As the product manager of Forte Research Evaluation System (aka EVAL), I spend much of my time reaching out to Forte customers to see how we can address their biggest challenges. About a year ago, an EVAL user told me “It would be great if EVAL had a What if? tool.” When I asked what she meant, she explained that her director often asks “What if we moved this member into that program? How do our numbers look based on that change?” Answering these hypothetical questions was tedious and time-consuming, and a challenge that her center faced again and again.
Other Forte customers described a similar problem. Because the National Cancer Institute (NCI) places such emphasis on collaboration, demonstrating a high degree of collaboration among members is a key element of a successful Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) application. This is done chiefly by highlighting publications with multiple co-author members, ideally across research programs. Programmatic collaboration 101: if you have two members on a publication in the same program, but can justifiably place one of them in a different program, do it! Just be sure to review all of the implications of that move in advance. This “grant-smithing” is what the director in the above scenario was addressing with his/her What if? questions, and reviewing the implications is what made those questions so burdensome for our user.
Solving the membership management problem
Every customer we asked about this faced similar challenges, and most had a similar solution: Excel. Unfortunately, Excel lacks the functionality to easily evaluate the implications of moving members across programs; it mostly just replicates the painstaking, manual process, but in spreadsheet form.
Interestingly, the most effective approach we heard was to put every member’s info on index cards, lay them out on a surface, and manually add them up. This process allows staff to see a visual representation of all center members, move them around, and rearrange them over and over. The fun ends, however, when the team needs to calculate the changes to high-impact publications, inter- and intra-collaborative publications and grants. To do this, they had to resort to their previous manual methods.
The solution: Member Scenarios
One thing that stood out to us immediately was that the tedious part of this process—crunching the numbers over and over—is something computers can do easily. We set out to solve this problem with EVAL and I’m happy to say that, with the help of our customers, we’ve reached our goal. We’ve developed a tool that puts all of your membership onscreen for you to drag, drop, and watch the numbers change in real time. You can view summary and breakdown data, see “the deltas” (e.g. what has changed), save, share and return to scenarios, all in a hypothetical sandbox. When you’re ready, click a button and that scenario becomes a reality in EVAL. We’re calling this tool Member Scenarios, and we hope it will be a valuable solution to the membership management challenge.
We’re excited to share this new feature with you. To find out more about Member Scenarios and EVAL, you can attend our upcoming EVAL Open Demo on Tuesday February 20 at 1:00pm Central Time, or come find me for an in-person demonstration at the CCAF / CCAF-IT conference, March 18-20 in Portland, Oregon .