Large Scale Collaborative Funding Bids

Today I attended a training workshop on large-scale funding for projects.  I have built my research career on such projects, but it is never too late to learn and gain from others’ experiences.

Anne Adams (IET):

Tensions – Turning Tension

  • Understand the drivers of the partners
  • Manage expectations
  • Managing cultural differences
    • differences can be enablers
  • Working at the OU is like working at a mini-EU (committee structures, scale, layers, etc.)
  • Learn by mistakes
  • Use processes and support : Trouble shooting
  • Funders can be a useful connection point – use them
  • Check understanding
  • Impact and dissemination from early on – impact and engagement
  • Balancing different objectives – your partners are doing the same

Small Projects

  • More focused objectives
  • Smaller budgets
  • Tighter timeframes
  • Researchers often have to do project management as well

Large Projects

  • Inverse of above but effectively made up of a series of small projects

Managing Time

  • Clear-out bid writing time
  • Co-ordinate multiple objectives
  • Larger projects may have tighter financial restrictions

Managing People

Stakeholders

  • Project partners
  • Outside the project who are they?
  • Involve in writing the bid
  • Involve users
  • Expectations
  • Highlight how stakeholders have been involved in bid writing
  • Shifting timescales
  • OU Catalyst Project – Research School
  • Breakdown what will be available when

Roles

  • Administrators
  • Project manager
  • Researchers
  • Academics as researchers / teachers / communicators

Lines of management

  • Issue of part-time staff
  • Commenting on objectives
  • People are overworked
  • Use e-mail sparingly

KPIs / Partners

  • Co PIs / Partners
    • Institutional differences
    • Cultural differences
    • Tensions from misunderstandings

Manage expectations

  • Competing expectations from a project
    • From partners
    • From funders
    • Your own objectives

Be Brave

  • Proactive in getting key players in the bid who may have a previous funding record with the funders
  • Summary of objectives and ideas early on
  • Leverage OU
    • Scale
    • Contacts
    • Systems and procedures e.g. ethics
    • Management systems
  • Don’t be afraid
    • Change adapt ideas, partners even near deadline
    • Bring in additional partners – mid-project if necessary
  • If lose trust in a partner – deal with it – don’t want a disaster during the project

Turning Tensions Around

  • transferable skills from teaching at the OU
  • Learn to take risks
    • Allow exploration
    • Keep it focus
  • Allow partners to shine

Using people available

  • Colleagues
  • Research school
  • Successful bids

Using Processes

  • Re-use processes
  • Other external projects
  • Get feedback from potential reviewers
  • Funders have resources to support

Share your ideas

  • Share ideas early on – get the project name out there!
    • Leaving it to the end means missing opportunities
  • Share your ideas with your partners
  • Different ways of sharing:
    • Posters
    • Speed dating events
    • Plan to create a video early on
    • Create eBooks
    • Websites / data sharing (in project and public)

John Domingue (KMi):

Why:

  • Funding for staff and the latest equipment and travel
  • Good for CV – funding necessary for promotion to Chair
  • Networking
  • It gives you autonomy

How:

  • Need a great idea for a project – the elevator test – can you sell it in 2 mins
  • The larger the funding the more political
  • In Europe saying the US has it is a seller
  • E.g. “turning the web from one of data into one of services”

Reviews

  • Writing for the reviews – able to give up a week of their time so tend to be good researchers but not the best.  They have to read a lot of bids – make yours stand out
  • Also have to write for the EC Section who select the funded bids
  • Make it something beyond the state-of-the-art
  • Clear, pertinent, transparent

Official Criteria

  • Excellence (threshold 3/5)
  • Impact (threshold 3/5)
  • Quality and Efficiency
    • Plan has to match the idea … if you are going to change the world in X do  the resources to do it?
  • The Consortium – probably counts 50%
    • Do you have the big players?  If not why not?
  • Use the relevant industrial associations if appropriate
  • EU projects is a game – play by the rules
  • Make sure the objective aims of the proposals are aligned with the big partners

Consortium

  • Make sure every partner is playing a specific role
  • Exploitation partners hardest to find – but most important
  • Academics will always come aboard
  • SMEs / Industrial players
  • Leading Research Institutions
  • Balance by Country, region, and type

Process

  • Year to 9 months ahead of deadline meeting of core partners – set forward the core idea
  • Pre-consortium beauty contest
    • Needs to be handled careful
  • E-mails, Skype, etc. to develop the bid
  • Set a small team of people who will write the bid
    • The consortium may well change during the bid writing
  • Talk to the funder

Commission Dialogue

  • Go to Brussels for a day, e.g. an info day
  • Get feedback from the Commission after the call is out
  • Be prepared to radically change the bid in response to feedback
  • Study the Workplan early – before the call is published

Proposal Document

  • Template
  • Stick within page limit
  • Coherent
    • Text
    • Workplan (spreadsheets/ Gantt charts etc.)
    • Risk Management
  • Note – unit heads will have their own goals – how does your project fit?
  • Take into account previous EU projects in State-of-the-Art
  • Use strategic reports from the Commission and others to give background information
  • Typically WPs: Management; 3 Technical WPs, Dissemination and Exploitation
  • Get balance of roles between the partners across the WPs right – balance the effort to match the objectives
  • Impact – who are the authoritative sources?  Quote from key reports e.g. Gartner

Writing the Proposal

  • Small team of good writers (native English speakers), separated away from other work, usually in a shared office – use study leave

Submission

  • The deadline is final!

Networking

  • The difference between a good academic and a good academic with project money is networking
  • Info days
    • Often include networking session to find partners/projects
    • ICT Events (different in different fields)
    • Keynotes invite Commission representative to conferences you organise

Easy way to start

  • Become a project or proposal reviewer
  • The OU is a world leader in Pedagogy – lead training workpackages

Sarah Gray (Research Office)

Research Support

E-mail: Research-Grants-Contracts@open.ac.uk

  • Work closely with faculty administrators
  • Review and approve all external bids (to Leverhulme and UKRCs)
  • Sarah is EU co-ordinator
  • Finding funding opportunities
    • Research.professional.com
    • Current oppertunies page
    • Visit UKRO and register e-mail address
    • National Contact Points in UK.Gov
  • Open calls on WWW page URL: search EU Horizon 2020 Participant Portal

 

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Random Quotes from JISC Digital Festival 2014

Here are a few random quotes I noted down while at the JISC Digital Festival 2014 in Birmingham this week. Apologies for when I didn’t note who said them.

Academics need to stay on top of the analytics movement and not get pushed around by it!
[Anon]

A related to the above:

How does technology get used in research -> What is this new “big data” and what can (can’t) it tell us?
[Prof. David Rowe, Oxford University]

From a different perspective:

Research and Teaching have now diverged at the Universities
[On Twitter]

From the presentation by the originator of the “Hole in the Wall Experiment!:

Children will learn to do what they want to learn to do!
[Sugata Mitra, Prof. Of Educational Technology at Newcastle University]

I will add to these as I review the archived talks that I did not attend which you can do by going to: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/events/jisc-digital-festival-2014-11-mar-2014/expert-speakers

Notes from JISC Digital Festival (Day 1)

I attended the JISC Digital Festival in Birmingham, UK.  This blog post is a set of notes from Day 1 (11-March-2014).

Keynote – Diana Oblinger (CEO Educause)

“Why are we still talking about this digital stuff?”

It is about 25 years since we moved from the analogue world to the world of society, education and work being based on digital computing technologies. But we still use the term “digital” because either we see it as something special or we get concerned about “man vs machine”.  It is not just about digital – it is about demographics. In US only 17% of learners are traditional college students. Many are now studying as adults who may not have previously had a positive educational experience.  This changes what we need from education and “how” we deliver that education.

Engagement

When you are engaged you learn better – leading to the hypothesis that face-to-face is always the best solution. But face-to-face often just presents text on a screen (a board or projector screen). However, digital technologies allow greater interaction between students and between them and data about what they are  investigating. We want to promote deep learning and develop skills through practice.  In these online practice environments not only is there student activity but there is data coming back from the students’ interaction. When have massive amounts of data can begin to realise the long-held goal of personalised learning.  This can lead to adaptive learning systems.

Student Empowerment

There are different types of students.  Two example profiles:

  1. ROI Skeptics – not sure education will be worth the effort; external barriers; lack of vision; juggling work and family etc.
  2. Highly motivated students who always expected a college (university) education

Students need help with their complicated lives to be able them to give education the right priority. Case management – dealing with the student holistically; early alert programmes (for e.g.) have significant and lasting impact. Some students are blissfully unaware that they might be at risk of failing the course. Here lies a potential for learning analytics. However, beyond that teachers need support on how to deliver those messages to the student, e.g. mobile phone text message? (BTW 43 words seems to be about the right length of message.)

Too much choice can be the enemy of student success if they choose courses they are not prepared for or at too high a level for where they are in their studies.  (C.F. consumer choice problems).  Software tools are emerging to address.  Example shown of a tool for students and their advisers as they seek to support them and their choices.

Alternative Models

IT in education can spawn over complexity and disorientation.  Interconnected elements:

  • Mission
  • Market
  • Margin

Part of this is coming from outside our institution – e..g. MOOCs; large-scale commercial educational providers.  Many customers (students) feel they are over-served by the traditional university system. Now a big puss on competency based education – prove you have particular skills irrespective of where you acquired them.  However, current IT systems just focus internally to the educational establishment.

Time is an opportunity cost.  Example “Direct to Degree” from University of Kentucky, enabling students to rapidly acquire a degree and reach their employment goals. If students never go to campus where do you provide their support? Another example from College for America that provides the support in the workplace. Can be low-cost models – e.g. 1 student completed degree in 3 month at cost of $1,350.

There is lots yet to do in the digital environment.  Need to design from the digital and with man & machine not man vs machine in mind.  A great frontier for all of us.

Three questions:

  1. What does it take to exceed expectations in this digital world?
  2. What capabilities (personnel, budget, skill) are required to deliver the value from IT?
  3. How do we optimise for a digital future??? – Answer yet to be told!
Steps and clap board Image credit: http://www.livebinders.com/play/play/759398

Response and Reflections on keynote

Prof. Paul Curren VC at City University

Was in a situation of ailing IT and with many mismatch between demand and supply issues.  (Here the focus is on education not research or admin. but had to address all three). How to develop a personalised experience for the students and enable academic staff to give the support they want to provide?  Further, how do we enhance the educational experience? How can we do this in the context engendering a community experience. City has multiple campuses now.

Trying to achieve a clear vision (2016) of where wanted the university to be.   Investing in academic staff, IT and estate.  Focused on having sector leading IT areas in education.  In 2010/11 large IT service, 142 IT staff, £ 14.6 million budget.  But, very devolved, often software developed in-house and not fully documented and big problems occurred when staff move on.

Formulated a strategic plan with projects each under a PVC.

  • Engaging IT services around the student (e.g. brought in Moodle, Office 365) and organised around the concept of “The One City”.
  • Sourced commodity from external suppliers
  • Now spending less on IT, less staff but more junior staff at the coal-face and less IT managers
  • Standard high quality equipment in the student spaces
  • Listened to what students, staff and professional services members wanted
  • Moved core services to a central base in London

Where are we now?:

  • The student registration system now stabilised
  • Monitor student access to Moodle to check on student engagement (reduced drop out rates)
  • Early initiation to ensure things were scalable and multi-platform (including mobile to enable work while travel)
  • Provided easy access to student records
  • Using the big providers (e.g. SAP) linked to increasing in-house skills
  • IT staff now viewed differently – previously seen around their skill base (e.g. UNIX) – now seen around their relationship management and knowledge of integrating systems

Challenges for staff:

  • Academic staff need to move seamlessly between a “digital” and “real” world – provided a lot of training
  • IT staff – understanding their new role around the user/systems integration – again investment in training
  • Outsourcing and agreeing the boundaries

Conclusions

  • On a journey
  • Downtime reduced
  • Student Satisfaction Scores with IT increased

Martyn’s reflections

The key points that stood out for me from these two linked presentations were:

  1. We need to accept digital as being here and now and move to a “Man & Machine” mindset and not a “Man vs Machine” one
  2. Systems integration is key and outsourced systems are often the cost-effective way to go
  3. IT support staff need to see their role as focussed on the users (students, academics, admin staff, management) not on a particular area of technology that forms the core of their skill set
  4. It’s a ‘win-win’ situation of better services at lower cost that is achievable this way

A personal reflection from me:

The IT systems should be the servants of the educational, support and management processes not the other way round!

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Rolling Project Plans

I have long argued against a fix single baseline in project planning.  Plans need to be updated periodically to reflect changes in the project plan since a proposal and the onward progress measured against the latest version of the plan.  This allows for a more fine tuned management and provokes a healthy revisit to the project plan at strategic points.

Fortunately this was adopted in EU R&D projects a few years back so that in Framework 6 and now 7 projects are required to produce a whole project overview plan and a rolling detailed 18month plan every year.  I find this process very helpful.  We are currently producing the 3rd “Description of Work (DoW)” for the EU4ALL project (http://www.eu4all-project.eu/).  So at month 28 in project we are updating the detailed plan covering months 25-48 (I know this is not exactly a rolling 18month plan but that is how it was worked out with the project review timings and the fact that unusually the project has a 4 year duration).   As the management team in the project we are now adding detail to the plan that would have been impossible to know at the start of the project but that are important for us to measure against from this point forward.

I would compare this situation to iterative development in an R&D cycle.  Here we have: plan; measure against that plan; revise plan; measure against revised plan; repeat ad infinitum or until project end.

Academics often make poor project managers.  I consider myself a good project manager who makes a poor academic!

A few reflections on people management

I fundamentally believe in a model of management that is one of enabling your staff/team members to perform their roles as best they can.  The manager as facilitator.  But boy can that be hard work at times! There are so many interdependent factors where you might seek influence or be responsive to and the outcomes of interventions you make are often so unpredictable. These factors include:

  • Motivations
  • Role definitions and renegotiations
  • Task definition
  • Skills development
  • Making the best use of existing skills
  • Resource distribution both financial and people
  • Work and non-work related issues that impact on performance
  • Vision (both communication and joint development of)
  • etc.

Then across any team you need to be responsive to the diversity of:

  • Communication styles
  • Preferred ways of working
  • Preferred ways of of being managed
  • Personality types
  • etc.

Despite the challenges I hope I never get in the position of managing at the level that is essentially dealing with notional people.  I prefer and believe I am at my best dealing with people as people; as individuals.  One the greatest compliments ever paid to me was by a professor from a European university that had been part of an EU project I had lead back in the 1990s:

“Martyn has the rare ability to both be able to lead a team and be part of that team”

I hope that still remains true.  If my staff read this they are welcome to comment – either way!

OK enough reflection back on with the work.

Martyn