Tuesday, 30 October 2018

What You Need to Know: Applying for GCRF Funding

Photo by Thomas Young on Unsplash
GCRF is not straightforward: there are important caveats and qualifications that all applicants should be aware of before they tentatively dip their toe in the GCRF waters.

ODA compliance

This is the key to the whole fund. Without being compliant with official development assistance (ODA) rules, your project will not even be considered.

ODA needs to run through your project like the words run through a stick of Brighton rock. Wherever a reviewer chooses to bite, it should be clear immediately how your project is compliant.

ODA compliance means that the funding has to be used to support the growth and welfare of some of the least developed countries in the world. The research doesn’t necessarily have to take place in these countries, but it has to be for their long-term and sustainable benefit.

Therefore any GCRF application must make clear how the proposed project will ensure this. You must be specific, and think about the following.

Which countries are involved and are they on the DAC list?

  • What is the challenge for the local populations?
  • How will your research address this challenge, and what impact will it have on the economic development and welfare of the local populations?
  • What is your route to impact, and how will solutions be realised?

Just saying that you’re ODA compliant is not enough, either: you must have supporting evidence that demonstrates that you are.

In addition, all work funded by the GCRF is expected to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). You should be aware of the SDGs that are relevant to your project, but don’t make tenuous claims to involve more than are relevant. Also, be specific about how you will meet the time-limited target of each of the relevant SDGs.

GCRF assessment criteria

While ODA compliance is the linchpin for a GCRF proposal, there are four further GCRF criteria for assessing an application.
  • Research excellence: excellence is essential, but does not have to be constrained by traditional methodologies. You should demonstrate that you are bringing together the necessary mix of skills, knowledge and expertise to solve the problem. Where possible, you should also include partners from low and middle-income countries, and ideally partners who may not traditionally work with each other.
  • Problem and solution focused: Contextualise the problem, specifically for the countries you are working with, and demonstrate how you have worked with partners on the ground to understand the detail and the scale of it. For the solution, you must make clear that it’s co-created and not imposed by you. Once again, local engagement is paramount. If there is preliminary data to show viability, use it. If you’re targeting a relatively wealthy country on the DAC list, you should make clear how your work will benefit a vulnerable section of the population.
  • Partnership and capacity building. There should be a collaborative feel throughout your proposal, and you should avoid any top-down language or, worse, imperialistic overtones. Be specific about the role and contribution of partners and explain how the partnership was formed and how it will continue. In building capacity, show how both research and administration will be shared and highlight plans to develop technical and skills (including soft skills), encompassing possible training of colleagues from other countries in UK facilities.
  • Likelihood of impact: Think about who needs to know about your findings, and how you will make them accessible. Once again, partnerships are important in facilitating this. Going forward, how will the project be sustainable beyond the lifetime of the grant, and how will you continue to monitor and evaluate the work towards its effective impact? Finally be aware that impact can take many forms, including developmental, policy, capacity-building, and practice level.

Due diligence

You should broadly be aware that you need to be assured on three areas of oversight.

  • Governance and control. What systems are in place to control and deal with risks such as bribery, corruption and fraud? Are there appropriate ethical oversight and assurance procedures?
  • Ability to deliver. Have projects of a similar size and nature been successfully completed before? Is there a robust framework of management, training, monitoring, openness and data management?
  • Financial stability. Is there a team to manage the finances and are the systems in place to monitor and audit the award? Does it offer value for money? Operationally, is there the necessary banking infrastructure to handle the budget?

Costing proposals

Although the UK research-costing process and parameters are familiar to UK researchers, those of their partners may not be. It’s important, then, to understand how your partners’ costs have been calculated and how they can be evidenced.

When it comes to reimbursing them, it can vary. UK partners’ costs are usually paid at 80 per cent of full economic costs. Overseas partners costs are typically 100 per cent, and sometimes an additional overhead of 20-30 per cent can be included.

Always check what costs can be included, as some schemes allow students and equipment whereas others don’t. You should always include administration costs and allow for a lot of travel. The projects funded by the GCRF are usually complex and always global.

Starting procedures

Of course, submitting an application is only the beginning. Be prepared for when you receive notification of the award. There is sometimes less flexibility than you may be used to, and start dates tend to be fixed. Therefore there may be a short turnaround for the recruitment of staff and to complete due diligence processes. In addition a collaboration agreement is usually required right from the start.

Project management

As with the rest of the GCRF programme, project management tends to be more complex than for standard grants. Be prepared for stage gate reviews and additional project requirements. You should have in place a risk register, a financial management plan, a work plan for each work stream, a plan for governance and project management, and a monitoring and evaluation plan.

GCRF was never going to be simple. With unusual structures and very specific expectations, there’s the potential for a huge administrative headache. It needn’t be so. If you go into it with your eyes open and prepared for the demands of a development project, it shouldn’t be too onerous. The fund only began to operate in 2015, so it’s still relatively young. Give it another five years and we’ll all wonder what the problem was.

A version of this article first appeared in Funding Insight in October 2018 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com

No comments:

Post a Comment