NSF Fastlane Features Simultaneous Innovation and Experimentation
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Ten winners stepped to the podium to accept National Information Infrastructure (NII) Awards for excellence and innovation in information technology Dec. 3 at New York City's Hilton Hotel. But in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) winning entry, the FastLane project, there is a uniqueness to the story.
FastLane developers at NSF, working on a three-year experiment to streamline the way the agency does business with its many constituencies in scientific research and education, took an aggressive approach. They sought to implement new techniques using the World Wide Web that would cut across the entire range of NSF business processes while simultaneously improving existing ones.
"Most Web initiatives are implemented singly, attacking only one part of a business process. If successful, there may be another tried or piloted, then another," Gerry Stuck, NSF deputy director of information systems, said.
"When we started FastLane, we said we would automate all interactions with NSF customers."
These processes range from solicitation announcements, submission of proposals, peer review, the final awarding of grants or graduate educational fellowships, and even financial transactions such as cash requests.
According to Stuck, FastLane planners broke these pieces of the process into self-contained modules. More were added as the first year modules went into production. Continuous communications with participating institutions and aggressive use of emerging technologies allowed for FastLane's consistently rapid development and increasing customers' satisfaction as they felt ownership in the new system.
Working initially with 16 coordinating universities, NSF information managers maintained continuous communications with these institutions to make changes in all of the processes of proposal submission and review, rather than a single phase. These across-the-board experiments allowed breakthroughs that could be refined quickly as an individual proposal process went on.
Further innovations are in the works, according to NSF experts. The FastLane project will eventually provide global access to scientific information, such as complete texts of funded proposals and full reports of projects. Multimedia presentations of funded projects are also on the horizon. NSF is also working with other federal agencies on common interfaces in order to share information with an even wider audience and provide funding seekers with "one-stop shopping" for a variety of federal programs.
Editors: For more information about FastLane, see: http://www.fastlane.nsf.gov
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.
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