide how they invest them across the proposals (all to one great idea, or spread across a few)
  • Be more transparent about the funding each project has requested and who has voted

I’ve been following the different ideas as they’ve been submitted, and a few trends have surprised me.

The first relates to the funding band that the proposal falls into.  There are three funding bands: up to £2,500, up to £5,000, and up to £10,000.  There is a total of £30,000 being made available to fund some of the submissions.  I can’t tell what band the proposals that have already received enough votes for fall into, but for those that are still collecting votes, the breakdown is as follows:

I was surprised at the number that requested the full £10,000.  Of course, it could be that those in the ‘unknown’ category (those which  have already received the number of votes they require) are all in the lower bands, therefore require fewer votes, and are there now fully voted for.  When pitching an idea, I always consider the amount of money available, and therefore the likelihood of receiving a given share of that money.  In this case, due to the very limited funding, we chose to submit a proposal in the lowest band to (hopefully) increase our chances.

The second aspect of the submissions that struck me was the domain to which the submission relates. I’ve split these up into three very broad (and arguably very bad) categories: Learning (students / learning enhancement), IT (systems, development) and Library (materials, metrics).

The ‘education’ category received by far the most submissions, with IT and Library lagging far behind.  Indeed our #oaindex proposal seems to be the only one in the library domain.  Why is this?  Perhaps the amounts available are much lower in the IT and Library domains than we are used to bidding for?  Perhaps there are less opportunities for funding in the education domain?  Are those in the education domain better at seizing these new and innovative funding opportunities than those in the library or IT domain?  Discuss…!

When we created our video, we ensured that we mentioned who we were and which institution we worked for.  However it didn’t cross our minds to include any sort of branding in our submission.  I only thought of this when watching some of the others.

We were not alone, only a few included some.  Did we miss an opportunity here, or is the brand somewhat irrelevant to the format of submitting elevator pitches: should voters be influenced by the idea more than by the host institution?

Our submission took the format of ideas being drawn on a whiteboard, with a voice-over in the background.  I’ll openly admit that this was because none of us really wanted to stand in front of a camera for 3 minutes.  Given how much we laughed during the simple voice recording, I think doing this in front of the camera would have taken even longer.  Sorry – we didn’t keep the out-takes!!!

Voting for the proposals ends in a few days, and I’m looking forward to seeing which get funded, which don’t get enough votes, and whether or not the concept continues.  But the scheme certainly gets my vote for the periodic allocation of small amounts of funding for great ideas!

[ The data that I’ve collected on the proposals can be seen at: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AgXAkDGxqBWYdHR1c0l6Uzk5aDFfQzlaM0ZtV04wcVE I’d be happy to receive updates or corrections.]racer games

A tale of two bids

This is a tale of two bids; two recent JISC bids to be precise.  One submitted via the  ‘traditional’ route, and one via the experimental ‘Elevator‘ route.  This blog post is a brief reflection of my thoughts about these, and a comparison of the experience, in particular comparing the effort involved.

First, I should provide a brief explanation of the two routes:

  • The ‘traditional’ route: Traditionally JISC requires bid proposals to be submitted as text documents, usually in the range of 6 to 12 pages.  These include cover sheets, budgets, benefits and risks, a bit about the people involved, and of course an explanation of the problem that will be investigated.  On top of that, there are letters of support and FOI checklists.  As part of the recent JISC Digital Infrastructure call, we submitted a couple of bids.  What we bid for is somewhat irrelevant, but I will disclose that the two bids we submitted were requesting funding of approx £30,000 each.  These proposals will now be marked by internal and external markers, followed by a panel decision.
  • The Elevator route: JISC are currently running an experimental funding stream, known as the JISC Elevator.  The idea is that proposals should be lightweight, consisting of a brief video presentation, along with a few words.  No budgets, no letters of support, no FOI statements – just an elevator pitch about the idea.  This is the first difference.  The second difference is that ‘the crowd’, which in this case consists of anyone with a .ac.uk email address, are allowed to vote on which projects should be considered for funding.  Any that get enough votes will go forward for consideration by a panel.  The number of votes required are proportional to the amount requested, with three bands being up to £2,500, up to £5,000, and up to £10,000.  We pitched at the bottom end of this scale, meaning that we required 50 votes (which we received in less than 24 hours).

I’ll openly admit that the traditional route is often stressful.  It takes around about 1 week of effort (full time), usually spread over 3 or 4 weeks.  The final days tend to get quite frantic as everything is pulled together, we go through internal reviews and consents, seek letters of support, and pull the bid together for final submission.

In comparison, our pitch for the elevator took about half a day – an hour to refine the idea and seek approval, an hour to write a script, an hour to record the voices, an hour to make the video, and a few minutes to upload it.

The feeling at the end of the elevator process was markedly different to the end of the traditional process – and this felt good.  However, when you look at the sums (adjusted slightly to make the numbers easier)…

Elevator: 1/2 day = £3,000 potential funding
Traditional: 5 days = £30,000 potential funding

So the actual potential return per hour invested in bid writing is the same!

However if I extrapolate this to other bids I have written in the past, some of which have been for higher amounts, the trend does not seem to continue in a linear fashion.

My personal experience (your mileage may vary – it would be good to compare notes!), is that bids in the range of thirty to perhaps two hundred thousand, take a similar amount of time:  a week or so for a primary proposal author, and various time commitments from other parties.  But bids above this amount then start taking longer again, as project complexities, often around collaboration and external involvement kick in.

What can I conclude from this?  I’m not sure really!  Feel free to draw your own conclusions and to make comparisons with your own experience.

What I can say, is that we enjoyed the process of making, submitting, and then publicising our elevator pitch.  We felt that we had more freedom to be inventive with our interpretation of the submission requirements, and felt quite refreshed at the end of the process, rather than frazzled!

Now we await the outcomes of both…сколько стоит раскрутка сайта