Gathering and using evidence is an important part of any grant application. It helps put forward a strong and reasoned case that highlights the need for the project and support from the community and beneficiary groups. It also helps meet the expectations of a funder. Funders routinely tell us they want to see evidence of research in any grant applications they receive. It demonstrates that you understand the problem you are addressing and have investigated how your proposed project or activity can make a positive difference.
What are funders looking for?
Good quality research can seriously strengthen your grant application. To be effective, this research should be recent and relevant. It should also be proportional to the size of your project. For example, if your project has regional or national reach then a funder would expect to see this reflected in the scope of your research activity. Importantly, your research should help you to:
- Show that you have consulted people who will be involved in the design and delivery of your project. Be sure to explain how people's feedback has influenced what you are planning to do and why.
- Provide evidence that there is a real need for your project. Use your evidence to back up any statements that you make.
- Explain how your project will not duplicate other work going on in your local area. A funder will want to know that you have a good grasp of what is already happening nearby.
Ready, set, research!
When beginning your research activity, you should devise a small number of research questions. This will focus your activities on what you need to find out. Your research should help you to answer common questions that a funder will ask, such as, Why is your project needed? How do you know that people will participate in your project? How will people benefit from your project?
There are two main types of research: primary and secondary. Primary research gathers new data about a particular problem or area of study. It gives you the opportunity to talk directly to, and involve, potential beneficiaries. Secondary research makes use of existing data. A funder usually expects to see both in a grant application. Any research you use must have a purpose in supporting and evidencing your case. It is no use simply citing research results in your application; you need to explain its significance and meaning.
Consider who is best placed to conduct your research. This might be you, particularly if you are the one who knows the most about your activities. Alternatively, you could involve representatives from a beneficiary group, such as parents or pupils. Some schools utilise the skills and enthusiasm of their school council to consult pupils about their needs and wishes.
Many bid writers keep a research diary. Research is an investigative process and can involve a mixture of different methods over time, These could include informal chats, observations, focus groups, questionnaires, reports, newspaper cuttings, web sources, and so on. A research diary can help you keep track of and record what you have done and what you have found out.
Get to grips with research methods
You need to choose the right methods to provide data that will answer your research questions.
- Questionnaires are popular investigative tools, enabling you to ask a group of people a series of standardised questions to gather information from them. You can use a combination of open and closed questions to give you a range of qualitative and quantitative data. Hands-up surveys can be used when working with younger children.
- Interviews provide a more in-depth and open-ended exploration of a topic, guided by a set of questions. You can interview experts (e.g. community leaders), as well as laypeople, to gather together opinions, experiences and knowledge. Interviews give you the opportunity to ask follow-up questions to gain further insight and deepen understanding.
- Focus groups, of around five to ten people, enable group discussion of a particular topic. Good planning will help focus group moderation, so come equipped with name badges, questions and activities to steer discussion. Group dynamics can lead to unanticipated findings.
- Observations of behaviour or activity can be valuable in helping you describe how a problem or challenge is affecting a particular group. Observations of children at play, for example, can help describe skills deficiencies, particularly social or physical skills.
- Pilot studies enable you to test the feasibility of your proposed activity or event. You can tell the funder what worked, what didn't, what feedback you received and how the pilot study has influenced your current plans.
- Mapping exercises are useful in demonstrating gaps in facilities or activities. If your project is to build a sports facility, then a map highlighting any local and regional facilities can provide insight into demand and need.
- Letters of support, including testimonials from people involved in a pilot study or similar activity run by your school.
- Existing statistics can help you paint a picture of your situation. You can utilise locally focused statistics, such as those about your school population, or use regional or national-level statistics, such as area deprivation or health statistics.
- Existing reports, from charity research or government papers, can also help to specify a problem, understand its scale and justify your approach.
Remember, whatever evidence you present in a bid, you must always explain what it means. You might have 20% of pupils with English as an additional language, but what does this tell you about their needs? This is all about answering the 'so what?' question. Back up every statement you make with evidence and explain its significance, and you will have a strong grant application. Don't assume the reader or reviewer will do this analytical work for you; give them everything they need to make the right funding decision.
Rachel Gordon runs the School Funding Service, which helps schools across the UK win grants for a wide range of projects. She writes bids for schools and advises them on how to maximise their funding potential.
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