I wrote a grant application for Beyond Systems yesterday. It’s the first time I’ve written a grant application without being invited to, my first speculative punt. I was left with two thoughts.
The first isn’t great – applying for grants is an art form. I suspect that’s not news to any readers but I was taken by how our plans struggled to fit into the funder’s online form. It made me realise that writing an application for a grant is only partly about what you want to do; the rest comes down to how well you can make it fit a form.
Of course, the form may simply be a reflection of the funder’s priorities. In that case, a structured form makes all the sense in the world. And, in fact, if what I’m asking for doesn’t fit into that kind of form, then perhaps I’m asking the wrong organisation. However, in this case, it was just about the form per se. I felt very un-skilled, almost too stupid to apply.
The second is how the process of asking someone for money really makes you thrash out some of the uncertainties that you’ve been overlooking, whether intentionally or otherwise. That’s not always a good thing – if you’re dealing with a complex social issue like health, you cannot be certain about everything – but in this case it was.
One of the things that I realised was that we’re talking about wanting to nurture the field of practice but hadn’t attributed any effort towards marketing. It’s all very well us trying to nurture the field but if no one has heard of us, does it matter? I think there are enough echo chambers in this space already; I’d hate to give rise to yet another.
On a related note, earlier in the week I spoke with someone running what I was told was a similar project to Beyond Systems. It wasn’t – at least not yet – but what really struck me about the call was that every time I mentioned any aspect of our work, the person was able to say they’d done a report on it, commissioned some work on it, knew of it already. It was relentless. It didn’t matter what I said. ‘Been there, done that’ seemed to be the message. And yet, I’d never seen their work once, despite being in this space for almost six years.
I’d rather do less, and the work be known. And I’m intrigued by how a grant application form can make or break what you’re trying to do.