The history of calls for proposals and the responses
The availability of funds was announced in a series of annual 'calls for proposals'. After the first call, we had, in principle, an 'open' call so that submissions could be made at any time. However, the logistics of refereeing and convening of selection panels mean that, realistically, proposals must be bunched. This leads back to having annual calls with deadlines by which proposals must be submitted to make it into a particular bunch. For the second call we could take just one bunch, a year after the first, but for the third call we managed to accommodate two deadlines, and two panel meetings, so those who did not want to wait a whole year from the previous deadline could submit sooner.
For the first call, which closed October 15th 1998, we had been very open, and had encouraged a broad spread of proposals. In the event we attracted over 30 proposals seeking £18M of funding. (£4.5M was available in this year.) However, few proposals addressed the specific requirements of the programme, and only five proposals were accepted for funding. (Not all the available funds were committed.)
Two or three of the proposals were so bad that a 'word in the ear' of their authors led to their withdrawal. All the remainder were refereed and put to a specially selected panel. Of these remaining proposals, about one third were seriously deficient in that their authors appear not to have read the aims of the initiative. A further third were well-intentioned with respect to the aims of the initiative, but deficient with respect to the published criteria for proposals. Half the remainder were accepted, and the other half encouraged to resubmit after addressing various specific weaknesses in their proposals.
It is important to understand that the panel took the view that well-written proposals from groups with established reputations will not be accepted if they are not in line with the aims of the initiative. In order to convince future panels that this is the case, future proposers should pay very serious attention to the criteria as expressed in the call and to the additional guidance. Do not waste your time and the panel's with sophistry.
After the first call, on May 14th 1999, we held a 'community workshop'. A summary of that Workshop and the gist of the discussion there is available. Presentations from the five successful projects in the first call were given and downloadable copies of the slide sets are available (see project synopses).
The second call closed October 15th 1999 and the panel meeting was held on the 3rd February 2000. During the year since the first panel meeting, I had discussed 56 serious (to varying degrees) ideas for proposals. Given the experience of the first call, and now having a better idea of what we sought, we decided to be more directive, and to try to filter out no-hopers early, to avoid proposers wasting considerable time on proposals which would fail. In the event we received 19 proper full proposals, plus 2 proposals for feasibility studies (actually more like project definition studies as understood by industry). (We also received 2 proposals which were so utterly 'non-compliant' with the requirements of the programme that we did not put them to referees.)
The balance was better in this 2nd call. Categorisation is difficult, but simplistically, 11 proposals came from the manufacturing engineering community, including business process and supply chain, 9 from the IT&CS community, and 2 from the business school' (ESRC) community - with several inter-community proposals. However, this is an extremely crude characterisation, since the trend is to information and its role in organisational/supply-chain integration, with a couple of projects using novel IT solutions (like autonomous agents) in engineering applications.
The average quality of submissions was also significantly better than in the first call. The panel looked first for an interesting idea and research which is grounded in real industrial or commercial needs. The panel recommended support for 10 projects, valued at over £5M, including the 2 feasibility studies, and additional funds had to be sought. (Contrast this with the first call in which, given the generally low quality of proposals, only half the available funds were committed.)
Third call - part one
This call was the first with two deadlines in the year (officially one call with two closing dates). The first close of the call would, logically, have been at the end of April 2000. However, because of administrative logistics, the call closure had to be set at the end of June. Even given that date, there was some difficulty in conveying to the community the fact that there would be this intermediate call. Partly because of this difficulty, and partly because of the academic workload at that time of year, we received only a few submissions - seven in all.
I had maintained the fairly tough line we established during the previous call and had been firm in trying to dissuade proposers who really did not stand a chance. So the average quality should have been reasonable. On the other hand, one proposal came as a surprise and I was perhaps wrong to encourage another. I had also tried to encourage interesting research. This has proved difficult (!) and, where successful the consequence is almost inevitable plans which are less clear and more tenuous routes to exploitation. Where possible I had encouraged proposers to mitigate the risk through feasibility studies.
The 7 submissions were a mixed bag - 2 sizeable 'full' proposals and 2 rather small full proposals, a feasibility study, a one-year 'Phase 1', and a network. In the event, the panel agreed to support 4 projects. Only 1 of these was a 'full' project, but 2 of the other proposing teams were encouraged to revise and resubmit.
Third call - part two
By October 31st, 2000, we had received 17 further proposals, including 3 feasiblity studies. In addition the 2 from the previous close which had been encouraged to resubmit had done so. A few of these proposals again were submitted without seeking advice - and it showed.
The breadth of scope was even more interesting, with projects tackling systems aspects of organisations and organisational culture, the use of information systems to support democratic policy-making, and systemic approaches to mergers and acquisitions, as well as more 'traditional' engineering approaches to integration through integrated engineering models.
The panel met on March 1st 2001 and the 10 selected projects have been added to the project summary.
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