5 tips for successful collaborative funding applications

As you progress your academic career it is likely that you will at some point become part of a research collaboration project. As research requires funding this will necessitate you playing a part in the funding application. Most researchers have little to no training in how to put together an effective funding application, and learn what they can from their peers. For those starting on this path here are five key points to help in your next collaborative funding application. At the end of this post you will find links to several funding application toolkits with details about how to approach the application itself.

1. Before you start
Firstly, check the likelihood of an award being granted. Many awarding bodies report the numbers of both applications and awards granted in previous years. Consider the number of associated likely publications as a result of the funding. In terms of the research team it is important to consider the experience and h-index of the Principle Investigator (PI). These factors will influence the likelihood of success. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the funding body’s motivation – whether it is predominantly political, charitable, scientific or commercial.

As the application process is very time-consuming it is a good idea to consider the amount of time you will need to invest in the application, and its chances of success. You need to be realistic about how much time you can afford to commit to the application. The process is likely to take longer than you think, and you will probably be expected to complete the application in your own time. This in turn will have an impact on your personal life. It is good to prepare your family and friends in advance and determine a time structure that will work for you all.

2. Workable and fundable
Make sure you have found the right partners and defined your objectives clearly. Some collaborations may look fundable on paper but prove unworkable due to challenging professional relationships and the different personalities involved. Naturally-formed partnerships are more likely to produce workable projects.
The reputation of your PI will influence funding decisions. Their historical relationships with individuals in the funding organisation will have a baring on the success of the funding application.

3. Develop a plan and be clear about roles
Written collaboration plans help to maximise the likelihood of success. This is particularly relevant to more complex collaborations across disciplines. Being clear from the start about research goals and associated costs, both financial and time-related, will help smooth the process of putting together your application. Setting expectations from individuals and teams with defined deliverables and deadlines will significantly boost your chances of success.

As part of your collaboration plan it is helpful to factor in regular meetings – either face-to-face or online – if participants are widely dispersed geographically. If possible, make sure you have at least one face-to-face meeting, for example a kickoff meeting at the beginning or a synthesis meeting towards the end of the process.

You will also need to agree a way of dealing with endless drafts, including how to make amendments to those drafts and in what order. It is worth agreeing upfront who will be included in what types of emails. Receiving many emails where no action or response is required from you may well mean you fail to pick up on the one email where you are asked a question or required to do something that wasn’t foreseen when the original plan was set out.

4. Outsource tasks where possible
Getting external input to help with funding collaborations will help your success rate. Projects are increasingly won or lost on their management rather than research content. Including professional services in the management work package is therefore advisable. Get as much guidance as possible from mentors and colleagues who have served on funding panels. They may well have insights about the funding body that aren’t formally documented or may be hard to interpret from the guidelines provided. To this end many funding collaborations employ external professional partners to review or even manage the process, and after researching the success rates of applications you may decide it is worth engaging this type of service.
At another level, it is worth considering employing professional editing services to ensure consistency, and that research outputs are communicated in a way that will be well received and understood.

5. Convincing collaborations: well-defended and described
Your application will need to fully address the questions set out by the funding scheme in as compelling a way as possible. Be very clear about your research objectives and quantify what success will look like. Where possible include preliminary data and detail on the expected impact of the results of the research. The thought process required in putting together a robust project plan to complete the submission should initially address some of these key points. Indeed, as you go through the planning process you may conclude that if the research doesn’t clearly cover the points described above it may be wise to look for an alternative funding body, or redefine your research goals.

Rejection and resubmission
Unfortunately, due in large part to the complex nature of research collaborations, many applications prove unsuccessful. But by going through the process several options are still open to you after rejection. As an individual researcher, you could submit your element of the project to an alternative funding body. Alternatively, the assembled team may decide that the project is worth submitting to another funding body. Finally, the proposed research could be resubmitted to the same funding body but with a focus instead on addressing another related research question that the funding body is prioritising.

Here’s our list of helpful resources that give you useful tools and tips to help you in the complex nature of research collaboration funding proposals.

Write a successful collaborative application

Team Science Funding Toolkit

How to put together collaborative projects

Writing grant application

12 Top Tips for Writing a Grant Application

Successful Proposal Writing

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