[Editor’s note: This post has been written by Adriana Arellano, from Grupo FARO, who are participating of a mentoring project with ASIES in Guatemala. It is an effort to share lessons learned by these organisations with other think tanks.]
A think tank’s governance is a delicate matter. The balance between individual researchers’ interests and those of the organisation is hard to strike, especially when the think tank depends on short to medium term project funding.
In order to secure new sources of funding while maintaining a coherent research agenda, we at Grupo FARO are constantly keeping an eye out for upcoming calls for proposals and study our donor’s priorities. As soon as we identify a possible opportunity, we work full-steam on developing a good proposal.
For each of them, we put together a team which focuses on producing innovative ideas. However, we are frequently confronted with some dilemmas:
- How to make sure that these proposals will keep us in line with the organisation’s goals?
- How to add value through these proposals?
- How do we achieve a multi-disciplinary approach in them?
At Grupo FARO, we have developed a seven-step process for project approval that has helped us to deal with those questions. The process is summarised below.
From call to proposal… to an actual project
The 7 steps are:
- It is up to each programme director or coordinator, or FARO’s Executive Committee (this group is composed of the Executive Director together with the Directors of Research, Director of Communications and Policy Incidence, and Director of Finance and Administration), to decide which proposals to develop, in accordance with FARO’s institutional goals.
- Each new proposal is prepared by a team –most likely as part of a specific area/programme or working across various areas/programmes.
- Crucially, the team needs to check and comply with the donor’s requirements as well as formatting.
- Each proposal is then developed in collaboration with FARO’s strategic areas: Communications and Policy Incidence, Research, and Finance and Administration, which provide feedback and general support.
- Once the proposal is drafted, it is sent out to the entire organisation for comments. Whoever is in a position to provide general and/or specific comments is invited to do so.
- Following any adjustments, the proposal is sent to the Committee for Project Approval (CAP) for a final review.
- If and when approved by CAP, the proposal is finally submitted.
7 step process: from call to proposal
How does CAP work?
CAP is a mechanism that helps us improve proposals and ensure that they are in line with our goals, mission, and vision. Anyone in the organisation is welcome to attend CAP meetings, but project approval is subject to the votes of its three official members: the Directors of Research (who chairs it), Communications and Policy Incidence, and Finance and Administration
Given usual time constraints, proposals are reviewed in their required format (depending on donors) rather than in a standardised form. Documents are sent in advance so that, during the CAP meetings, the proposal team leader presents the project goals and the proposal’s main elements. Each CAP member verifies that the proposal is sound from the perspective of his or her own areas of expertise. Additionally, they share their own ideas and raise key questions.
CAP members take the following criteria under consideration:
- Is the proposal in line with our mission, vision and strategic goals?
- Does it match with our research agenda?
- Does it fulfil gender and cultural diversity criteria?
- Is it in line with the donor’s financial requirements?
- Does it fulfil internal requirements for overheads?
- Does it require matching funds?
- Are taxes and related expenses taken into account?
Communications and Policy Incidence considerations:
- Have actor mapping and risk assessment exercises been carried out?
- Are the project’s messages clear?
- Are the project’s audiences properly identified?
- Which public policy does the project seek to inform/influence?
- What communications outputs will result from it?
- Does the proposal clearly state the problem, its background, and the goals?
- Is there a clear hypothesis and method?
- What research outputs will result from it?
Following the meeting, the committee can decide to:
- Approve the proposal;
- Approve it with revisions; or
- Reject it.
Although the latter has not happened yet, there have been proposals that were approved with revisions. In this case, the document has to be resubmitted to CAP before being officially set out to the funder.
Proposal development requires creativity, commitment, and hard work. At Grupo FARO we have developed these mechanisms in order to provide support and feedback to those involved in new proposals. It is often the case that proposal teams are surprised by the amount of ideas and suggestions they get from the rest of the organisation. More importantly, at FARO we want these teams to feel they have the organisation’s support.