Monday, 3 December 2012

Constructing a Realistic Project

Projects need great ideas and to be well thought through, realistic and fully costed to maximise the chance of funding.  At the fourth Grants Factory event last week Prof Elizabeth Mansfield (SMSAS) outlined a process that could help applicants in developing such a project. She started off by tracing a continuum: at one end there was routine, incremental research; at the other there was world peace, cancer cures and ‘theories of everything’. Most people aspire to the latter, but it is unlikely that funders will provide funding for it. Similarly, if it’s too incremental, the proposal will be rejected as boring, “business as usual”.

Instead, applicants need to direct their creativity and enthusiasm to find a worthwhile long term aim, a driving force, in the believably achievable part of the continuum. But what is your driving force?  If it's promotion or fame, it's likely your lack of real interest in the research will make the proposal feel hollow.  No, the driving force has to be a commitment and an intense interest in something important to you.

The next step is to think how you would ultimately want to be ‘assessed’, that is, what your criteria for success are. What do you want the lasting achievement of the project to be? What would satisfy you?  This process tells you what your short term aims need to be, and the activities you will need to achieve them. What methodology? What outputs? What do you want in your papers, web pages, performances? Theory, philosophy, data collection, analysis, computations, textual analysis,  experiments...

The next step is working out the resources you need to fulfil these. These might include staff time, equipment, travel and subsistence. For staff, you should think what kind of person (and at what level) you want. You should also think what would make it attractive to them; what professional development opportunities are there for them?

In addition, you should think about the time frame and milestones for your project. How will it fit together? How will you manage your team to ensure the milestones are met? What are you going to do if you do not meet these milestones? You absolutely need a Plan B!

Prof Peter Taylor-Gooby (SSPSSR) spoke from experience and added some detail to this outline. For instance, when the project has formed in your mind and you’re beginning on the application itself, make sure that you’re ‘tuned in’ to the language of the call or the scheme. Look at the guidance and pick out key words. Make sure that those key words appear in your proposal. Once you’ve prepared the draft, remove the title and show it to a wide range of people. Ask them what they think it’s about. If they’re not able to say, or give wildly varying answers, you need to redraft, to keep the language simple, and to concentrate on the essence of your project.

The second half of the session was an opportunity for those in the audience to discuss the issues raised in the first. Ultimately proposals need to reach a certain quality threshold to be considered. However, above that it can be a lottery, and applicants need to do everything in their own control to shorten their odds.

Hand outs and images of the diagrams that Elizabeth used are available, with these notes, on the SharePoint site.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a great post! What does it take to get access to the SharePoint site with handouts and images?