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Chapter 6 - Advice

Advice to funding organizations

The not-for-profit environment is often limited by financial resources. This reality, combined with the importance of using resources most efficiently, should encourage funding organizations whose goal is promoting knowledge sharing and education to adjust their granting opportunities to enable organizations to maximize their outreach while minimizing their costs. Given the ubiquitous nature of the internet and the ever-growing list of available IT solutions, investment in technical innovation should become one of the main priorities for funding organizations interested in promoting education among a wider audience. However, as mentioned in previous chapters, technical innovation is a difficult process involving not only issues surrounding technology itself, but also changes in work processes, work organization and others. Throughout our discussions with all of the eight project teams they mentioned several issues involving the grant structure that they found helpful or harmful to their projects. In this section we briefly touch upon some of these issues.

Bring grantees together early in the grant period to facilitate knowledge sharing and community building

One of the aspects of the grant opportunity the grantees found to be among the most helpful was the unprecedented information exchange facilitated by their ability to meet with their co-grantees at the November workshop. This meeting gave all those who attended an excellent opportunity to network with other colleagues and share ideas and resources used in each individual project. As one participant at the workshop stated, “I am not used to this type of collaborative environment within a grant structure – normally I am competing with each of you. This has been refreshing to come together and share success stories and challenges so that there is a knowledge sharing among like entities.” Many of the grantees felt their projects could have benefited greatly from an earlier meeting, when input from other organizations undertaking similar projects would be very valuable. All felt strongly that the exploratory nature of this type of work was very important and should not be treated like other grant programs.

Provide ongoing substantive support for project teams

Many participants also spoke of the importance of the guided discussions held in the teleconference calls. They found the discussions to be instrumental in some cases and at the very least very valuable to their efforts to achieve their project objectives. Participants strongly urged funding organizations to design similar support in future exploratory grant opportunities as a way to encourage networking and collaboration among grantees. The process of talking through the issues, many of them unfamiliar to members of the project teams, provided a unique opportunity to bring in expertise for short periods of time to assist in brainstorming, problem solving and course corrections.

Having the representatives from the funding organizations themselves on the calls was also valuable to the grantees as it gave them an opportunity to share some of the problems connected to the grant administration itself and explain in more detail the progress of their projects.

Get grant money into the hands of grantees quickly

One of the often mentioned complaints related to the grant structure was the delay in getting the funds to the project teams. The nature of this project required that a lot of resources be extended at the beginning of the project in exploring the various technical solutions available. Although most projects were able to overcome the delay by using resources from other sources, the need to search for these new resources was detrimental to their ability to concentrate on the project itself. In addition, in exploratory projects one often faces unforeseen challenges that require prompt access to financial resources to enable the project lead to manage the unexpected.