Tag: innovation

Funding for i3 in 2011?

Potentially good news for as many as 94% of potential 2010 i3 applicants (and for all those groups who decided not to put together a $30 million program in a period of a couple of months): the president’s 2011 budget request includes $500 million for the Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation program. If approved by Congress, that line item will fund another round of potentially massive i3 projects.

At the Denver i3 pre-application workshop, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement, Jim Shelton, stated very clearly that all funds for i3 will be disbursed prior to September 30, 2010. Shelton’s statement was in response to a question about how the funding would be allocated over the three to five years of the proposed projects.

As noted in a previous post, the Department stands by its intention to award up to 5 scale-up grants, up to 100 scale-up grants, and up to 100 development grants even though funding that many awards at the anticipated average award level (not the max) would require $2.25 billion–far exceeding the $643.5 million allocated for the program in 2010.

It’s possible that in developing the final announcement, the Department made a decision to allow for more awards than current funding could support, knowing that the 2011 request was in the pipeline. Thus, if the 2011 budget request is approved, they could make enough awards to disburse the current allocation for Year 1 spending and then use future budget allocations for future years.

This approach is risky given the uncertain budget climate, but it does follow the Department’s usual pattern of allocating major program awards on a 3-5 year cycle (e.g., TRIO awards). But unlike those other major programs, the i3 announcement doesn’t include any language about funding in subsequent years being contingent on suitable progress.

If they do decide to fund subsequent years through new budget allocations rather than giving a single lump-sum award as promised to date, that’s bad news for anyone hoping to apply for an i3 next year. My guess is that not even Jim Shelton knows which approach they plan to take, and the decision won’t be made till they know something for sure on the budget.

Tomorrow the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is scheduled to testify on the full Education budget request before the Senate Labor/HHS/Education/etc. Appropriations Subcommittee. One of my senators is on the subcommitte…perhaps he’d ask the Secretary to elaborate on the i3 plans? Yeah, probably not.


Quoting Gandhi

In a post earlier this year, literary agent Nathan Bransford recounted the experience of a friend who reviews grant proposals for a living. In summary, “Apparently everyone who applies for a grant quotes Gandhi!”

Nathan goes on to explain that in writing queries to find an agent, just as in writing grant proposals, sometimes it helps to step back and ask what everyone else is likely to do and then do something different. Certainly, if you stretch too far toward the different end of the spectrum, you risk alienating the prospective agent (or reviewers and program officers), but the point is still valid.

Good writing is rarely sufficient to get a project funded (though it doesn’t hurt!), and most funding agencies and foundations aren’t keen on funding yesterday’s projects that have just been repackaged in today’s buzzwords. Increasingly, grant makers are asking for explicit statements within proposals describing how a proposed idea or specific approach is innovative, and the profusion of programs to fund innovation further underscores this focus (e.g., herehere, herehere, here, here, and half a dozen other places).

The NIH proposal writing guide presents one approach to distinguishing your research from other work out there:

Is Your Idea Original?

  • Check the literature to verify that the exact project you are considering has not been done before. Search the literature and the NIH CRISP database to minimize overlap with similar studies.
  • Assess the competition. See which other projects in your field are being funded, and consider turning competitors into collaborators to improve the strength of your proposal.
  • Carve out a niche that will allow you to significantly advance knowledge in your respective field. 

Did you catch the “consider turning your competitors into collaborators” bit? That’s not advice you hear every day, and it may be easier said than done. But it may be the best approach if you consider what other people would do and discover someone’s already making headway in your chosen area of research. Or if that’s not appealing, follow the last bullet, and make your own place–be innovative and original, and stake your claim.

Finally, whether you choose to collaborate or innovate or both, put the book of quotations back on the shelf, or at least save the Gandhi quotes for the first draft of your response to reviewers on an unfunded submission (you know the one I’m talking about–that visceral, heated response that makes you feel better but never makes it anywhere near your resubmission).

Here are two Gandhi quotes to get you started:

When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it–always.

and

It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.

But should you despair of ever succeeding, recall this one:

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.


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