So with the deadline out of the way and the funding bid finished off and submitted it’s time for a touch of reflection about how I’ve gone about the process and some thoughts about the whole exercise.  I’m finding it interesting that there have been a few blog posts, such as this one from Chris Keene, about the process, so there are a few people reflecting on bid writing.

Getting beyond the concept and towards an actual bid
Thinking about the preparation steps I’ve gone through – I seem to have covered four distinct areas: identifying funding opportunities; some user requirements gathering; getting management approval to commit to a bid; and then understanding what is going on in that area already

  • I’d had some ideas about the areas that might potentially form the subject of a funding bid, and the germ of the idea included things that we hoped to do anyway (but maybe in a slightly different way or with a different emphasis).  By this time of year we have mapped out our strategic priorities for the year and developed our implementation plans so have a good feel for the areas we are interested in.   We routinely check the funding opportunities such as the JISC Future Grant Calls website.  So we have an idea about what might come up, although don’t always know how our ideas might fit with the funding opportunity.
  • A key part of the early stage is to refine the ideas.  So for this bid I did some preparation by putting together some suggestions about things we could do and then asking for feedback from learning and teaching librarians to reality check the concepts.  How useful would doing x be?, would y be useful to students?.  That process was really helpful in deciding on the focus – what data would we look at?, how would we use it?, what would we build?  This was a really useful stage as it meant that we could refine the scope of the work and quickly get down to the detail of what we wanted to do in discussion with the technical team.  As well as helping to refine the ideas it also got that learning and teaching group engaged with the potential project so helped with the next stage.
  • Getting approval to actually go ahead with the bid was a mix of informal and formal processes.  From informally meeting with, emailing and talking to stakeholders to get them engaged with the idea and agreeing to time from staff in principle, through to a formal business case that had to be approved internally.  Initially we worked with a two page project outline to give people an idea of what was being proposed.  That document helped as a focus for people to look at and ideas changed as we went along.  The business case process has the advantage of making you assemble costs, ideas and justifications so you have them well-refined by the time you come to write the bid document.  On the positive side it does challenge how it fits with service priorities and can it or should it be done.  But on the negative side it is an extra step when time is short and it concentrates much more on the internal benefits rather than the wider benefits.
  • Finally, there’s the critical stage of understanding the context.  What else is going on in this area?  How does what you are planning fit with that?  Do you know enough about the other work?  Can you see the connections?  Have you talked to potential partners and related projects?  Helpfully in the case of this funding bid there has been a range of work taking place over the last couple of years, with other projects and seminars on the subject, so there’s been a wealth of information available.  The funders also made available a briefing document with more information about related work, and ran a briefing day to help with making connections and understanding what they wanted from the bids.

Preparing the bid
Strangely, for me at least, the actual writing of the bid document wasn’t as daunting as I’d expected.  By the time I’d got to the stage of putting everything together in the right format the ideas and concepts had been well-rehearsed and refined.  Putting it in the final format and cross-checking the bid documentation was helpful in picking up where there were any gaps that needed to be addressed.  Writing and re-writing to keep it within the page limit while trying to make sure that you’d covered everything that needed to be in the bid was a bit of a challenge.   What was useful was to send out drafts of the document to people for them to comment on it.  A whole raft of useful suggestions and challenges came back to improve the document.

The final step was getting institutional approval to submit.  Unlike some institutions it’s a formal process here and that has to be planned into the schedule so it means that you need to be ready with all your documentation well before the funding bid deadline.  That’s useful in itself as it means that everything isn’t left to the last minute to complete the bid.

Final thoughts
I suppose the key lessons learnt were:

  • Plan in advance topics that might be suitable for funding bids
  • Keep up to date with what opportunities are out there
  • Make sure you align what you want to do with service and institutional priorities (as well as obviously fitting the bid criteria)
  • Get internal stakeholders on board with the ideas
  • Make sure you understand the context for the funding call
  • You’re reliant on a lot of people doing things for you at short notice and with short deadlines
  • There’s never enough time – and your document won’t ever be perfect – next week it would have been better or different – but just make it as good as you can
  • Go to any briefing days, read all the paperwork, talk to people about it
  • Overall the process is helpful in refining ideas – so even with bids that don’t get completed – they help in moving other ideas forward

My thanks go to everyone who helped with putting our bid together.  I haven’t counted them up but it’s probably over 25-30 people who contributed to the document, handled the various components such as the budget, approval forms etc, or made suggestions or provided information.