Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What makes a good plan?

Having spent quite a bit of last weekend having to write a research plan, I've gone back to the question of “what makes a good plan?”. I think there are two principles that identify the best plans … I wonder how well mine measures up?
  • You should be able to summarise it on the back of a postcard, or in a 30 second soundbite. That probably means that there are three or four key points, rather than thirteen or fourteen, or even thirty or forty.
  • The real decisions in the plan are those whose negation would be a sensible choice. So, saying that we choose to do the best possible research, or that we aim to publish in the highest quality journals, are pretty much content free … what plan would aim not to do those things?
So, how would I summarise the research plan in three points?
  • Aim to increase research funding by 30% over three years … a modest aim, but one where we could perfectly well fail if we didn't work to achieve it.
  • Set up a formal industrial panel … in the last decade or so we've dealt with industrial input on an ad hoc basis (apart from the Kent IT Clinic advisory group) … it's time to try to get more synergy with a group of stakeholders: industrialists, educators and alumni.
  • Make sure that we have enough space to house researchers, equipment and so on … this is a real problem at our Medway campus, and will harm our research unless we're able to get the space. [This is plan as negotiating tool I suppose.]
What about the negation test? Well - sadly - I've failed that a few times: “highest quality venues”, “widest possible dissemination”, etc, but at least there are some places, and particularly those mentioned in the three points above, where we're making a definite commitment to doing something rather than something else. Whether or not we're ultimately successful is something I can come back to in 2015 …

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