Monday, July 26, 2010

Let's be innovative

Many awards and funding schemes in areas like women in STEM or STEM outreach include in their criteria that a project should be innovative. They will usually also require that the project should be evaluated in order to show that it is effective. Then, of course, it can no longer be funded, however effective it may have been shown to be, because it is no longer innovative. Unless, perhaps, adopting a practice because it has been shown to be effective is itself a novel idea and hence innovative. It makes sense to have funding that is targetted at innovative projects if mainstream funding favours projects which follow accepted or demonstrated best practice. It also makes sense to fund innovative projects if it is recognized that current best practice could be improved. If there is no source of mainstream funding in an area then it makes no sense at all to demand that projects be innovative and that they be evaluated to demonstrate their effectiveness and then have no way of continuing or building on the progress already achieved. I suppose from a funder's point of view having a pointless criterion helps reduce the number of proposals to consider. The downside is that much time and effort is expended by proposers on finding new angles so their proposals will be innovative that might have been better focussed on being effective. I suppose if you are making an award for outreach then 'We copied what they did in a neighbouring county because it seemed to work pretty well' might seem a bit feeble. When it comes to awards for improving the representation of women in STEM then I would prefer efficacy over innovation. For example, the 'Top Tips' [see the Athena SWAN website] for making an application for an Athena SWAN award contain the advice
'… make sure that you include policies and programmes that are innovative and different. That way, we are more likely to use them and publicise your achievements.'
I don't care whether policies and programmes are innovative and different and I care even less whether they can be used in SWAN Awards publicity. What does matter to me is whether or not they work

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