Rat­ing sys­tem may help de­ter­mine re­search grants

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - From Health cover

That’s not to say that phi­lan­thropists or trusts or foun­da­tions are get­ting it wrong, but there’s al­ways a need for th­ese de­ci­sions to be based on sound science.’’

Hulett says one ben­e­fit of hav­ing in­di­vid­ual donors give their money to char­i­ties, and the char­i­ties then de­cide the grants, is that of­ten there is a fo­cus of monies to peo­ple who might have just missed out on NHMRC monies’’.

I think that’s a very good sys­tem in that it does pro­vide help for re­searchers who are very com­pet­i­tive but un­for­tu­nately just missed out on NHMRC fund­ing,’’ Hulett says.

It cre­ates a greater di­ver­sity of med­i­cal re­searchers and helps strengthen the field.’’

An­drews will also work with sci­en­tists and med­i­cal re­searchers to help them bet­ter de­scribe their projects in the quest for private fund­ing.

Phi­lan­thropists will want to un­der­stand what the com­mu­nity ben­e­fit is, so there­fore what the out­come of the re­search is go­ing to be — so not just that you have dis­cov­ered a new chem­i­cal path­way, but what it ac­tu­ally means to us,’’ she says.

Phi­lan­thropists can iden­tify with that, recog­nise the ben­e­fit and hope­fully be more will­ing to give.’’

Tra­di­tion­ally in Aus­tralia, most fundrais­ing has been done by the char­i­ties them­selves, not the med­i­cal re­searchers or sci­en­tists. There is lit­tle hard data on what hap­pens to the money do­nated, but a re­port by the Per­pet­ual Foun­da­tion sug­gests Aus­tralia’s char­i­ties are un­der-per­form­ing.

The re­port, re­leased in Novem­ber, high­lights re­sources wasted due to com­pe­ti­tion, lack of co-op­er­a­tion and in­dus­try struc­ture; un­der­de­vel­oped ac­count­abil­ity, trans­parency, sol­vency and gov­er­nance; a mis­align­ment of in­ter­ests and other wor­ry­ing trends. The re­port’s core con­clu­sion was that many of the is­sues and prob­lems stem from a lack of data, frame­works and ed­u­ca­tion’’, some­thing the NHMRC and Re­search Aus­tralia — who both see a role for char­i­ties in the fu­ture — are do­ing their bit to cor­rect.

While the re­port sug­gests char­i­ties re­form from within, and the NHMRC and Re­search Aus­tralia are keen to work with donors and re­cip­i­ents of do­na­tions, there are oth­ers call­ing for greater gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion, es­pe­cially to show where donor funds are spent.

The Com­mon­wealth reg­u­lates char­i­ties through the Aus­tralian Tax­a­tion Of­fice, but the states and ter­ri­to­ries reg­u­late fundrais­ing, and find­ing in­for­ma­tion on the per­for­mance of in­di­vid­ual char­i­ties is dif­fi­cult if not im­pos­si­ble.

But Pro­fes­sor Myles McGre­gor-Lown­des, di­rec­tor of the Aus­tralian Cen­tre for Phi­lan­thropy and Non-Profit Stud­ies at the Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, says the an­swer is not as sim­ple as more gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion and ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion.

McGre­gor-Lown­des says there will al­ways be un­met need, and amal­ga­mat­ing the smaller char­i­ties might ac­tu­ally stop groups of in­di­vid- ual donors, in cer­tain spe­cial­ties or ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tions or with cer­tain aims, from do­ing good in the first place.

There is also a para­dox, he says, in calls for char­i­ties to be more up­front about how they spend their money, or the pro­por­tion spent on ad­min­is­tra­tion: donors want to see their money spent where it counts, not nec­es­sar­ily on the ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­penses as­so­ci­ated with in­form­ing them where it has been spent.

In med­i­cal re­search, the real big ex­pense is as­sess­ing the sci­en­tific va­lid­ity — you don’t want to fund some crack­pot — and all this has to go to peer re­view,’’ McGre­gor-Lown­des says. Of­ten that’s a long and com­pli­cated and dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive process, but there are now pos­i­tive moves to change that.’’

An­der­son — the for­mer head of the School of Bio­med­i­cal Sci­ences at Monash Univer­sity and deputy di­rec­tor of The Baker In­sti­tute — says the private fund­ing mar­ket is cry­ing out for help. With the help of the NHMRC, char­i­ties can stream­line their pro­cesses, and in­di­vid­ual and cor­po­rate donors may find it eas­ier to give.

We’re big and have ef­fi­cien­cies of scale, so we work with prob­a­bly a dozen small and large char­i­ties to help them de­cide where and how to in­vest,’’ An­der­son says.

It helps char­i­ties not over-in­vest in the ma­chin­ery of work and make sure the dol­lars go where the donors want.’’

Go­ing that step fur­ther, show­ing what de­ci­sions have been made by the peak fund­ing agency, rather than how its de­ci­sions are made, will have a much greater im­pact.

We could be a first-stop shop in terms of giv­ing that in­for­ma­tion rather than them hav­ing to hunt around, and we have a bit more in­de­pen­dence and ex­pe­ri­ence in the area,’’ An­der­son says.

The main em­pha­sis here is to say that our or­gan­i­sa­tion’s par­tic­u­lar skill is iden­ti­fy­ing high qual­ity and im­por­tant re­search that’s where your money should go — the best ideas and the best peo­ple are the key to re­sults.’’

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