On May 22nd, RAPID’s project proposal calls officially came to a close with 41 technical proposals and eight Education and Workforce Development proposals submitted. Now comes the hard, yet fun part — reviewing the proposed technologies and education projects that will not only shape the Institute but also impact industry. To accomplish this, RAPID and AIChE have designed a transparent, fair, and effective review process. The process utilized best practices used by U.S. government agencies and customized these for RAPID.

“We did our research and gave a lot of thought before formalizing this process,” says Michelle Bryner, AIChE’s lead facilitator who helped RAPID develop its focus area roadmaps. “Our first project call was quite successful and based on subsequent feedback, we decided to make the process more efficient by making a few minor tweaks,” she adds.

Constant communication with reviewers was critically important; they had to understand their roles and responsibilities. And, when conflicts of interest were identified, actions were taken to ensure the integrity of the judging process such as limiting access to sensitive discussions. “Additionally, reviewers (who are all subject matter experts in RAPID focus areas) were shifted around to maximize effectiveness and expertise while being mindful of conflicts,” notes Michelle.  

“Transparency in all aspects of the process is what RAPID is all about. Members can expect a detailed and objective review of their projects based on merit, technical feasibility, and future impact,” emphasizes RAPID’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO), James Bielenberg.

So how does the process actually work? Reviewers are asked to attend one of two virtual meetings — where each step of the process is explained. After that, each reviewer (who is part of a team) receives a list of 3-5 assigned proposals along with a review template and the rules for scoring. Michelle, who is the point person for the remainder of the process, employs checks and balances by clarifying steps and maintaining contact with reviewers to make certain procedures are followed correctly and information is accurate.

The process culminates with a series of virtual meetings — one for each focus area — where Michelle facilitates a structured discussion of the proposal scores. Proposals are discussed one at a time, with the lead reviewer for each providing a short, high-level summary to kick off the discussion. These meetings generate rank-ordered proposal lists, which are given to the CTO,   who must then balance the project portfolio against the Institute’s roadmap gaps. RAPID leadership must also consider project size and timing, as well as cost share and financial impact. Recommended projects are then presented to the Technical Advisory Board (TAB) for further discussion and selection ratification. The final step is seeking the Governing Board’s endorsement. All in all, the process takes several months of intense discussion, review, and analysis.

And, for those projects that aren’t selected, there’s always next year. Every project lead that submitted a proposal will receive a comprehensive explanation as to why their proposal was or wasn’t selected, as well as advice and/or guidance for making improvements for a future submission. 

“It is an exhaustive effort,” notes Tom Walsh, RAPID’s interim CEO, who adds “but at the end of the day, we know we’ve chosen projects that will raise the bar in our process intensification efforts.”