A selector's perspective

We asked TLRI selector Josie Roberts for her impressions of the key strengths and weaknesses across this year’s Expressions of Interest (EOIs).

Good coffee, to me, is strong, smooth and satisfies a need.  A good EOI warrants a similar description.  The EOIs that stood out this year built strong arguments for why their project was needed.  Each enabled a smooth read with consistent links amongst its sections.  Both the research design and the team were put together in ways that engendered my confidence in their ability to enhance understanding and develop practical solutions. 

Two other features stood out in relation to the TLRI’s unique nature.  Namely strong EOIs exemplified its strategic value principle and its partnership principle.

The best applications had obvious strategic importance for teaching and learning. They were well grounded in one or more knowledge stream and, within that, identified their particular contribution to educational outcomes. Some took a new look at a historically persistent problem.  Others positioned their project in relation to where the future might head.  All good EOIs were crafted in a way that explicitly and implicitly suggested that their findings would be robust and, ideally, influential.

Strong EOIs also demonstrated strong partnerships between teachers and researchers. Such partnerships were visible in the EOI’s construction, not simply promised as a future relationship.  Many combined teachers’ practice experience and researchers’ academic knowledge to hone in on specific gap to be explored. Strong EOIs named all team members and identified each member’s expertise and practical contribution. They recognised that working together could lead to better insight, albeit if partnerships looked set to operate in quite different in ways.

Unsuccessful EOIs were often not a good enough match with the TLRIs strategic and/or partnership value.  They may also have fallen short of the TLRI’s research value principle, most likely because their design was confusing or insufficiently described. I believe three other areas could have been strengthened across the EOIs, including some of the successful ones. 

First, proposers could have made more of the difference between the TLRI’s Type I and Type II funding categories. On several occasions I thought a proposed project was better suited to the opposite category. I also thought some projects could be reshaped to make more strategic use of a category, especially for Type II.

Second, projects could better address the TLRI’s focus on improving educational equity. This was often only the case for EOIs that had a specific focus on Maori and Pacific students or another named group.   All projects could at least describe how current inequities will be dealt with in their research design.

Third, dissemination strategies could be better considered.  Many were vague, insufficient and/or tacked on at the end of an EOI.  Too often we were presented with a statement along the lines of: “Dissemination will involve two articles, conference presentations, and a practitioner resource”. 

Successful EOI applicants can capitalise on their strengths and address any weaknesses in their Full Proposal (FP).  Unsuccessful teams might want to reshape their EOI to better fit the TLRI criteria next year.  Remember it helps if both FPs and EOIs are strong, smooth, and needs-oriented.