Friday, October 13, 2006

Marsden Fund Selection Process

I've been busy with other things lately so I didn't think the Marsden Fund selection controversy had been such a big deal - it looks to be following best practice and shining a light onto funding bodies and their processes occassionally is a Good Thing.
The process is described in this week's email alert and is copied below (formatting mine)

Royal Society Alert - Issue 444
Latest Alert can be read by Royal Society members on the web:


1. Conflicts of Interest in the Marsden Fund: Process, Panellists and Projects
Comment by Marsden Fund Deputy Manager, Dr Peter Gilberd
Rules on conflicts of interest are taken very seriously by the Marsden
Fund. All panellists have to declare all of their conflicts, in writing,
ranging from minor (e.g. an applicant works in the same department as a
panellist) to major (e.g. the panellist or a close relative is an
applicant), and the Fund has processes in place to manage these.

At the first round, proposals are graded independently by panellists and
scores are submitted prior to the meeting. Conflicted panellists do not
grade their own proposal. The unconflicted proposals are discussed first by
all panellists and placed in a ranked order. Minor grade changes normally
accompany this discussion. The cut-off for the second round is then
decided, and remains fixed, irrespective of the fate of any conflicted
proposals. That is, no proposal is denied an invitation to the second round
because of a conflict.
Sounds good, definitely best practice here. Only thing i could possible add is to strip the names and organisations completely from the application and replace with a serial number. Let the proposal do the talking and all that.

Panellists with a major conflict must in turn step off the panel and leave
the room. Their proposal and its relationship to the overall rankings for
all proposals to the panel is then discussed. The remaining panellists then
recommend on that proposal to the Council via the panel chair. Conflicted
panellists do not see their grades and do not find out the fate of their
application until all other applicants are advised of their result.

Two independent observers, the Chair of the Council and the Fund Manager,
are present at all times to ensure that the process is followed and that no
bias is introduced into any aspect of the assessment. Their particular task
is to monitor scoring patterns and verbal contributions of conflicted
panellists in setting the original ranked order. These matters are frankly
discussed once any conflicted panellist steps off the panel. This ensures
that there is no opportunity whatsoever for the panellists who are
applicants to influence the outcome of their own application.

The second round is carried out on similar lines, except that the
panellists have the benefit of reports from 3 top international researchers
and the applicant's response to the referees' reports.
Great. Absolutely agree on bringing in some international review, we want to make sure we're keeping up with best practice.

Panellists (and referees) donate large amounts of time to peer review
because they believe it makes for better research. Their contribution is
highly valued by the Marsden Fund, which has no doubt about the integrity
they bring to the task.

Although the Marsden Fund Council had already decided that it will need to
ask Australian researchers to sit on panels, it is very mindful that
researchers based in Australia cannot apply to the Fund. They will need to
be paid for their time as well as their travel as they cannot be expected
to donate these to help our system. The main concern of the Council is to
maximise the amount of the Fund spent actually doing the research rather
than just in deciding who should do it.
Absolutely. Accessing some brains from the 20 odd million people next door would seem common sense and of course you'd need to pay for their time.
Elements of society have often ridiculed people with new ideas and this has been seen in the current debate. However, project selection is a matter for experts. So far, the experience with Marsden is that they get it right.
... WTF !!!???
Who the hell are 'Elements of society' ? are the terrorzits at it again with their planes and panel stacking jihads? 'Ridicule' means what exactly? Does disagreement mean ridicule? Is calling a hydrogen economy the stupidest idea proposed since Dr. Hoffmann of Stuttgart's medical leech farming business count as ridicule? Oh the 'experts' are right are they? and all of us great unwashed should just shut up and let their betters get on with it? What the hell kind of response is that? Just how do you measure that success huh? I'd like to see the report you have up your sleeve showing NZ R&D to be powering upward at a stumpendous rate of knots compared to Australia, Singapore, Sweden and Ireland.

Someone gives your panel's procedures a bit of a stress test and your first response is to call them stupid and tell them that the experts are taking care of it - the correct response here is, and let me type really slowly, outline your procedures in detail, be open and honest about how projects are funded and don't , i repeat don't, get dragged into a mud slinging contest. You can't win that game and you shouldn't even be playing it.

It's taxpayer money your splashing around, not some private fiefdom, and you deserve to be put through the wringer every now and again just like every other government funded organisation.


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