Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ask me for money

As an arts council, we have to decide on how much funding to give each project. There are theoretically many different ways we could do this. Even if just one person were making the funding decisions, do you try to spread your funding among as many projects as possible or focus on giving more support to better projects? Do you strictly rank all projects by various criteria, or just put them in buckets of good, better, best? If two similar projects ask for different amounts of money, do you give more money to the project that asked for more money (since they asked for more) or equal amounts (since they are similar projects) or more money to the project that asked for less money (since that project is more efficient or is more likely to happen)?

Each of us can individually make these decisions, but how do we make them as a council of 5 to 22 people? Do we each make our own allocations of the complete budget and then average those allocations? If a majority of the council agrees on a particular level of funding for a particular project, should they just vote to allocate that amount and then let us move on to the remaining projects and the remaining money? Should we assign $15,000 of the funding through an averaged allocation (the first approach), and then allow each council member to allocate $500 of funding? I like variations on this last idea because it makes it more meaningful that each individual person is on the council, and allows a project to be fully funded if a few council members feel strongly about supporting that particular project. On the other hand, the first approach allows a few council members who feel strongly that a particular project should not be funded to reduce the amount of funding that the project receives.

As a further complication, how do we deal with conflicts of interest, since one or two council members may not be allowed to vote on particular grants? And how do we ensure that we meet our guidelines of floors and caps on particular types of grants?

We need a process that is comprehensible, easy to implement, doesn’t require endless rounds of voting, and keeps each council member feeling that their voice matters in the process. Opinions are very welcome.


ruthling said...

some ideas:
first apply some level of administrative completeness/reasonableness

Then, one option is just to sit down and talk it out until you have some sort of consensus. This would be very time consuming but it might be a valuable exercise in that the group will have to understand each proposal. Conflicts of interest would have to be disclosed and then worked around.

the sort of standard contracting way to do it would be to make up a weighted list of criteria which every valid proposal would be measured against and then have everyone rate every project (except those they have a conflict of interest with), average the scores, and then start funding from the top, or use the scores to designate a list of finalists and talk them out from there. This has the advantages of a) forcing you to discuss priorities ahead of time to make the weighted sheet and b) the sheet is useful to justify what you did, and also can be reused. the disadvantage is that you could end up with a lot of similar things.

you could also just give each person a "share" of the money and have them choose some stuff, and wheel and deal on the extras.

Or make a list of categories you want to fund some of, and then use some of the above techniques to pick one or more in each.

I'd love to know what you wind up doing.

ruthling said...

also, if you use monopoly money, that might be very amusing.

Michael said...

Monopoly money! Excellent!

What we did last year was figure out the average percentage of the requested amount that we could fund, funded everything that qualified, and adjusted up or down from the average percentage depending on how well we felt each proposal met various criteria. On each proposal, we took a rough average of what each person recommended as a funding level, and when that totaled up to more than our budget, we cut down individual amounts one at a time.

I like the idea of scoring the proposals. We thought about doing that last year, but the scoring system that was passed around was far too complicated. A simpler scoring system might fly. But then we have to figure out how to use the scoring to affect our allocations, since we’re balancing grant amounts instead of fully funding from the top until we run out of money.

irilyth said...

Just to suggest the exact opposite of Ruth's idea: Appoint someone to the role of Proposer (or, if you like, Tyrant), whose job is to talk to people (individually or in groups, as they prefer), and then propose allocations for a simple up-or-down vote. This person gets a lot of power, but a lot of responsibility. It works well if only a few people are interested in that much power and responsibility, and the rest are happy to have some input but mostly just want to be part of the process.

This is how a lot of social groups work in practice: A few people who are good at reading the mood of the group and being decisive make suggestions, and everyone says "huh, yeah, that sounds good" and goes along with it. The Arts Council isn't exactly a social group, but it might work the same way. (Or it might not -- depends a lot on the people, I suspect.)