The grant life cycle is an overview of an extensive and complicated process of research funding mechanism that involves everything in its entirety from proposal solicitation, application, and submission to administration. A grant life cycle is significant to comprehend otherwise complex research policies and procedures required to identify funding opportunities, apply, manage, and subsequently qualify for the grant award. Most grant applicants categorize the whole procedure in the following seven steps:
- Ideation – The creative process where your idea isformed as a basic element of concept that has the potential to be transformed into an innovative project.
- Framing – Framing proposes the method to process the idea in a certain way. The frame is an abstraction of your idea where you structure the meaning incomprehensible manner before presenting it to the people.
- Refinement – You refine rough theory by explaining your concept into a well-developed theoretical product and reviewing the model for weakness, gaps, and excessive memos or data to achieve a more compact version.
- Negotiation – Negotiation is the method through which you and the grant organizations aim to achieve the mutually conducive outcome and position to maintain an agreeable relationship throughout the long funding process.
- Implementation – While your ideation addresses ‘why & what’ of the concept, the implementation process requires a description of ‘who, where, when, and how.’ Although both stages are critical for successful execution, the implementation is what it takes for ideas to become a reality by accomplishing the strategic objective.
- Development – Ideation is the key component of innovation, but to see through these ideas, we need a systematic process to manage and develop them into an advanced invention. In the development stage, you assign different tasks and phases to improve your model project to achieve a prototype of your product that can be presented for evaluation of the patentability and probability of the invention.
- Closeout – After the successful – or unsuccessful – execution of your project, the final step in the process is the closeout. The purpose of the project closeout is to formally conclude all activities to ensure the completion and to finish any remaining administrative tasks before submitting the project closure report to the organization.
The typical duration of each grant lifecycle and its phases are variables based on several factors, such as the type of grant, program category, project nature, funding agency, approval criteria, and individual terms and conditions related to the respective institute. Yet, the three distinct phases of a grant life cycle are consistent across federal funding agencies as defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Uniform Guidance & Administrative Requirements for Federal awards.
The three major stages: pre-award, award, and post-award. The applicant/recipient and awarding agency have unique roles in each of the three major stages as follows:
- Pre-Award Phase – comprises of framing & refinement steps from the grantee’s standpoint and takes approximately 4 to 12 months.
- Award Phase – comprises of negotiation step from both the grantor and grantee’s standpoint and takes approximately 2 to 5 months.
- Post Award Phase – comprises of implementation, development, and a closeout from both the grantor and grantee’s standpoint and takes approximately 1 to 5 years.
Please note that the duration of the award phases varies depending on the aforementioned factors.
As you begin your research funding journey, several platforms can assist in the process. The challenge is to choose with the most credible and accommodating foundation like that of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to eliminate fallouts at any of the later stages. Before you start preparing for your proposal, you should lookup for the successful grant examples concerning the field you are planning to apply to. (Chung and Shauver, 2008)
The NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT) was created to provide a searchable database of the scientific activities that take place at the NIH institutes and centers. From grant programs information to publications and inventions resulting from NIH funded research projects along with information about scientists and funded projects. You will also find active funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) for various grant programs. And this is where a grant life cycle commences.
The Pre-Award Phase
The pre-award phase marks the beginning of the grant process that includes the funding agencies publishing funding opportunity announcements on Grants.gov, followed by the application submission and review of grant proposals. Before applying or in some cases submitting a letter for inquiry, you should ascertain your proposal’s eligibility by contacting the program officer or director to discuss the project. The efficient communication between the grant recipient and the funding agency’s staff is crucial during the entire course of award processes.
At this point, the following members of the grantors’ and grantees’ organization work closely together:
- Grants Management Officer (GMO)
- Grants Management Specialist (GMS)
- Program Official (PO)
Grant recipient participants
- Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR)
- Project Director (PD) & Principal Investigator (PI)
Since you are applying to the solicited, competitive application process in response to the FoAs, the agencies will be well within their rights to discard any proposal submitted as a noncompetitive or investigator-initiated grant application. The FoAs contain detail information about the objective of the award and estimated amount, eligibility requirements for applicants, application deadline, funding duration, and selection criteria. You will initiate the process by clearing the following screenings, also known as certifications of verification for federal compliance.
- Clearance report of anti-terrorism screening test
- Copy of filed financial questionnaire with a complete set of relevant documents
- Form W-9 or W-8BEN-E certifying foreign status and tax reserve on income
- Guarantor information and written authorization to initiate grant agreement on behalf of your organization
- Estimated amount required for the first quarter (approximately 4 to 6 months) of the agreed grant
- Project-specific bank account information
If your application successfully meets the eligibility requirements, you will be notified to submit your proposal within the short period of announcement closing call, which is your last chance to finalize every detail, attachment, and certificate of the application. After that definite duration, you will be required to submit a complete project proposal. Consult your organization to decide upon the Application Submission Options to see which of the available methods suits the team. The NIH Application Submission System and Interface for Submission Tracking (ASSIST) or the standard Grants.gov.
Your application is liable to go through basic application checks after the submission to detect any problem that can result in application rejection with a “Rejected with Errors” status. If you opted for the Grants.gov option, you could check eRA Commons for the status of your application. It is an online interface for all stakeholders of the research grant process to share administrative information. eRA provides a list of errors in case of rejection that you must address and resubmit. If no problem is found, eRA then generates an associated document of all your submissions to post an application image for 2 business days in eRA Commons Status for you to view. The viewing window allows you to check your application and inform the eRA service desk of any missing attachment or text.
Now, if your application manages to successfully navigate the stages of responding to the established requirements and was submitted on-time without any glitch, it will be qualified for a review process. Grant applications are reviewed and scored based on the criteria mentioned in the FoAs. To understand the review panel, watch the mock review panel video released by the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) at the NIH to give new applicants an idea of how the peer review system operates.
For every grant application, there are several review panels consisting of a group of reviewers with different expertise areas and experience. Grant application reviewers are often regarded as an academic power group. All the hardship and struggle that you are signing up for is mostly to get past the stage of the peer review process because it has a profound impact on your scientific career, be it an early-stage investigator or an established scientist. Nobody wants to be rejected by the review committee that evaluates the application through various prisms, such as merit and proposal’s plausibility for the further progress of scientific innovations in health-related areas. (Abdoul et al., 2012)
The award phase is the shortest of all three phases; it is when, if you are successful in convincing the reviewer and the agency through your proposal of awarding you the grant, the agency will notify you by sending a Notice of Award (NoA). The grantee’s organization and the federal agency then negotiate the funding recommendations to decide upon the final budget for your project and give legal consent to the terms and conditions of the NoA. At this stage, both the institutes are formalizing the partnership to ensure complete abidance of rules, regulations, and policies. (Chung, Giladi and Hume, 2015)
In case you are unsuccessful, the agency will still notify you and provide relevant details of the decision.
The post-award or final phase begins as you layout awarded funds and start the process of materializing your research proposal with proposed activities. This stage contains the implementation, development, and closeout of the grant program in accordance with the following structure:
- Award Monitoring
- Progress Reports
- Invention Reports
- Audit Requirements
Your grant payment would be made through either SMARTLINK II/ACH or CASHLINE/ACH unless you made a cash request.
The post-award phase includes constant monitoring of the funded project for any possible complications, compliance with the NoA terms and conditions, and performance analysis. You, as the grant recipient, are responsible for conducting routine progress and financial reporting for the complete duration of the grant and submit Research Performance Progress Reports (RPPR) to the awarding agency at different intervals. You must also accommodate your grantors to conduct audits and monitoring activities. In case change in the project, expenditure, and proposed activities, you’re liable to inform the funding agency well in advance.
If your project does not require the grant to be extended, the post-award phase concludes after the end of the period of performance and closeout activities that ensure the recipient has met all financial, invention, and record retention requirements.
- Chung, K.C., & Shauver, M.J. (2008, April). Fundamental Principal of Writing a Successful Grant Proposal. J Hand Surg Am, 33(4), 566-572. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhsa.2007.11.028
- Abdoul, H., Alberti, C., Amiel, P., Gottot, S., Perrey, C., Tubach, F., & Zaleski, I.D. (2012, September 28). Peer Review of Grant Applications: Criteria Used and Qualitative Study of Reviewer Practices. PLoS One, 7(9), e46054. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0046054
- Chung, K.C., Giladi, A.M., & Hume, K.M. (2015, February). Factors Impacting Successfully Competing for Research Funding: An Analysis of Applications Submitted to The Plastic Surgery Foundation. Plast Reconstr Surg, 135(2), 429e–435e. http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/PRS.0000000000000904
- Collier, R. (2009, February 3). Rapidly Rising Clinical Trial Costs Worry Researchers. CMAJ, 180(3), 277-278. http://dx.doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.082041
- McGovern, V. (2012, January 1). Getting grants. Virulence, 3(1), 1–11. http://dx.doi.org/10.4161/viru.3.1.18844
- Berg, K.M., Gill, T.M., Brown, A.F., Zerzan, J., Elmore, J.G., & Wilson, I.B. (2007, November). Demystifying the NIH Grant Application Process. J Gen Intern Med, 22(11), 1587–1595. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11606-007-0301-6