“I think when many voted for this, they thought there were going to be some cures coming out of this effort. And my bias is I have a 13-year-old daughter who has a spinal cord injury, partial break. I'd like to go home and tell my wife that this did something to advance the medical therapy that will ultimately provide her with the opportunity to walk again. What can you tell me that we've done that's going to get my daughter out of her wheelchair sooner (rather) than later after all this money has been spent?”
“You guys are not speaking to people in ways that they understand the value of what you are doing. And that bothers the heck out of me.”
“What can we say we've done to advance to a cure or to cures? It's fine that we've got all -- we've contributed to all. What can you say that we've actually done? We don't really have any -- I'm going to just say this because it's a bias and I know it's a bias. We don't have any tangible specific and measurable results that I can point to.”
“Tell me if I'm wrong and demonstrate it to me. I want to understand where the results are.”
“So I'm happy to tell you the results, but I guess the issue is the expectations. And when this was funded, it probably was an expectation that (if we) give them money and within a very, very, very short period of time, and frankly ten years is a relatively short period of time, and, as you may not know, the funding didn't start till 2006, but if you try -- we're trying to do things in a very accelerated way. The funding actually for the disease teams and strategic partnerships just started three years ago. Part of it is advancing....”
“The results are, do we have any cures? No, we don't have any cures, but the results are many. They're incremental, but they are all moving along a research continuum that any sort of drug therapy would follow.....”
“Here's my problem. As you said earlier, and I agree with it completely, I think it's a question of expectations. I know when I voted for this, and I did vote for it, I had some expectations. And my expectations were (that) we were going to see something in terms of cures at the end of the rainbow after we spend $3 billion, whatever it is that we're spending here.
“So when I asked for an ROI -- and I do understand what you are trying to tell us. I do get it, but it's not translatable. It doesn't translate to the expectations that many of us voters had.”
“The point is if we did spend all this money, what did we
get for it?”
“So if we do go back for a subsequent bond measure, I think we will be able to tell a story that will make California proud of being on the cutting edge and having facilitated the acceleration of the research, which, as Ellen said --”
“Not if you don't get beyond the marketing problem you got. I'm telling you, pal, I would have a hard time voting for it again."
Our take: The California stem cell agency is virtually unknown to most of the people of California, which is not an unusual situation for most state agencies. Since Thomas was elected chairman in 2011, however, it has vastly improved its communications efforts. Nonetheless, it has not fulfilled the campaign promises of cures and won't be able to do so in the next two years. It does have a story to tell, albeit one that does not fit with the mythology of magical stem cells. Telling that story is hindered by mind-numbing Power Point presentations, which are little more than outlines that would be better replaced by nuanced, written documents. The challenge for the agency is to present not only the dry numbers but package the key figures with information that will connect viscerally and persuade people of the virtues of CIRM. Packaging and sizzle are the watchwords, depending on the audience. Each group has different concerns that need to be researched in advance and then addressed in tailored presentations. Whether CIRM's efforts so far have been worth $6 billion remains to be determined, but it is clear that it has not yet made its best case.