Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Big Projects: the View from Research Services

Last term I took part in a Grants Factory event around developing 'big' projects. As part of this, I spoke briefly about issues that potential applicants should be aware of, gathered from the experience of Research Services in supporting bids.

Strong leader
Firstly, for a bid to be successful, it needs to have a strong leader. Not only do they need to have a single unifying vision, but they have to be persuasive and ruthless. They need to be able to attract the 'right' collaborators, but also need to be able to say no to those who aren't right for the project.

Talk to funder/Programme Manager
Secondly, you need to gather intelligence. Whilst most funders provide plenty of generic guidance, you need to try and get to the heart of what they really want. What are the politics behind the bid? Do they have in mind a particular structure, a particular project, a particular size? Talk to people at the funders and, if possible, the academics who helped to draft the call.

Preparing the bid
Thirdly, when it comes to the drafting of the bid, there are key elements to get right:
  • With lots of collaborators, there's a danger that different drafts of the application get confused. Use software - such as Sharepoint or Dropbox - to help wiht version control.
  • Face to face meetings are crucial for thrashing out the fundamentals.
  • Give yourself time. I've already talked about this in relation to European Funding applications, but it's true of all big bids. You need much, much more time than you think you might: time to make connections, to get the intelligence, to draft and redraft, to get feedback, to get accurate costings, and to get it signed off.
  • Make sure you've got the right partners. Sure, profile and research quality are important, but they have to be able to deliver the practicals. They must be trustworthy and dependable. They shouldn't be there as passengers. Your collaboration is only as strong as the weakest link. Once you've got the right people in place, make sure the management structures are appropriate and strong: it takes a lot of coordination.
  • Finally, make sure you have the contact details of your partners' research offices, and pass them on to us to liaise with them.
Post Award Issues
Even before you put pen to paper to draft the application, you should be aware of what you're letting yourself in for. Three issues that come up regularly with my colleagues dealing with the post-award side of things are:
  • Coordination: make sure you include the cost of an administrator/coordinator. This is crucial: it always takes much more effort, time and energy than you think;
  • Timesheets: a killer for European grants. Make sure you keep track of the amount of time you spend on the grant, and don't leave completing these until the last minute.
  • Equipment: some funders are unhappy if you don't purchase this as soon as the project starts.
The picture, in case you're wondering, is a picture of a Greek Orthodox priest herding cats. Now I'm not saying anything about the experience of coordinating colleagues when writing a bid, but...

1 comment:

  1. Larger bids need a project manager in at the proposal stage. I am involved with 3 running projects of over $10 million each. The amount of admin work required is substantial. The budgets alone require hours of work, and should be resolved as early as possible.