Blog 4: When You’re Making an Investment/R&D Decision, Know Your Criteria

[This is the 4th blog in the series on ‘Exploring Government R&D Program Fundamentals’. Visit Blog 1: Keys to a Successful R&D Program, Blog 2: Setting R&D Program Goals & Principles, and Blog 3: Establish a Stakeholder Input Process] Last time I checked, there weren’t too many government agencies, Federal, State, or local, with an unlimited budget to spend on R&D efforts. And since there are far more R&D ideas than money to spend on those ideas, it is critical to establish criteria to help identify the right R&D initiatives.

Well-defined, properly established criteria will help you not simply separate the good R&D ideas from the bad, but parse out the worthy R&D ideas from those that will be truly impactful or even transformative.

If you’ve been following along in our series on running effective R&D programs, you will remember that Step 1 is “Set R&D Program Goals & Principles”. If you’ve skipped that step, to use an old phrase from the board game ‘Monopoly’, “do not pass go, do not collect $200.” Without properly established goals and principles, you won’t be able to determine if the criteria you develop actually support your program and help identify the right R&D initiatives. Assuming you did establish program goals and principles, you will be able to accurately evaluate how your criterion supports your programs goals and principles.

Criterion for evaluating R&D program ideas shouldn’t be developed in a vacuum. Similar to the advice laid out in the last R&D series blog, “Establish a Stakeholder Input Process”, where we discussed how a cross-disciplinary stakeholder base will create the most comprehensive R&D project ideas, both internal and external stakeholders should be engaged in the development of criteria. The perspective that each stakeholder brings will ensure your criteria reflect the unique needs that your R&D programs must meet. For example, state and local government officials such as CIOs and CTOs may have a very different list of criteria than your target end users and customers. Both are important stakeholders in your process and their input on criteria will help ensure all needs are thoroughly considered.

Vetting R&D concepts with criteria also forces you to ask the tough questions which will protect your limited budget from being spent on someone’s pet project, or pursuing some pipe dream that has little to no chance of becoming reality, regardless of how much money may be thrown its way.

One last bit of food for thought; not all criteria are created equal. While there may be instances where all criteria should be considered with equal importance, it more likely will be necessary to establish a weighting factor for each criterion. For example, how much more important might Cost be than Feasibility, or visa versa when considering R&D project ideas? This weighting again should be established using input from internal and external stakeholders. Taking the time to establish this weighting can provide the additional clarity and logic needed when investing in one R&D project over another.

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