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Biodiversity Informatics Training Curriculum: Proposal-writing Class, part 2

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Okay. We've now read the request for proposals. Let's start thinking about assembling your project. One thing is, what is the team like? This is just some thoughts. I can give you two perspectives: a big team or a small group. In a big team, we can put all the experts together. We can bring in somebody who is relevant to each dimension of the project. We can show nice broad teamwork and coalition building. We can essentially share the wealth and show benefits of the funding that would go beyond just your particular group. These proposals tend to be more authoritative, representative, and inclusive. Under some circumstances, it may be better to be a small group. If we have a huge number of groups, the budget gets spread out and diluted which may mean not much benefit for any one group. Some team members are not good team players. In other words, pick your collaborators very carefully. This one is something I'm quite focused on. Often, when you work in big groups and do science-by-committee, it will often distill down to something that's fairly boring. These small proposals, or these small teams, can emphasize autonomy, agility, responsiveness, individuality, and even individual personalities. Now, let's imagine we've designed our proposal and our group. We've chosen and read about our funding agency. I want to go through seven elements of proposals with you. They won't always be explicitly in every proposal. But, to some degree, you'll have to deal with each of these elements. I'll give you examples from four proposals that I've been involved with over the years. Just for fun, I've gone ahead and included the proposal that is funding the Biodiversity Informatics Training Curriculum. The first of these elements is the executive summary. It might not always be called an 'executive summary.' It might be called an 'abstract' or just a 'summary.' But, you should remember that the people who are reviewing your proposal are busy, and they're probably rushed. They're going to read this summary. It has to be very condensed and clear. It has to grab their eye and effectively sell your proposal. This needs to be done upfront because in some cases, it will be the only thing that the reviewers or the program officers have time to read. So, this is really critical part of the proposal. Here's one example. This is from the JRS Biodiversity grant which funds this project. I start off with a very general statement. I get to what is the problem which is 'access to techniques and knowledge.' Then the solution. Notice that I finish up with a very clear statement of what the benefit is: "an ideal combination of direct contact training at sites across Africa and permanent online training resources" (like this video) that will be available worldwide. That's one. Here's another one. For National Science Foundation proposals you have these big, single page statements that are the summary. Many times, that is what sells the project or not. Here's another one. This is for the Commons project. Again, it's got the statement of the problem or the challenge. What we will do; and, why it's interesting. This is the equivalent section from a proposal to the MacArthur Foundation. In this case, it's literally just a numbered list. It doesn't even have to be full sentences. A second element of your proposal is 'why.' For the reviewer that reads your whole proposal, you have to give them in-depth, detailed reasoning as to why the proposal should be funded. What's the need? What's the benefit for the community? Why should they invest in you? This rationale can be based on work that you or other people have done to date. Essentially, it needs to set the scene for the project. Here are some examples. What are the issues you want to address? This is the JRS proposal. I mentioned that there are no textbooks in biodiversity informatics. Formal academic programs are just beginning to appear. What can we do to move this field forward in the immediate term? For the NSF proposal... Again, statement and development of that challenge. This statement goes on for several more pages. Back to the Commons proposal. This is more general and textual. Notice this paragraph: "This project aims to take advantage of this to evaluate and understand land-use change over 120 years." I'm laying out why this proposal should be interesting to the funding agency. Here's for the MacArthur proposal. This is the entire section. Obviously you can't see that in this video. The point is simply to identify problems wherein lack of detailed knowledge of biodiversity limits the efficacy of conservation and sustainable development. Remember, that that was one of the Foundation's key priorities. The third element is a detailed description of the project. Now, maybe you've made it through a couple of filters. Maybe the reviewers read the abstract or the executive summary of 20 or 30 proposals, and they throw away 10 or 20 of them. Now, they have 5 or 10 proposals in front of them. This is where the hard decisions come in. Maybe they've only got money for three proposals. So, they're going to read through very carefully, and they want to see the detail. The worst part is that it's the expert in your field that will read your methodology. If that expert says that your proposal has a one serious gap in the methodology, you're out. Even though most reviewers will never read it, this section has to be very solid. You have to show that you know the literature. You know what's been done in your field worldwide. You have to have considered all possible methodologies as you decide on the methodology you are going to use. What you don't want is for a reviewer to question why you aren't using a different technique. This is your opportunity to say why you are not using an alternative technique. Finally, this is also an opportunity to offer some preliminary data, show your previous work, and list the experience of your team members. For this detailed description, again I'll show you those four proposals. I'm not going to go into detail. This is a fun one because this is the Biodiversity Informatics Training Curriculum. "Three training sessions yearly over three years..." "...held in Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, and Egypt..." Again, going through all the details. This is a training proposal, so it has a very general format. The National Science Foundation proposal has immense detail. "Frozen collections were 32 for birds, 14 for mammals," and so on... "We'll estimate completeness via this estimator. " These are literature references. Look at the density of detail that is provided here. For the very general Commons proposal, there's almost not an explicit statement. We will revisit a first set of sites - locating and photographing them. Relate the old and the new to satellite imagery. This is a very short proposal so the information is abbreviated. Finally, the MacArthur proposal. We're are 'a large group of international leaders in biotic surveys and inventories.' There, I'm waving the flag of the group. "...nine year ongoing collaborative agreement with each country..." These are details of the field surveys. This is in the middle with how much detail we provide. The budget is the next piece of the puzzle. We can't just request X amount of money. We need to say, "give me X amount of money for this, this, this, and this." You have to specify how you will spend the money you're requesting. Give accurate cost estimates. If you say you will buy a new computer, maybe that will cost around $2,000. But, if you say $2000, it looks you're just 'ballparking' the estimate. About or around. Many funding agencies will be much more comfortable if they know you've gone out, looked for exactly the computer that you need, and you can say $2145 instead of $2000. So, you provide detail on how you derived the cost estimates. You request enough money that the work can be done; but, you don't request so much money that the request is ridiculous. Remember, these people are comparing your proposal to other people's proposals. And, they're going to get these same intervals of requesting enough and not requesting too much. Let's look at some budget information. Here's the the JRS project budget. As you can see, essentially everything is being spent on moving trainees to the training sites. This is a very detailed table with what in which year. And, how much the total is. We then gives some notes on what the budget consists of. A minimal salary. Quarter time for a technician to process the videos. A little bit of supplies. And then a lot of travel. You give point-by-point how you got to the number that you request in your budget. National Science Foundation budgets are much more complex. I'm not going to go into the fine details, but it includes: personnel, equipment, travel, supporting participants, and everything else. There's a little bit here as far as institutional funds to support the light and the internet and all the other parts of the institution where I work. In the MacArthur proposal, you can see again we provide details. Here, we inserted a note regarding expedition expenses calculations. "My institution and one other rank amongst the most active programs of global scientific collecting anywhere. " Based on that, we can tell you how much these expeditions will cost. It's also a way reminding them of the experience that the team has. Another table that gives all these details. Then, some detail on how we're going to support the people who are participating. And here's that Commons proposal. Again, it's very short. But, we give just enough information. A 15-day trip. When it's going to happen. A 10-day visit by two Mexican members to the University of Kansas. This way they can see how we're going to spend the funding. Here are those exact details. Four round-trip airfares. Hotel accommodations. <i>Per diems</i>. The Mexican visit to the U.S.. Purchase of imagery. The idea is that we give them enough detail that they'll scan down that and agree that it looks like a reasonable amount of money to request.

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Duration: 15 minutes and 2 seconds
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Language: English
License: Dotsub - Standard License
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Posted by: townpeterson on Jul 5, 2016

In English. Segment 2 of a 3-part class on writing effective proposals for funding.

Town Peterson, University of Kansas

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