Fellow grant writers: Do you ever stop and ask yourselves, “Why do we write grants?” Do you actually enjoy herding cats, pulling teeth, and the inevitable stress of a looming proposal deadline? I hope not. Then what is the driver? We shouldn’t write a grant just to get funded or to earn prestige for our colleges. Those benefits may be motivators, but we should write to get funding and support to positively impact our students, faculty, and the institutions involved. And we should be able to evaluate those results in useful and meaningful ways so that we can identify how to improve and demonstrate the project’s value.
Evaluation isn’t just about satisfying a promise or meeting a requirement to gather and report data. It’s about gathering meaningful data that can be utilized to determine the effectiveness of an activity and the impact of a project. When developing a grant proposal, one often starts with the goals, then thinks of the objectives, and then plans the activities, hoping that in the end, the evaluation data will prove that the goals were met and the project was a success. That requires a lot of “hope.”
I find it more promising to begin with the end in mind from an evaluation perspective: What is the positive change that we hope to achieve and how will it be evidenced? What does success mean? How can we tell if we have been successful? When will we know? And how can we get participants to provide the information we will need for the evaluation?
The role of a grant writer is too often like that of a quilt maker, delegating sections of the proposal’s development to different members of the institution, with the evaluation section often outsourced to a third-party evaluator. Each party submits their content, then the grant writer scrambles to patch it all together.
Instead of quilt making, the process should be more like the construction of a tapestry. Instead of chunks of material stitched together in independent sections, each thread is carefully woven in a thoughtful way to create a larger, more cohesive overall design. It is important that the entire professional development team works together to fully understand each aspect of the proposal. In this way, they can collaboratively develop a coherent plan to obtain the desired outcomes. The project work plan, budget, and evaluation components should not be designed or executed independently—they occur simultaneously and are dependent upon each other. Thus, they should tie together in a thoughtful manner.
I encourage you to think like an evaluator as you develop your proposals. Prepare yourself and challenge your team to be able to justify the value of each goal, objective, and activity and be able to explain how that value will be measured. If at all possible, involve your external or internal evaluator early on in proposal development. The better the evaluator understands your overall concept and activities, the better they can tailor the evaluation plan to derive the desired results. A strong work plan and evaluation plan will help proposal reviewers connect the dots and see the potential of your proposal. These elements will also serve as road maps to success for your project implementation team.
For questions or further information please reach out to the author, Lara Smith.