Stages of Complex Grant Development (Part 1)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018
By Joanna Downer, PhD, Associate Dean for Research Development, School of Medicine

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about processes, particularly how we facilitate development of complex research grants. But as we capture and re-design our own processes, we must place our work in the context of how complex, deadline-driven goals get accomplished.

Much literature exists on the stages or life cycles of software application and product development; it can inform our work because new software applications, products, and grant applications all sprout from an idea. In each case, that idea then must be refined, captured, validated (or further refined), and then ultimately sent out into the world.

Based on lifecycles for products, projects, and ideas, I’ve recently come up with the following stages necessary for successful complex grant development:

1. Idea Generation

2. Idea Refinement

3. Idea Capture

4. Idea Validation

5. Finalization and Submission

Pervasive across published idea lifecycles is the concept of refinement – of testing and reshaping the idea by seeking input beyond the idea originator. Collective refinement is absolutely crucial for complex grants – if treated instead as a collection of individual grants developed independently, the ideas and language often diverge significantly. Reviewers spot that divergence immediately, resulting in easy criticism that the team didn’t work together – a fatal flaw.

To prevent that issue, not only do these stages need to be respected, but each requires a combination of asynchronous and synchronous discussion – electronic and in-person, respectively. Exchange of early drafts of Aims pages, for instance, allows in-person discussion to refine descriptions of why the individual and collective work is worth doing. That early discussion can also help ensure all components’ Aims contribute to the stated overall vision. Similarly, exchanging early drafts of Research Strategies often reveals language differences that an in-person discussion can resolve. These exchanges also reveal opportunities to strengthen the connections between components, ensuring the proposal meets the requirement to be “more than the sum of its parts.”

These stages also require knowledge. The targeted funding opportunity announcement typically provides guideposts for size, scope, and focus; for investigator-initiated complex grants, the funding agency contact typically must approve the plan well in advance of submission. The grant manager, central office liaison, or research development professional can also provide important context and interpretation to make sure the team’s plans are well-matched and fully compliant.

In the next post, I’ll discuss each of these steps in greater detail.

 

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