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Towards a Pedagogy of Strategic Grant Planning

I consistently bristle at the term “best practices.” This phrase suggests that there is one right way to accomplish a targeted objective, at least approximately. This concept seems directly opposite to my belief that effectiveness depends upon tailoring strategies to each faculty-client. Further, I view my style and professional credibility as niche-oriented.


What do I mean by this?

Well, my approach is personalized in that I take into account the temperament, preferences, and environment of a selected faculty-client in helping them respond to a grant call or in presenting my analysis of a set of grant opportunities. My tactics are likewise individualistic in that I have developed my own manner and set of tools to advise each of them. Grant professionals often chant “Do not recreate the wheel.” However, my methodology evolves with each new contact. I enjoy and take pride in the creative effort to get a grant team rolling smoothly towards the submission deadline.

So how do I reconcile my labor-intensive process with an effort to learn from others? The need to protect my time to get more done for more constituents? My desire to spread my grantsmanship message more widely within my organization? And use these lessons for a simple, reproducible process.

At the juncture of our administrative team's effort to build a strategic grant plan for our Center this past month, I was again faced with this conundrum – and my peculiar biases. A strategic plan in this setting goes beyond collecting grant prospects or focusing on one submission. Essential information must be presented according to a prioritized series of features that will offer guidance. This plan must take into account the capabilities of those leading and participating in the grant development efforts. To be most effective, a feasible calendar of deadlines should then be constructed. If only there was a “magic answer” to setting priorities - a document that exists out there to follow - perhaps the grant professional's life would be easier.

Prospect research, the first step to a plan, will produce countless options for consideration. Some of them can be classed as the “bread and butter” options. Others are well known but more ambitious “pie in the sky” grant targets. A third category, the “rabbit hole,” is a lesser known series of (potentially) portfolio-diversifying funding opportunities. To prioritize between these extremes of standard, high risk, and unknown risk options, a framework is needed.
How do we extrapolate priorities from an extensive grant prospect list?

Pedagogy is described in Wikipedia as the academic discipline that deals with the theory and practice of teaching. What if we could develop a pedagogy of strategic grant planning? At a minimum, this could be a theory about the spectrum of factors that influence practice and lead the grant professional to sound conclusions about the value of applying for a selected set of grants from the universe of options at a given time.

The current effort in my Center is just beginning. My past recommendations have been largely data driven and based on: 1) Knowledge; lessons of a very large collection of peer reviews I have read across a spectrum of topics, study sections, funding opportunity types, and agencies, 2) Experience; outcomes of submissions I have worked on, and 3) Research; the history of awards for given funding opportunities, consultation with program officers, and/or other applicants. With time, I aim to distill this data gathering process and these current efforts into a useful pedagogy.
What is your grant professional style and how has it contributed to strategic grant planning in your organization?

Michele Zacks is a biomedical grant professional who works with clinical, translational, and basic science research faculty on federal and peer-reviewed foundation proposals, a specialty recently branded as “research development.” She persistently seeks to combine artistry and grantsmanship in her approach to advising her faculty clients.

GPCI Competencies: 01. Knowledge of how to research, identify, and match funding resources to meet specific needs, 02. Knowledge of organizational development as it pertains to grant seeking, 03. Knowledge of strategies for effective program and project design and development, 04. Knowledge of how to craft, construct and submit an effective grant application, 07. Knowledge of practices and services that raise the level of professionalism of grant developers.