I am a PI for an ATE national resource center and an ATE project. Over the past 15 years, I have dealt with seven different evaluators. The management of that evaluator/evaluation relationship is important. Attention to certain details can pay off in the long run.
There is a lot of excitement when a grant proposal is funded. All of that work seems justified. Personnel are assigned and the contractual relationship with the evaluator begins. Although everything is rosy, now is the time to anticipate the possibility that the evaluator relationship may go south for a variety of reasons.
It is critical to have a good statement of work that will support the contract you will create. You can stand behind that statement and its deliverables and dates. That contract has many provisions, one of which is the exit clause.
An exit or termination clause is standard practice in business. Let’s face it, life happens, things may not work as intended, the evaluation effort may slip on the evaluator’s side due to competing priorities, overload, poor scheduling, or factors beyond anyone’s control. We are human.
Case #1: We had an evaluator from a local university. It started off fine but before too long it seemed she thought she was doing us a favor by allowing us to work with her. The evaluation came through as half-hearted and stilted, sounding like boilerplate. Still, we had to have an evaluator and we made it through the first year. In year two, she let us know that she was so busy that she could only devote one half the time at twice her rate. We invoked the exit clause that read, “This contract may be terminated for convenience giving contractor 15 days written notice of termination.” She informed us that we could not fire her and she would notify the NSF. We beat her to it by notifying the NSF first; they supported our decision. They just asked to see the new evaluator’s qualifications when available.
Case #2: The evaluator relationship was good but a report slipped, then the second report really slipped, and we missed appending the evaluation report to our annual report. We had a frank conversation; the problem was just shear overload. We mutually agreed to use the exit clause. I sent the letter by registered mail to record the delivery signature. We remain friends with the evaluator today.
Case #3: A colleague’s project evaluator was struggling to make deliverables. The exit clause was invoked, but the evaluator was very reluctant to release the accumulated project data. This was placing the whole evaluation effort at risk. The new evaluator helped intervene and ultimately the data was transferred.
Lessons: Stay way on top of the deliverables and timeline. If the evaluator misses a deadline and does not give you any warning – that is a “tell.” Act quickly, don’t overreact, invoke the exit clause if you need to, and don’t just “hope” it will get better. Move on and secure another evaluator.