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BLOG: Why having a strategy in place for grant writing can boost funding success rates

October 01 2015

In many research institutes scientists work independently on preparing subsidy proposals. As such it might often occur that multiple scientists separately apply for one and the same subsidy - resulting in a competitive situation within the same institute. 

Would you still inform your neighbor working in the same field about that super interesting grant opportunity? Probably not, or at least not before the deadline is already very close; but what does this do to success rates and loyalty towards colleagues?

Secondly, in general two persons know more than one, and three more than two, etcetera. It has been shown in many fields that in collaborative settings, superior results are achieved as compared to single-man actions. Why is it then that in research independent fundraising is still the dominant model? I don't have the answer, but do know that researchers that actually do work together in a supportive setting receive more funding than those who don't.

Set a structure for collaboration
That is why it is highly recommended for every research group to develop and implement an internal strategy for fundraising. Such a strategy would start with centrally sharing regular updates about upcoming subsidy deadlines that are relevant for the group. Each scientists with interest for applying can then share the intention to submit a proposal. In a brief meeting these ideas can be discussed and potential synergies identified. It should also be determined how many proposals can be submitted without creating competition and eventually by who. It is very well possible that two colleagues that would normally compete, will now actually support each other by forming a strong partnership and thereby make more chance of a higher score for feasibility and excellence. Where in the independent setting the applicant would maybe just not get the subsidy, now with this higher score the proposal will be selected for funding. A small and simple organisational change can thus tip the balance to the winning side. 

Organise internal support
Slightly more work, but even more effective, is implementing a structure for internal support. For each proposal, a group of experts in the same organisation can review one or two drafts and provide constructive feedback for further improvement. Taking this one step further, the reviews are done in a standardised way, checking predetermined criteria for e.g. excellence, implementation and impact of the proposed project. Not only does this allow the applicants to add power to the proposal, the resulting feeling of co-ownership and group effort can strengthen mutual relationships within the group - which can be fruitful for any other activity.

Although these procedures might seem a sine qua non, they are far from common practice in the majority of research institutes. These two simple steps are taken from a set of at least twelve organisational aspects that largely influence success rates. Imagining the effect of just the discussed changes, what will happen if a group implements all twelve?

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