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Interim result about the applicability of the selection process

When in April 2008 the call for tenders of the impetus programme Laura Bassi Centres of Expertise began, an innovative and progressive selection process was launched at the same time, based on the insights gained from a survey by the Austrian Society for Environment and Technology (OGUT):

  • The selection process was special because, in addition to a conventional scientific assessment, concepts regarding the Centre’s management as well as the career development of all team members were assessed as well. The concepts were assessed and evaluated by means of the future potential analysis, which was specially developed for the impetus programme’s selection process.
  • The selection process also proved to be innovative and progressive with regard to equal opportunities. To achieve the greatest possible transparency, all selection criteria were disclosed from the start of the call for tenders.
  • Additionally, care was taken to ensure a balanced gender ratio among the experts and jury members.

At the end of June 2009, the two-stage selection process was completed and eight Centres were recommended for funding.

Since the w-fFORTE programme considers itself a learning programme as a well as one that provides stimuli, in the summer of 2011 experts from the FFG, the BMWFJ (Federal Ministry of Economy, Family and Youth) and the BMVIT (Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology) as well as KMU Forschung Austria and Fraunhofer Institute reviewed the work so far as part of the ongoing evaluation. A main subject of discussion at the workshop was the applicability of the selection process to other funding formats within the FFG. The following questions were of substantial importance during the workshop:

  • Which experiences have been gained in the course of the selection process?
  • Which factors must be taken into account when designing a selection process geared to equal opportunities?
  • Which factors must be considered when principles tested in the selection process for the Laura Bassi Centres are to be applied in the scope of other RTI programmes?

A selection process geared to equal opportunities requires transparency

Transparency in selection processes is necessary in order to provide equal conditions for all applicants. The clearer the information pertaining to the tender are formulated, the fewer inquiries are necessary on the part of the applicants. The pertinent information for the applicants thereby becomes more homogeneous. Transparency also means that all dates relevant for a tender are disclosed at the beginning, that the selection criteria are precisely formulated and that the assessment procedure is clearly communicated. It is therefore a matter of course that transparency is a constant that extends over the entire selection process, from the kick-off event at the beginning of the call for tenders to assistance with applications, all tender documents, hearings and jury meetings through to the kick-off event to start the projects.

A selection process geared to equal opportunities requires an authoritative moderator

An essential element of moderating is to take care that in all stages of the selection process applications are discussed in a well-structured manner in line with the defined selection criteria. This serves to avoid arguments that are irrelevant to the programme, i.e. that do not conform to the programme objectives.
A further challenge for moderators is to make sure that the allocated time is observed. This applies to jury meetings as well as hearings. The same amount of time is allotted to all applications at the jury meetings. At the hearings, the moderators must make sure that the applicants do not exceed the predetermined maximum time for a presentation. This is to ensure that all funding applicants are subject to the same conditions.
For these reasons, great importance is attached to moderating in selection processes. It is required that the moderator brief the chairperson of the jury as well as the other jury members accordingly. The role of moderator should therefore be assigned to a person that is very familiar with the objectives of the programme.

A selection process geared to equal opportunities requires a balanced assessment committee

The balance in a selection process concerns, on the one hand, the gender ratio and on the other the allocation of roles on an assessment committee. Appointing a reasonable number of women on assessment committees ensures diversity, which contributes to a plurality of views in the discussions. The roles may be assigned according to subject matter or independent of thematic foci. The allocation of roles serves to ensure that all selection criteria provided for in the selection process are discussed and assessed to the same extent. At the FFG, applications are assessed and evaluated according to the following areas of criteria: relevance of the project with regard to the tender objectives, technical excellence, economic relevance and suitability of the funding applicants. With these criteria in mind, jury members may represent the following expert views:

  • Science & innovation (subject-related role)
  • Economy & innovation (subject-related role)
  • Gender in R&D (role independent of a subject matter)
  • Human potential (role independent of a subject matter)
  • Research management (role independent of a subject matter)

A selection process geared to equal opportunities is only useful when project implementation includes monitoring and target reviews

Monitoring of the funded projects must take into account those objectives that are first stated in the funding application and later evaluated. In order to ensure that the selection criteria are met, the actual consequences in case the targets formulated in the application are not met must be considered critically. For one thing is certain: the best selection process is useless if it fails to examine whether the objectives stated in the application are actually met.
For example, besides information regarding scientific progress, the number of publications, conference attendance, etc., information on the number of scientific staff according to

  • type of employment,
  • age group,
  • income and
  • function

may be provided to check whether targets have been met in the areas of management and personnel development. Such information should be divided into male and female subcategories to comply with the demands of gender monitoring. Obligatory gender budgeting is established in law (Federal Constitutional Act, article 13, paragraph 3). Impact-oriented budgeting, taking the actual equality of women and men into account, will come into effect as of 1 January 2013 (Amendments to the Budget Law Reform, 2nd stage).
Besides quantitative indicators, the review of qualitative indicators is recommended as well. In this context, reviewability should be especially considered from the onset.

It is obvious from the abovementioned information that a selection process geared to equal opportunities does not require a great deal of effort. Care must be taken to ensure that the programme team’s actions are consistent in any case. It seems that, if this is achieved, the type of selection process presented may be applied to other funding formats.