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Biodiversity Informatics Training Curriculum: Proposal-writing Class, part 3

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Another common element in proposals is organizational information. This may be explicitly in there as a separate section or it may be something that you add in. Funding agencies don't want to give money to just a person. They want to choose an organization because an organization is sufficient as a platform for developing these projects. Organizational information may include the past experience or past success that your organization has had. Other colleagues who are present at your institution who can help you. And, potentially a letter or some sort of expression support from the director of the institution. Let's look at some examples. Here's one: "The Biodiversity Institute focuses on study of the life of the planet." 10.2 million specimens. 20 researchers. 55 graduate students. Things like that. Those are very nice, supportive details. In a National Science Foundation proposal, you have a very formal statement of laboratories, computer facilities, office facilities, etc.. I'm just showing you a little piece of it here. In the very informal Commons proposal, I'm basically pointing out that we can do this. We have all of the facilities for manipulating the imagery. We have labs that are more than sufficient to make this project happen. In the MacArthur proposal, how the issue relates to the organization is a prompt that they provide. (aside to Kate) I'm going to start there. That's a prompt that they provide. We point out that we had successfully carried out major biodiversity assessment initiatives in all of these countries ... with this funding. This is organization in terms of the project team. This is a way of saying that we're pretty sure that we can do what we're promising to do in this proposal. The next element may also be explicit as a section or it may be integrated into your proposal. And, that is showing that you have experience in the area of the proposal. Why should the organization or agency send you some money if this is a new endeavor for you? It's another way of showing your readiness to take on the project by demonstrating progress towards your goals. If this is your second attempt, it is very important to show that you've made progress on the project since the first attempt. For me, a big priority is to make preliminary data visual when possible. I'll give you some examples. This is from JRS proposal. It was difficult to make that one visual. But, I mentioned that I experimented in Kenya and Burundi with accessing these teaching platforms from in-country workstations. Some of these platforms were difficult to use. So, this was our way of saying that we tested the YouTube platform and found it to work quite well. Here's the prototype. And, there's the weblink where they can go and see the prototype. Here's one from the National Science Foundation proposal. These team members were people who lead early trips to those sites, so we were able to show our prior experience in this work. Here's an analysis of land-use change around one the sites in Peru. Thus, we were able to show that we can do the remote sensing component of the project. Here is preliminary data for the Commons proposal. This was re-photographing sites of old paintings. Here's the old painting done in about 1900. It's a valley in central Mexico. And, here is the new photograph of the exact same landscape. Obviously, we'll do this much better. But, this preliminary data statement makes the point that the early painter was almost photographic in his work. Just look at the outline of the mountains. These are very important because they allow you to speak to concerns that the reviewers may have. Finally, in the MacArthur proposal, we go through some of our previous experiences. One of our graduate students working in the Philippines. Six years of investment. We're not only speaking to general experience, but this statement is tailored to the conservation priorities of the foundation focusing on the conservation experience and background at my institution. This was a very important customization of a statement of how proud we are of this institution. Okay. The last element is "broader benefits." Nobody in the funding world wants to just give you money and see one published paper appear in the literature. Rather, the funding agency wants to see that small (or big) investment turn into an even bigger benefit. So, what else does the organization get for its investment? Many times it's not the real reason why you win or lose, but it can tip the balance. Maybe your proposal is on the fence between getting funded or not. These extra benefits can make a lot of difference. Some common ideas are: training students, public education, and assisting in other aspects of public well-being. This might health, education, cultural resources, conservation, etc. What other benefits of your project are certain to occur and that really look good to the reader or reviewer? Here are some examples. The JRS proposal was actually pretty easy because we're saying that we're going to make teaching resources available worldwide. That was a pretty simple one. The National Science Foundation project was actually very nice. It had direct public health implications even though it was a biodiversity proposal. Also, "it will inform biodiversity conservation." It combines expertise across many countries, cultures, and domains. It will develop new biological collections. And, it will support undergraduate education and research. That was a big proposal, so we had to give them a long and detailed description of all of these different other benefits. For the MacArthur proposal, we focused on training. We planned three levels of training as part of this project. That was one focused benefit that we were going to offer back. Not only would we do the research and gain knowledge, but we would also share the knowledge and share the techniques and frameworks for thinking broadly across the region. OK, those are the seven elements that I promised you at the outset. Different proposals will have additional elements. For example, you'll commonly see the request for a timeline. When do you plan on getting each thing done? A data management statement. That can be as simple as specifying the use of Access databases. I personally prefer some vision to sharing your data. So, ideally, that data management statement will turn into another benefit because you're saying the not only will you accumulate the information, but you will also share the information. And, often, you have to provide various certifications and commitments. Maybe the director of the institute has to commit to releasing your time to this project. Many times there are institutional- level certifications such as 'this is a not-for-profit organization' or something like that. Don't miss those because they can be critical. Just some last details. For many of these details you can refer to the separate set of classes that I've developed for the BITC which focus on publications. It's the same idea. You really have to make this attractive. When you're writing your proposal, remember that it is not going to be published. You don't need to worry about paying for color illustrations. But color is a two-edged sword. The big benefits are that color is visual. It's attractive. It's convincing. You can communicate more in a little figure. But, always remember that there's another side. If the reviewer prints out the proposal on a black-and-white printer, he or she may not see the color at all. Or, maybe the reviewer is color blind. In that case, red and green may get confused and lost. So, use color. But, use color intelligently. Again, there's a whole section on figures in the publication class. Another critical element is proofreading and editing. This proposal really has to be perfect. If it's not going to be published, why should you get every detail perfect? The simple answer is: you're trying to convince somebody to give you a lot of money. So, you really do need to put a lot of time and effort into reviewing, and reviewing, and editing your proposal so that it is clean. In summary, good luck. I've given you some ideas about how to prepare a proposal for funding. And, I hope you will put these ideas to good use in developing an effective proposal. Thanks a lot.

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Duration: 12 minutes and 21 seconds
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Language: English
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Posted by: townpeterson on Jul 5, 2016

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

Town Peterson, University of Kansas

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