The team I work with have been tasked to rethink how our institution does teaching awards, grants, and professional learning opportunities. i.e. the funding our institution provides to teaching focused staff in recognition of quality work (awards), to develop a good idea (grants), or learn something new (professional learning opportunities). Since I’m strange, we’re using a slightly different approach (at least based on reactions so far) to what others are used to. The following is an attempt to explain the approach and what passes for the thinking behind it.

The process goes something like the following

  1. Identify what’s been done before, here and elsewhere with [grants | awards | PLOs]?
  2. Identify and analyse the features and attributes involved in [grants | awards | PLOs]
  3. Identify a collection of attributes that might work for the institution.
  4. Get some consensus around a particular collection of attributes.
  5. Implement it.

This approach isn’t a 1000 miles removed from a standard product design process. Though in this context, there’s already an expectation of the broad type of product (we will have teaching awards, grants, and professional learning opportunities), the question is what shape (features and attributes) these specific products will have.


  • While the process steps are sequentially numbered, this will never be a truly sequential process.
  • This is not meant to be a process that our group does by ourselves. At the very least, we will be performing this process in as open a way as possible. However, we will also be actively engaging with others throughout.

Why are we doing this?

In short, to avoid following the crowd and to actually try and have an impact.

For example, until recently L&T awards at Australian Universities have almost all tended to focus on aligning with national teaching awards. There now appears to be a small, but growing trend toward moving toward a more explicit focus on aligning institutional L&T awards with institutional strategic priorities. I’m not convinced that following what everyone else is doing is the right thing. Nor am I convinced about the benefits of strategic alignment as the only measure of effectiveness

There’s also long been complaints about the impact of institutional practices around grants, awards, and professional learning. Would be nice to be able to demonstrate some impact.

How does it happen

So how do we do it. Given the current context, our existing processes are extremely responsive (i.e. we’re making it up as we go along). Hopefully we can improve upon that, especially given that we’ll be iterating around this cycle many times (hopefully) over the years.

#1: What’s been done before

The two main methods here are a sector scan and literature review. This has already largely been done for teaching awards. It’s underway with teaching grants and yet to commence with professional learning.

I’m hoping we’ll be able to release some (all?) of these under a open license.

The aim is to get a good grounding in what’s been done before and what was learned.

#2: Analyse features and attributes

The aim here is to try to break apart the “product” (awards, grants or professional learning opportunities) into it’s various features, and then to identify all of the possible attributes/values of those features. The table below is an illustration of this. It features a very early attempt at doing this with teaching awards.

Feature Attributes
Who can apply?
  • Individuals, teams, programs, projects, services.
  • Full-time staff, part-time staff, casual staff, teaching staff, professional staff, students
Who nominates?
  • Self-nomination
  • Students
  • Peers
  • (semi-)automatically via systems & processes evaluating criteria.
  • L&T experts.
  • Institutional leadership.
Who writes the application?
Required evidence?
  • None
  • SELT data
  • Other institutional data
  • Peer review
  • Testimonials
Award categories
  • Various category of staff: new, early career, mid-career, casual, full-time, professional….
  • Institutional organisational unit: faculty, school, discipline.
  • Specific categories aligned with current institutional strategic priorities
  • Levels of difficulty: citation, award
What criteria?
  • # of criteria: ranging from none up to lots
  • Different criteria for each category of grant, especially those with strategic priorities.
  • Same criteria for all grants.
Who judges?
  • internal/external people
  • Institutional leadership
  • teaching experts
  • different judges per organisational unit, or one set for whole institution
  • Popular vote: students and/or staff
What’s the reward?
  • purely financial
  • financial + some in-kind support
  • automatic increment promotion
What can be done with the reward?
  • Ranging from: no constraints how money spent, up to very specific constraints on how it can be spent.
Dissemination? ???

This type of table is informed by the literature and what’s gone before. It’s also informed by trying to think outside the box. Identifying methods that can help scaffold this process, especially broadening participation would be useful.

#3: Identify the collection of attributes that works

The next step is to figure out which collection of features/attributes would best fit the institutional need (raising big questions about whether an institution can have needs and how you identify what those are). This has to be done by a combination of

  1. Understanding the organisational context.
  2. Identifying the aims/needs of the organisation.
  3. Drawing on theory and assumptions (are those different) to identify which attributes would work in the given context and achieve the aims.

It should also involve a lot of discussion with a broad array of people, getting lots of diversity involved.

Hopefully, this stage ends with a reasonable model of how it might work. Perhaps with some implementation details.

#4: Get some consensus

At this stage, there is a need to get institutional buy-in. Agreement that this is a useful way forward and that it should be done.

Exactly what form that will take will depend on the “product”. Teaching awards – at this institution – connect into a formal policy framework. As such, there is a need to get formal consensus around a specific design. Professional learning opportunities largely don’t have the same formal connection, hence a more emergent approach can be taken.

#5: Implement it (and evolve it)

The last step is to get it implemented, evaluate it, evolve it and repeat.