An Excellent Choice

Life’s full of decisions, some of them more important than others. But what makes a choice excellent?

I think some of the most difficult choices I face are the ones I make as member of funding advisory committees. As member of the Venture Cup West jury, I decide which business plan gets a prize that entails both money and recognition that will help turning the plan into a start-up company. The winner will hopefully inspire others to become entrepreneurs. My job on the funding advisory committee for the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems is to select those research groups that will become VINN Excellence Centers. By long-term funding we hope to create stable environments that will attract even more funding as well as really bright people, and of course develop some really interesting and useful results that will make sure Sweden continues to be a prosperous country. The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research has similar ambitions, where I’m the chairman of the advisory committee for the “Program Intensive Systems” programme.

There are more difficult choices entailed than “just” selecting the winners. These involve the design of the selection process. Who and how many should be on the jury? How often should they meet? What selection criteria should be used and how can these be made simple but not too blunt? How should the rules be communicated? Should resources be spent on educating the applicants in order to raise the quality of the submissions? Should a portfolio model be used in the selection process?

I think perhaps the most important aspect of this kind of work is to ensure there is a continuous learning among all the people involved in the process, so it can be improved each round. This is why it is important to create statistics that show distribution according to for example gender, age, area, organisation and geography in order to reveal any systematic inaccuracies. I also wish that the applications should be published afterwards and workshops be held with discussions on what constitutes a really good submission.

Google has made some tough decisions through its ten years existence. Now they are facing some more difficult choices in their 10100 project. In this competition anyone who has an idea concerning how to improve the world in terms of energy, environment, healthcare, education, communities and families are welcome to submit them at www.project10tothe100.com. The competition is open until October 20 and a team from Google will select a 100 promising ideas. Everybody can then vote. From the 20 most popular projects, an advisory board will select the five projects that will share the 10 million dollars has set aside to implement the ideas.

Those of you who would like to contribute to sustainable development in other ways could look into the company MYC4 who provides micro-credits to entrepreneurs in Africa. A network of local providers screen the people who would like to obtain a loan and local lenders handle the financial transactions. The bidding process is based on a Dutch auction principle, which basically means that the more investors interested in investing, the more favourable the terms the African business will get.

Another way is to donate money to organisations such as Hand-In-Hand who educates women in India, South Africa and Afghanistan on how to read, write, run a business and act as micro credit banks. Then they themselves make the tough decisions on who’s going to get a loan to expand their business.

Maybe I should benchmark against these organisations regarding how to design efficient selection processes?

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