The Nervous Man’s Guide to Becoming a P.A.

Hi, I’m Benjamin. Sometimes I get anxious and over-educate myself for tasks I’m currently capable of executing well. For instance, I came very close to enrolling in not one but two ‘at your own pace’ journalism courses in preparation for the article you are reading at this moment. Sure, that might be reasonable if I were not a professional writer with journalistic experience. Thankfully, a helpful colleague prompted me to just get it done. I soon realized the correlations between this tendency and my way-too-long road to becoming a successful Proposal Assessor (PA––formerly CA).

Then I opened a blank document and began plotting out this series of ideas around the only practical steps you’ll need on your much shorter road to writing excellent assessments––NOW!

0 points Nervousness, 1 point Self-Reflection. Thanks for indulging me, friend; since you’re here, let me see if I can help.

See the End in the Beginning

This first area is less of a practical step and more about a frame of mind.

It’s as simple as this: First, sign up to be a PA. Next, prepare yourself to write the highest quality assessments.

In the bigger picture, the PA process is a crucial aspect of the quality control for the Catalyst experiment. More granularly, after the PAs submit their work, all their assessments are scored as excellent, good, or filtered-out. After doing the math, considering the benefits to all involved, it turns out that the top priority of any mindful PA is to receive as many excellent scores as possible. This article hopes to help you achieve that goal.

Sidenote: These conclusions come from a combination of my own experience as a PA, insights gained in community conversations and relevant courses, the PA Guide, and from analyzing the assessments and scores that are published anonymously after each funding round. Another aid for further learning is the Catalyst School. They have some relevant information you might enjoy!

It seems natural to find inspiration for excellence in our work in the example of the Cardano blockchain itself. In far too brief, its design aims toward the highest standards. Before moving on, here’s some food for thought: Could we not assume that the maturation of Project Catalyst depends on our own excellence-focused mindset, the extent to which we apply it to our work, and in the spirit of our conversations?

Lights: There’s a Guide, Let’s Use It!

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. As one would expect for any incentivized work, we have a manual to light the way. Ours is called the Proposal Assessor Guide and is the first constant companion of any excellence-minded PA. Its unassuming 19 pages (including the index) are updated and refined over time. And at the risk of sharing the magician’s secrets, this guide is likely the source of any great advice you learn from another PA.

Current pages 4-7 (Impact, Feasibility, and Auditability) are where you’ll find my dog-ears. That said, careful study of the entire guide is the foundation for the highest PA scores. You will see the gems found in these pages applied consistently in reviews that are rated excellent.

Sidenote: Specifics on incentivization are beyond the scope of this article. Therefore, I’ll refer you to the PA Guide for further information on that topic.

We’re halfway there. Read on, friend.

Camera: Success is in your Wheelhouse

When analyzing the filtered-out proposals, a large portion comes from misunderstanding. Often this happens when assessing an entire proposal when, for some particular area, a specific piece of knowledge was required (i.e. a certain type of coding needed to offer proper analysis). Now, if we come upon a part of a proposal we don’t have specific knowledge about, is it time to stop and click “next?” Not always, a well-formulated assessment that admits an area where your knowledge doesn’t overlap can still be highly valuable (more on those below)!

It goes like this, a Catalyst funding round is made up of a list of Challenges. Each Challenge has its problem statement. The goal of a proposer is to help solve these problems. If you read through the accompanying Campaign Brief (the second companion in your assessment writing) and conclude you are a good fit for the topic, you’ll be miles ahead of the pack. This is part of what I like to call a PA’s “set-up work.” Making sure to start here will help you maintain high standards and efficiency.

As you are assessing, you’ll find proposals where some aspect of it is outside the area of your expertise. In the PA Guide, under the excellent column of “PA contemplation of their own ability to assess a proposal” (page 10), we find helpful advice. “The PA has been able to define which assertions they are better qualified to make…and which opinions are more intuitive, or outside the [assessor’s] domain of expertise.” As you can see, unambiguous, and straight forward facts along with their added rationale are what the guide encourages over and over.

Sidenote: Each Campaign Brief has its particular objectives, parameters, and KPIs. Many find bouncing back and forth between Challenges can cause early fatigue in the writing process. Assessing inside one Challenge at a time is the best advice on the topic I’ve learned from others––and the PA Guide itself (page 5).

Action: Stars First, Dialogue Second

You are now prepared to get to the work of assessing. But how do you begin your first assessment?

Glad you asked.

Here’s my action list:

  1. Read all three sections of the proposal and all relevant links. Often such context brings clarity.
  2. Score each section from 1-5 stars as it relates to the Campaign brief and corresponding passages from the PA Guide.
  3. Make three bullet-pointed lists of your supporting arguments––one for each section (and following the bullet points from pages 4-7 mentioned earlier). We learn well from both advice and praise. A balance of each used together is best practice.
  4. Turn each list into a rationale statement. This will be your assessment and, if applicable, is also where you’ll include any practical advice for re-writing.
  5. Mention relevant experience in your writing. Experience can be shared directly or indirectly, if at all. Far more important is that your expertise “be implied from the insights your rationales are bringing. (This requires practice)” (page 14)

After you’ve gone through this process, ensure your word count for all three sections stays within 300-700 words (page 12). According to the handbook, this is the length of most successful assessments. Lastly, turn on your spelling/grammar check, make corrections, submit your work for review, and move on to the following proposal.

Sidenote: Many assessors find the PA Tool helpful, if it’s new to you, check it out. It features an almost live count of the total number of submitted assessments and an assessment drafting space featuring a handy checklist for writing your reviews. Remember to copy your writing and paste it onto the official assessment form at the bottom of the corresponding proposal page on the Ideascale website.

Congratulations; you likely went through the entire process ten times faster than I did!

In Conclusion…

After gaining some experience, you’ll undoubtedly come up with tips around personal roadblocks (we’re all so human, aren’t we?) or maintaining high standards and efficiency in your work as a PA. You are always welcomed and encouraged to share your learning in the comment section below; we’re always looking for new insights and knowledge from our readers’ fresh experiences.

Writing this list of practical tips also had me thinking about the broader context of our work as PAs. I plan to share more on that and hope to dive into a deeper conversation in a companion article in a future funding round. Be sure to come back soon, or follow us on Twitter for all the new stories we post here on Lido Nation.


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