Over the last couple of years and from time to time the JISC have asked me to mark grant funding proposals. If you’re asked, and you have the time, I’d recommend it – it’s been the single most useful thing I’ve done in trying to understand the JISC + community mindset, and in improving my own bid writing.

Last week I was marking bids and getting quite frustrated – some bids can be evaluated pretty well on a single read through and then another pass to collect the facts, while others take several read-throughs, and still the bits don’t seem to hang together. By and large, the former scored well and got a positive recommendation for funding. The latter didn’t. I doubt my scores and recommendations will be very different to others’.  By the end of the batch of bids I realised that the really important differentiator wasn’t in following a particular structure, GANTT charts or well structured risk assessments (although those things are good to have, and hopefully evince the planning that has gone in to the proposal).

The better bids described what the project was going to do, and why, early on.

As a marker, once you understand what the project is about, you have a mental framework around which to add all the rest of the proposal’s impacts, plans and costs. Even if you don’t agree with the project methodology you can assess whether it’s useful. Most importantly in this day and age: if you don’t know what the project is doing, you can’t judge the likely impact, and if you can’t judge the impact, you can’t judge the value for money.

So here’s some advice for bid writers as a parting shot: your front page abstract (or first para) should be like an elevator pitch. Describe, very clearly and briefly, what your project is going to do, and why it’s a good idea.

P.S. I’ve been as guilty as anyone of getting this wrong, and I’ve written some poor funding proposals. If I were still going to be around, I’d be taking my own advice!