Is it a good thing that my favourite idea on JISC Elevator has the least votes?

JISC Elevator, JISC’s experiment with letting the crowd decide which projects should be funded, is a couple of weeks old now. There are 4 ideas on there and my favourite of those added so far, code.ac.uk: A Bounty Hunt, has the fewest votes. Is this a cause for concern or does it just mean the Elevator is working?

As a JISC programme manager I am used to evaluating project ideas and to my opinions having an influence on what projects get funded. This is one of the great privileges of the job and it is something my colleagues and I take extremely seriously. With that in mind, I don’t mind admitting being a little disconcerted to find the idea that I like the most is so far proving the least popular on Elevator. However, despite this being disconcerting I think that this is a sign that JISC elevator is working.

The purpose of JISC Elevator is to offer a new avenue for funding projects to complement our existing processes, one that is demand led and closely linked to what people in colleges and universities need and want. In my experience at JISC, innovation programmes work well when they manage to balance top down drivers for change linked to strategic aims with bottom up development driven by innovators working closely with users. At JISC we already use existing funding methods to fund both of these types of innovation. However, I think that one thing that is very difficult to show in a proposal for JISC funding is that there is demand for a project’s deliverables. This is where elevator comes in. That is the first hurdle that bidders need to overcome. If demand can’t be demonstrated through voting then the idea will not be considered. And votes need to come from more than one institution so this should show that the idea has the potential to benefit a number of institutions and therefore offer good value for money on the JISC investment. So, in theory, my opinion as a JISC programme manager about what should be funded is of little relevance in this model. What people in universities and colleges want is the yardstick for success. This leaves me free to concentrate on ensuring that what is produced is delivered in a way that benefits as much of the sector as possible and ensuring that lessons learned during the project are communicated in a way that enables others to follow in a project’s footsteps (or just as valuably, avoid pathways that prove to be unproductive).

As I said, we’re 2 weeks into the experiment with Elevator and I’ve been very impressed with the ideas so far. All of them have been pitched very clearly, all of them will be useful to multiple institutions and all of them have had clear deliverables and benefits to people in universities and colleges. I have also been surprised at the speed of the votes. Educational Egaming at the time of writing has 91% of the 150 votes it needs to be considered for funding. It has been live for less than 48 hours! I’ve also been pleased to see that the votes are coming from a range of institutions. To pick on Educational Egaming again votes so far have been cast from 25 different institutions, far exceeding the target of 7 we set.

Aside: the metrics I can get from Elevator have been my favourite thing about the pilot so far, it adds a whole new dimension to evaluating ideas and I think that the metrics may be a very useful side benefit for thinking about and planning JISC innovation.

There are still 31 days to go for the pilot so there is plenty of time to get your ideas in and get people voting on them. I am excited to see what else gets added. We have suggested some areas where we think projects would be interesting and I am particularly hoping we get some ideas for student led projects. Of course, as the last 2 weeks have shown, one of the refreshing things about this approach to funding is that my opinion doesn’t matter a whole lot. So feel free to ignore those recommendations and plough your own furrow. The crowd are your markers now.