Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Good and the Not-So-Good: Excerpts From an Evaluation of the California Stem Cell Agency

The latest performance audit of California's $3 billion stem cell agency reports both pluses and minuses on the agency's work. Here are some excerpts from the $230,000 study, the third such audit of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).
"CIRM has a collaborative, engaged, and performance-oriented culture. Managers, Board members, and staff report improved morale and a more collaborative culture since CIRM 2.0 implementation. CIRM appointed a new president in 2014 and again in 2016. Turnover is often elevated during times of leadership transitions, as noted in 2014 and 2015. However, CIRM’s turnover rate dropped to 10 percent in 2016, suggesting stability in the organization’s leadership and culture."
"CIRM’s uncertain future funding results in employee concerns related to job security. These concerns can, in turn, translate into poor employee morale and reduced organizational productivity. Employees facing potential layoffs often experience elevated stress and anxiety that can become evident in their day-to-day interactions with colleagues and grantees. Because individual employee performance and team performance impact overall organizational performance, declining employee morale can negatively impact CIRM’s ability to efficiently and effectively achieve its mission."
"CIRM’s strategic plan emphasized that CIRM is patient-centered. As such, CIRM has increased its stakeholder engagement, particularly with patient advocates. The agency hosts patient events and trainings across the State of California and has at least 1,000 patient advocates registered. Additionally, CIRM’s Science Officers now proactively search for viable projects, helping engage researchers and increase the quality of proposed grants." 
"As CIRM’s Proposition 71 funding is exhausted, the role of the Communications Department should be elevated to serve a strategic function in educating the public. It is imperative that members of the public are aware of and understand CIRM’s activities and impact while CIRM remains fact-based and objective about its role as a state agency. To achieve this, CIRM should establish metrics focused on external communication and public awareness. Examples of these metrics include: Number of posts on social media accounts, number of press mentions, follower growth on social media accounts, number of 'likes' or 'shares' on social media accounts, growth in website visitors, citations of CIRM-funded research in publications These metrics provide insight on the organization’s communications output, reach, and engagement with audiences beyond patient advocates."
"With the implementation of CIRM 2.0, the organization improved many of its processes to be more efficient and effective. Examples of key process improvements include: ... Establishing “The Wall” by developing a policy clarifying the roles and responsibilities of CIRM employees within and outside the grant review process to ensure it remains fair and impartial.  Streamlined the review summary process by reducing the time to summarize grant applications from six weeks to approximately three weeks.  Reduced grant processing time by reducing the time required to process grants from 22 months to 120 days.  Incorporated milestone-based payments in contracts by shifting the responsibility for project progress to grantees and ultimately holding them responsible for achieving research objectives."
"The ICOC is a large, statewide governing board, with 29 members located across California. There are inherent challenges to this structure: Geography limits the ability of some members to participate in Agenda Item #8 ICOC Meeting March 13th, 2018 California Institute for Regenerative Medicine FY 2016-2017 Performance Audit  17 person and interface with CIRM staff; individuals on a large board may feel less personally responsible and therefore less inclined to participate; and it is difficult for officers and committee chairs to meaningfully build relationships with and identify the best roles for such a large number of members. This is evident in committee participation; while CIRM leverages ICOC expertise through standing and ad-hoc committees, which is a best practice, some members serve on multiple committees while others serve on none. In addition to these challenges, changes to CIRM’s conflict of interest policy in 2013 eliminated the ability of institutional members to participate in grant funding votes. This has limited their overall participation, and several ICOC members reported a reluctance to participate in discussions. Both ICOC members and CIRM staff reported a decline in the engagement of institutional members in all discussions, not just those related to grants."
"In its transition plan, CIRM leadership identified $200 million in additional required funding to continue operating at existing capacity between 2019 and the potential bond measure in 2020. This additional funding would enable the organization to maintain current annual grant awards and staffing levels. Currently, key board members are leading fundraising efforts, which have remained largely confidential. In order to secure this significant amount of funding, additional resources are likely required to demonstrate CIRM’s funding needs, seek donors of varying size and requirements, and provide overall support for fundraising efforts."
"Because the level of funding required to sustain CIRM’s operations is significant, CIRM should develop a formal fundraising plan to identify required resources, activities, and strategies. CIRM’s fundraising plan should identify additional resources and support within the organization required to help potential funders understand the benefit of their investment. For example, the role of the communications team could be expanded to develop fundraising materials that detail CIRM’s goals, plans, and successes as well as funding requirements."
"Transition plans and associated strategies should continue to be deployed as living documents that are continually updated and available to Board members, staff, and external stakeholders. Future iterations should also include organizational structure options during a potential wind-down process. For example, grant funds are currently expected to be exhausted by 2019; grant monitoring, management, clinical trials, and closeout will continue past that date; and intellectual property reporting will be required for 10 years. Eventually, some CIRM activities could be transferred to another state agency. As the transition proceeds, stakeholders and grantees should be made aware of staffing changes to help preserve continuity."

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