NORDP 2019 Conference Notes: Go or No Go? Critical Decision-Making for Developing Large, Complex Grant Proposals

Presenters:

  • Jessica Venable, McAllister & Quinn
  • M.S. (Peg) AtKisson, AtKisson Training Group, LLC
  • Joanna Downer, Duke University School of Medicine
  • Michael Gallo, University of California-Irvine

Thanks to our session scribe, Samarpita Sengupta, PhD, UT Southwestern Medical Center!

Have you ever been in a situation where a faculty member wants to submit an application for a big grant that is due in a month? Who am I kidding, you are research development professionals, of course you have!

How do you make a go-no-go decision? What are your criteria? This was the topic of the talk given by the four presenters listed above at the 11th Annual NORDP conference in Providence. Each speaker approached the topic from their individual research development perspectives.

Large, complex grants, as defined by the presenters, could be “Super-big institutional opportunities;” large multi-investigator, multi-site, multi-disciplinary projects, some involving construction, renovation or building centers; or they could have non-standard requirements.

There are several points to think about while making go-no go decisions on such large grants, especially in a time sensitive situation, such as the presence of internal resources, whether the project met unmet needs, whether external resources could be tapped into, what is the return on investment, and whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Internal resources should be factored in when making such a decision, such as project management, team facilitation, graphic design and domain-specific expertise, proposal building and administrative capabilities. In cases where the internal resources are tapped out or otherwise unavailable, external resources, such as consulting firms or freelance RD personnel, can be brought in to fill those unmet needs. A hybrid model, whereby the internal team works with an external team to submit the application, are particularly useful when the application is a priority of the institution and a no-go decision is impossible to make.

Every time an external consultant/freelancer is brought in, it is important to weigh the costs with the benefits, especially at smaller institutions. When bringing in external consultants, a shared vision for success is necessary. It is important to set expectations early, asking for references for each consultant to answer questions like: have they worked with similar projects before, are they reliable and timely, do they set and manage expectations, do they have good communication skills across diversity in teams, cultures and discipline, are they team-players, do they make you look good, and do they have a good network that you can tap into.

If tapping into external resources is not a possibility, then the internal team needs to reevaluate the go-no-go decision tree. At times, it is useful to bring in an external team just to get an outsider perspective and to reiterate the no-go decision.

In conclusion, the presenters reiterated that having clear SOW with external consultants, starting early with internal team with planning, idea generation, brain storming, and being cognizant of your own limitations can help with these decisions. The ability to create a dedicated team of internal and/or external contributors and seek out highly specified individuals to fill gaps in expertise is key to successful go-no-go decision making.