PRO-ACTIV: What highly effective research groups do differently to raise one subsidy after another

We analysed what highly productive research groups do differently to raise one subsidy after another, stand in the spotlight of the media and financially benefit from collaborations with industry. These groups do not only write excellent proposals, but also position themselves optimally even before applying for a grant. Our research points out essential features to consider that have a large influence on a priori success rates. From this background, our PRO-ACTIV programme can help to prepare your group for optimal performance in grant applications, thereby attracting more research funding. In this article, we will share several key aspects.

The 9 factors that influence your chances to receive funding

Research budgets and scientific output are continuously under pressure because of limited funding, increased competition and a need for socio-economic impact. The changing funding climate demands that research groups adapt their strategies and operations to remain financially fit. Only through innovation and refinement of current practices is it possible to endure and excel.

Our research points out at least nine criteria that have a large influence on the a priori success chances of a research group on receiving subsidy funding. In random order: content and clarity of the group website, internal practices for fundraising, personal profile of the researchers, external collaborations, the research focus, infrastructure, output of the group, marketing activity and valorisation strategy. We will elaborate on one of these key aspects below.

Internal practices for fundraising

Those research groups that have a clear internal structure for training, planning, developing, reviewing and submitting grant proposals annually receive more funding than those without such a structure. It is crucial to re-align with the policy and strategy of funding agencies. More and more of the agencies now ask for public-private partnerships, collaboration with SMEs and translation of findings towards marketable products. Research groups have to fully understand how to implement such structures and visions.

In many research institutes, scientists work independently on preparing subsidy proposals. As such it might often occur that multiple scientists separately apply for one and the same subsidy – resulting in a competitive situation within the same institute. Would you still inform your neighbour working in the same field about that super interesting grant opportunity? Probably not, or at least not before the deadline is already very close; but what does this do to success rates and loyalty towards colleagues? In general, two persons know more than one, and three more than two, etcetera. It has been shown in many fields that in collaborative settings, superior results are achieved as compared to single-man actions. Researchers that actually do work together in a supportive setting receive more funding than those who don’t.

Set a structure for collaboration

That is why it is highly recommended for every research group to develop and implement an internal strategy for fundraising. Such a strategy would start with centrally sharing regular updates about upcoming subsidy deadlines that are relevant for the group. Each scientist with interest in applying can then share the intention to submit a proposal. In a brief meeting these ideas can be discussed and potential synergies identified. It should also be determined how many proposals can be submitted without creating competition and eventually by who. It is very well possible that two colleagues that would normally compete, will now actually support each other by forming a strong partnership and thereby make more chance of a higher score for feasibility and excellence. Where in the independent setting the applicant would maybe just not get the subsidy, now with this higher score the proposal will be selected for funding. A small and simple organisational change can thus tip the balance to the winning side.

Organise internal support

Slightly more work, but even more effective, is implementing a structure for internal support. For each proposal, a group of experts in the same organisation can review one or two drafts and provide constructive feedback for further improvement. Taking this one step further, the reviews are done in a standardised way, checking predetermined criteria for e.g. excellence, implementation and impact of the proposed project. Not only does this allow the applicants to add power to the proposal, the resulting feeling of co-ownership and group effort can strengthen mutual relationships within the group – which can be fruitful for any other activity.

Although these procedures might seem a sine qua non, they are far from common practice in the majority of research institutes. Building on best practices and an analysis of highly-successful groups, the ttopstart academy can assist in empowering your group for maximum results in subsidies. Our PRO-ACTIV programme will guide you in four practical and productive steps towards a strategy to increase success rates and obtain more research funds.

More information

Do you have questions about the ttopstart Funding Model Canvas and the PRO-ACTIV service? Would you like to improve the funding competitiveness of your University or Institute? Contact us today to find out what we can do for you.