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Brave New Jisc

(Chris Gutteridge)

I’m also at the Jisc dataspring sandpit. This set of project funding has several experimental innovations from Jisc and I want to put some of my thoughts down about how they are working.

Innovation one: These projects were formed out of a workshop with a lot of opportunity for feedback and similar ideas to be merged into a single stronger proposal. The proposals were turned into posters and then the attendees at the workshop used sticky stars to indicate projects they supported. After this there was a day of formal pitches.

Innovation two: The funding is broken into phases and the projects must justify their continutation at each step. The current event is 3 months in and the projects are spent the first day doing a show and tell with questions, and today is a pitch to judges for their continued funding.


I think that it’s important for Jisc to change up as in it’s previous life as JISC it had a reputation for funding quite a few turkeys. Projects which didn’t actually produce something of value for the community in return for the money given. Don’t get me wrong, they also funded some gems, but there was a clear need to change the rules to improve the value delivered.

I felt both the innovations were a good idea in theory, but in practice I’m not sure the second is working in it’s initial form.

The first workshop was a very new experience and the resulting projects are much stronger than usual. To be more specific, there’s no obvious lame ducks that got lucky, and the community of projects has a much better picture than usual about what each other are doing and why it is worthwhile. It was also helpful to show poorly received projects that they had failed to engage the room and gave the funders a clear idea of what the community felt was worthwhile.

The expectation of a life-or-death review at 3 months has put a rocket up the bottom of all the projects and many already have active github repositories and demonstrators.

However, the 3 month review event is not making me so happy. It’s costing a good amount of time and effort, and people are not as collaborative as they normally would be at a Jisc event. The pitches on day two are not an update, they are a plea for survival and so people are putting the focus into that rather than talking with each other.

Yesterday afternoon went quite poorly. The idea was projects would give an update with time after for questions, but the venue was bad. I couldn’t hear much of what was said and many people just did an update without a chance for questions, at which point I’m not clear what the value is. The first day should have been friendly and collaborative but someone in Jisc sent the full force of their comms team to film and photograph and this made people uncomfortable. It would have been find for a ‘see our cool stuff show and tell’ event like Dev8D or Digifest, but was inapproprate for talks where the theme is ‘please can you give us any ideas to justify keeping getting paid’. The comms staff were just following orders, and apparently eventually took their shoes off to try to minimise disription, but ultimately they caused a fair bit of harm and whoever at Jisc comms dispatched them needs to tone it down for such stressful situations.

Many people had an early night, or went to their room to polish their pitch. This meant there was a bit less of the after-dinner chats than usual, and people who did socialise fragmented around 9pm which was a pity

Today each team pitches why they should get contination funding and there’s too much information for the audience to absorb and it’s primarily for the 4 judges, but taking up the time of 100 other people who are sitting in silence hearing information they heard mostly yesterday.

I really did like it when one of the judges mentioned that he’s been noticing the amount of commits on github. That’s a pretty solid metric for projects which are intended to produce infrastructure not just documents.

Suggestions for the future

Don’t make people go through a second round of dragons den style justification. Do have deliverables that if not delivered will get funding cut, maybe a video or blogpost with the same content, but the times are so short that these projects can only be done by permenant staff and permanant staff already have a day job.

Don’t force everyone to sit in on a day of pitches. Jisc would get more value if the people in the room were talking to each other and getting ideas and feedback.

Don’t record any talk which is designed to get feedback rather than to inform. It is intimidating.

Ensure that people arrive promptly to sessions with a tight turnaround. People coming in late was very disruptive. Give a brief at the start of what the audience are there to do — the room is full of experts who could help, but it would be helpful for the chair to provide a frame of what feedback they could be giving.

Not everybody knows how to project their voice — provide mics.

Don’t ever use the rooms at Imperial we used yesterday. The doors bang and don’t auto shut, reaching the second room meant crossing the first room banging two doors. The floor echoed very badly and the columns meant it was hard to see and hear.

Timings on sessions with 5 talks in an hour needed to be strictly timed and the chance for discussion is essential otherwise why did we all come to London rather than just record a youtube vid?


Overall I think the fact that Jisc is mixing it up and trying new approaches is absolutely appropriate and is bound to have mixed results. The aim of this blog post is not to complain or grump, but rather to provide what I hope will be useful feedback.

All in all I feel that Jisc is back on track after the massive cuts and refocus they were forced to and I am optimistic about their future work.

Posted in Events, Jisc, Research Data.

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