NORDP 2018 Conference Cameo: Kirk Knestis

#NORDP2018 starts Monday, May 7 in Arlington, VA. Keep checking back here at the blog and on our Twitter feed (@NORDP_official) for live conference updates. Register here:

Who: Kirk Knestis, PhD
Where: Hezel Associates
Number of years in research development: 10
Length of NORDP membership: 1
Number of NORDP conferences attended: 2017 will be my first one!
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Marine biologist

As an evaluator and manager of education studies, I have been working with research development professionals for years on external evaluations of grant-funded research projects. While I sometimes partner with institutions to serve in a subaward research role for PIs who specialize in programming (so need someone to do the “research” part of a project), my team is generally charged with designing a study that examines the timeliness, quality, and results of activities funded by the award.KnestisHeadshot2014.jpg

If things are working as they should, we external evaluators spend substantial time planning with the PI, co-PIs, partners, procurement staff, and RD managers. We collaborate to explicate program theories-of-change (i.e., logic models), clarify the design of proposed activities, adopt or develop standards of quality for implementation, define data-collection strategies and analyses to assess the goals and objectives of the funded work, and prepare budgets and documentation required for proposal submission. I like to think I have a good understanding of how those pre-proposal processes work, based on more than a decade of experience collaborating on dozens of proposals each year.

Once one of those proposals goes in, our direct work with RD staff and PIs typically goes on a hiatus until we hear one way or another about a decision on the award. If the project isn’t funded, that may be the end of discussion until the next grant opportunity, or the beginning of plans to resubmit. What I am only beginning to understand, however, is what goes on “behind the curtain” for our higher education clients when their grants ARE awarded, during post-award management and, most interesting to me, during the transition from pre- to post-award functions.

I’ve come to believe that there are things that an external evaluation partner can do in the time between proposal submission and starting the evaluation to help RD managers increase the likelihood of good results – with the evaluation certainly, but also for the funded project more generally. Similarly, I think that there are some key pieces of information about the “care and feeding of the external evaluator” that can benefit research development office staff and ultimately help evaluator-client relationships be more effective and efficient.

My involvement in NORDP – and my participation in my first annual conference – is driven by my interest in better understanding this intersection of needs. My operational theory is that the symbiotic relationships among research developers, PIs, and external evaluators can be improved by each better understanding the roles, contributions, and priorities of the others. I am excited about the opportunity not only to present on this topic with an established RD professional, but also to hear from others to test and elaborate that theory.


We hope to see you at the Conference, which will be held May 7-9, 2018 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, VA.  For more information about the conference program or to register, visit Follow @NORDP_official on Twitter for all the latest #NORDP2018 updates.

NORDP fosters a culture of inclusive excellence by actively promoting and supporting diversity, inclusion and equity in all its forms to expand our worldview, enrich our work, and elevate our profession.

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