Review Process in Grant Proposals - Grant Guide Series - Part Three


In continuation of our grant success guide series we will be discussing some very important  processes involved in the review of grant proposals. Remember in the previous part of the series we discussed some very important points and tips to consider in applying for grant and submission of grant proposal. Our focus today is on the Review Processes for the Short-listed Proposals.

As is often the case, all proposals that are short-listed (that is those that scale the first hurdle) are reviewed by two or three experts. In other words, each proposal is independently reviewed by two experts. Each reviewer is guided by a scoring format that has been developed by experts. Each section of the proposal is assigned marks and each is scored.

In general, proposals for Research Projects receive good score if there is clarity in the:
  1. Statement of the problem including a review of the relevant literature
  2. General and specific objectives of the study
  3. Conceptual framework of the study
  4. Hypotheses to be tested where applicable.
  5. Methodology
  6. Analysis of data
  7. Significance of the study
  8. Ethical consideration
  9. Timeline
  10. Budget

Scoring of Proposal

The total marks are often set at 100 with the following as guide to the reviewers:
  • Statement of the Problem (25 points)
  • General and Specific objectives (5 points)
  • Conceptual framework (15 points)
  • Hypotheses (5 points)
  • Methodology (25 points)
  • Analysis of data (10 points)
  • Ethical consideration (5 points)
  • Timeline (5 points)
  • Budget (5 points)
As can be seen from the above, certain sections carry more marks than the others. Statement of problem is extremely important because this is where the applicant must show, based on extant literature what is the problem in the proposed work. What is the issue to be investigated in the study? A powerful review of the literature showing that the problem is so critical and has not been addressed in his/her part of the world can convince the reviewer that the study deserves to be funded hence the assignment of 25 of 100 to the section.

Another section that is also very important is the methodology for the work. How is the research going to be conducted? This is where the reviewers will have to ascertain whether the fund seeker has mastery of how to carry out scientific work; -  description of sampling technique; sample size; the data collection method (how the materials will be gathered to ensure that there is no bias) etc will be important. No funder will dole out its money to a researcher who lacks competence in methodology.

Data analysis is also important as funders would like to be assured that the researcher can analyze the data using appropriate software. Finally, two other issues are also important, ethical consideration especially where the target of research may be animals or humans or organization and also the timeline for the research. Ethics is a serious issue in research today. Social as well as biological and medical scientists have to address it in their research proposals. For example, how to seek consent and minimize harm. How to share the outcomes with the targeted subgroups in research is also an important aspect of ethics. All of these must be addressed in the proposal.

Completion of Assessment

The work of the expert assessors of proposal is completed when they submit their report. They are expected to score all the proposals that they have been invited to assess. They may be required to rank them from the best to the worst based on total scores. Finally, they may be required to submit written report on the exercise to the funding body.
  • Each assessor  is expected to sum the scores for each proposal and rank them in order of performance
  • Each assessor will render the final report to the funder for consideration
  • A Scientific Committee (SC) is set up to consider and take decision on assessors’ reports
Often, the funding organization would have set up a Scientific Committee that will review the report of the experts and advice the funders on proposals to be funded. The Scientific Committee will incorporate experts in the field who will take time to review the report and perhaps take another look at the proposals have been adjudged to be good before reaching its decision. The Scientific Committee may take the following into consideration in the final recommendation to the funder.
  • Merit (based on the top scorers in the competition
  • Thematic Area(s)
  • Gender
  • Geography
  • Other Extraneous factors  such as bending over to fund one or two that not very good  due to the poor skill of proposers but have potentials.
As shown above, merit is number one criterion for recommending proposal. The proposals that have the highest marks stand very good chance of being selected. But this may never be the case as the Scientific Committee often takes into consideration other factors, such as thematic area of research. For example, all funds cannot be disbursed toward studies of attitudes to HIV/AIDS when other areas like use of voluntary counseling center, cost of HIV/AIDS treatment etc have also have been advertised for funding. Proposals will be disaggregated into the various thematic areas before recommendation is made. The aim is to spread the funds to cover every thematic area. Consequently, not all those with the best proposal on attitudes may be selected.

Another issue that is taken into consideration in the final recommendation is spatial distribution of winning proposals. While the funder may have received the largest number of proposal from a part of a country, it will be unwise to disburse all of its funds to applicants from the part of the country because they have produced the best proposals. Take the case of Nigeria as an example. It is often the case that many more submit proposal for funding from southern than northern universities. Will it be wise and politically correct to exclude northern researchers from support? No. As such, spatial location is taken into consideration.
However, this is done without sacrificing merit. Sometimes, northern scholars or research institutions that have submitted proposals which have not been scored highly but whose proposals are of critical importance in the agenda of funders may be encouraged to revise theirs proposals with the support of consultants in order to merit funding. The same strategy or principle also applies to the representation of women among prospective grantees. The point that we are making is that extraneous factors such as spatial and gender also play a role in the final decision of the selection committee of funders.

Conclusion

Grant seeking is an extremely competitive yet necessary exercise. There is so much money out there to support research. But they cannot be easily accessed by many researchers because the competition is very stiff. Hundreds or thousands of proposals are received any only few are selected for funding. Thus, skill in proposal writing is key to success in the competition. It is therefore not surprising that many applicants with fairly good proposals are left out. But it is necessary to appreciate this fact and to keep on trying and not be discouraged each time one’s proposal is rejected. With more efforts, an applicant may be lucky to get funding. This could be the beginning of good and evidence that the applicant has mastered the strategy for garnering research grants. Thus, if one fails at first attempt, he/she should try and try again until one succeeds.

Scholars should never be discouraged by failure. The golden advice is that if one fails at an attempt one should try and try again. Indeed, one should keep trying until one succeeds.

Scholars and institutions do not have a choice in grant seeking because their institutions can never provide the funds they require for their research. Indeed there are considerable benefits for researchers and institutions that are able to attract huge grants. Grants provide additional resources for the beneficiaries. Travels to attend local and international conferences may be supported from grants. Salaries and honorarium may be obtained from grants that are made to individual researchers. This will improve their earning capacity and lift them out of the misery.

Grants will enable a researcher to garner power within an institution as he/she can hire hands to assist in the implementation of research. A successful grantee will be the center of attraction as many people will like to be close to him to partake in the work that is being done and also earn some money.

Finally, the institutional base of the researcher will benefit because it will charge a percent of the grant for providing management and accounting services in the course of the implementation of the research project. So there are tremendous benefits in grantsmanship which should be explored. Unfortunately these benefits are currently not being explored by most developing countries' scholars and institutions.

In this part of our grant guide series we have been able to expose some very important  processes involved in the review of grant proposals. In the next part of the guide we be examining the different sources of grant.

What is your thought? Feel free to make your contributions, observations or ask questions on this topic of Review Process in Grant Proposals or any part of our Grant Guide Series using the comment form below and we will be more than happy to add to our data base of knowledge. 

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