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What is a ‘performance indicator’? By one definition (found in the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010) it is “a particular value or characteristic used to measure an output or an outcome.” As a value, an indicator may be quantitative. As a characteristic, it is often quantitative, but it may also be qualitative.

 

It is often prudent to use two or three performance indicators to measure each output or outcome that is proposed to be the focus of an objective. Using one indicator alone is sometimes all that’s needed, but using more may yield findings that just one might miss.

 

Purposes of Indicators:

Use of indicators makes it possible to determine the extent to which the intended beneficiaries of a project or initiative in fact experienced a desired benefit. In turn, such determinations contribute to decisions about necessary interim or midcourse corrections and about the ultimate effectiveness of the project or initiative in achieving its objectives and attaining its goals. These determinations, as culled from evaluation reports, then contribute to decisions about continuing appropriations or allocations for specific grant programs.

 

In order to be useful in gauging the success and continued funding-worthiness of a project or initiative, performance indicators should have several attributes:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Observable
  • Valid
  • Reliable
  • Pertinent

 

Indicators measure how closely a performance target has been met. If a target has been met or exceeded, based on the indicators used, the finding either implies or demonstrates a benefit. The more an intended benefit can be reported, the more successful a grant program will appear to be.

 

Performance Targets:

A performance target defines a criterion for success for an output or outcome. It sets a threshold for deciding whether a project or initiative is doing well or poorly in a given aspect. A usefully constructed performance target has several attributes:

  • Quantitative (number or ratio) preferably
  • Realistic or feasible
  • Reflective of experience
  • Reflective of baseline data
  • Valid
  • Reliable
  • Pertinent

In a multi-cycle project or initiative, the data collected during the first funding cycle will play several roles. It will corroborate or correct the baseline data presented in the original proposal. It will furnish a new basis for comparisons at intervals (e.g., quarterly or yearly) during a multi-cycle funding period. It will form a possible rationale for making midcourse corrections before the initial funding cycle ends.

 

Illustration:

  • Context – a high school physics science education project
  • Desired Outcome – that participants will demonstrate increased knowledge of the scientific method as implemented in a physics lab
  • Performance Indicator – that participants will list in correct sequence the contents by topic of a complete physics lab report
  • Performance Target – that 90% of participants submit a correctly sequenced physics lab report
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Proposals that win grants for K-12 education have many predictable information needs. Applicants that have such information at the ready before the announcement of a grant opportunity greatly improve the likelihood of funding.

 

Although applicants may not need every item listed here for every proposal narrative, among the elements it is prudent to prepare are: instruction, professional development, curriculum, parent/community involvement, marketing and dissemination, and timelines.

 

Instruction:

  1. Rationale for selection of instructional approach
  2. Rationale for rejection of other instructional approaches
  3. Description of relationship to funder’s standards and guidelines
  4. Description of relationship to funder’s priorities/goals
  5. Description of relationship to other relevant funder programs, if any
  6. Locations/descriptions of destinations or venues for instructional activities (e.g., field trips)
  7. List of pertinent local resources for each target content area

 

Professional Development:

  1. Rationale for selection of approach to professional development
  2. Locations and venues for all key activities
  3. Local resources for technology-related activities
  4. Types of activity to be conducted (e.g., retreats, seminars, courses, institutes)
  5. Locations and dates for all conferences to attend (local, state, regional, national)
  6. Description of plans to utilize internal resources for professional development
  7. Description of plans to utilize cost-free resources for professional development

 

Curriculum:

  1. Rationale for selection of approach to the curriculum
  2. Sources of curricula for each target content area, if any
  3. Sources of curricular materials for each key program activity
  4. Description of alignment of curricula with state academic standards
  5. Description of curricula to be developed, if any
  6. Description of plans for ensuring high quality in developing curricular materials

 

Parent/Community Involvement:

  1. Rationale for selection of approach to parent/community involvement
  2. Composition of application advisory council or similar group, if any
  3. Plans to create and operate a parent/community advisory committee, if any
  4. List of local resources for integrating technology in parent/community involvement
  5. Types of activities to be held involving parents/community
  6. Topics and roles for engaging parents/community in participation
  7. Strategies for ensuring and increasing parent/community involvement

 

Marketing and Dissemination:

  1. Rationale for selection of approach to marketing and dissemination
  2. List of types of marketing and dissemination media to be used
  3. List of target audiences for marketing and dissemination activities
  4. Description of venues for marketing and dissemination events

 

Timelines and Schedules:

  1. Timeline for implementing key program activities
  2. Timeline for implementing key evaluation activities
  3. Duration of pre-service and in-service phases, if any
  4. Start-up and end dates for initial and subsequent project years
  5. Schedule for a typical instructional (or program services) day
  6. Schedule (or frequency) for project staff meetings
  7. Schedule (or frequency) for advisory body meetings
  8. Schedule (or frequency) for parent/community meetings
  9. Schedule (or frequency) for professional development events

 

Later posts will cover information needs for other aspects of educational grant proposals.

The vocabulary of project development is part of the language required for writing successfully funded grant proposals. This set of entries covers words and phrases from O-P.

OBJECTIVE: A time-bound statement, framed in specific and measurable terms, of what an applicant is going to accomplish during a project or initiative; it advances the project or initiative towards attaining its goal or goals. Objectives are indispensable and critical elements in a Plan of Action or a Program Design. Example: Each project year, 90% or more of project participants will demonstrate statistically significant gains (p<.05) in English literacy, as measured by state-mandated assessments.

ORGANIZATION: A generic and non-technical term for a legally established entity that is eligible to seek, manage, and expend a grant award, either alone or in a partnership with one or more other organizations and/or individuals.

ORGANIZATIONAL CHART: A graphic device depicting the staff positions involved in a project or initiative, the flow of communication between and among them, and their connections to other key staff in an organization or a partnership. Many of the positions may be paid using funds other than those of the grant being sought.

ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORY: A brief chronological summation or narrative account of the primary milestones, accomplishments, and unique attributes of an organization.

OUTCOME: The desired and intended quantitative or qualitative end result or consequence of a set of activities undertaken to achieve one or more objectives. Examples: 50% reduction in suspensions; 10% reduction in dropout rate; 25% increase in library holdings; 20% loss of body fat; 5% reduction in residential burglaries.

OUTPUT: A tangible or quantifiable product of an activity. Examples: Four new geography units; ten parental education workshops; six program newsletters; a training manual; a science kit.

PARTICIPANT: Someone directly and actively involved in a project or initiative as one who is served by it or who otherwise benefits from it. Examples: Science teachers; juvenile delinquents; English language learners; third graders; elderly residents.

PARTNER: An individual or organization that contributes resources to a grant-funded project or initiative, often by a formal and legally enforceable agreement delineating responsibilities and commitments between or among the entities involved in it.

PERSONNEL: The persons who provide the human labor to implement or support activities designed to achieve the objectives of a project or initiative. Some or many of the personnel, but seldom all, may be paid for out of grant funds. Also see: Staff.

PLAN OF ACTION: The specific series of activities or steps to be undertaken during a project or initiative, as well as its goals, objectives, timeline, personnel, and resources. Also called a Program Design or a Work Plan.

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: The person who leads or directs a grant-funded research project, particularly in federally funded scientific or medical research grants; also known as a PI. Also see: Project Director.

PROBLEM: The specific reason for a project or initiative, which offers a promising solution to the problem. Example: A dropout rate higher than the state average. Applicants must avoid circular reasoning in defining problems. Example: A lack, an absence, a shortage, or a scarcity, in and of itself, is not a problem; however, one or more of its consequences or effects may be one. Also see: Need.

A later post will cover glossary entries starting with letters P-Z.

For virtually every grant proposal you ever will submit you will need to answer: How? When? Who? What? Where? and How Much? Consequently, as you plan your grant proposal, be sure to:

  • Identify needed resources: Equipment? Materials? Personnel? Facilities? Funds?
  • Identify the sources for every needed resource: In-house? Partners? New grant funds?
  • Identify and list the numbers of units and unit costs for every needed resource.
  • Revise the budget line items as you organize and write the proposal.

HOW?: Refine your approach to your project by asking how will you:

  • Staff the project?
  • Train the staff?
  • Retain consultants or other contractual services?
  • Manage the project?
  • Equip the project?
  • Recruit and select participants?
  • Design and conduct activities?
  • Select and develop materials?
  • Market or promote the project?
  • Evaluate and report the results?
  • Share information with key partners?
  • Continue the project after the grant ends?
  • Locate and operate the project?

WHEN?: Define a timeline and milestones by:

  • Revising initial estimates as you proceed.
  • Looking at each program design component in terms of schedules and milestones.
  • Estimating the start dates and end dates for each key activity.
  • Anticipating that many key activities may take longer than you expect.

WHO?: Determine the personnel you will need by:

  • Revising initial estimates as you proceed.
  • Looking at each program design component in terms of personnel.
  • Considering the sources of the personnel: in-house, project, or partners.
  • Ensuring that someone leads or guides the entire proposal development process.

WHAT?: Identify the resources you will need by:

  • Revising initial estimates as you proceed.
  • Looking at each program design component in terms of needed resources.
  • Aligning needed equipment, supplies, materials, and services with key activities.
  • Identifying the sources of the needed resources: in-house, project, or partners.

WHERE?: Ascertain what facilities or venues you will need by:

  • Revising initial estimates as you proceed.
  • Looking at each program design component in terms of facilities or venues.
  • Aligning needed facilities or venues with key activities.
  • Identifying the sources of the needed facilities or venues: in-house, project, or partners.

HOW MUCH?: Build the budget you will need by:

  • Revising initial estimates as you proceed.
  • Looking at each program design component in terms of budget line items.
  • Obtaining actual costs and cost estimates for each line item.
  • Identifying the sources of the needed budget items: in-house, project, or partners.

If you plan your proposals by developing answers to these six basic questions, you will improve the likelihood of winning a grant.

A checklist is a useful tool for making a competitive proposal more likely to win a grant award. This basic checklist will be the first in a two-part series.

Preparation: 

  • Have a good (creative or innovative) concept within a well-defined context.
  • Respond explicitly and directly to the funder’s priorities.
  • Follow the application’s guidelines and instructions.
  • Adhere to the format requirements as well as the content requirements.
  • Present enough detail for your readers to reach well-informed judgments about merits.
  • Use the funder’s selection or review criteria as an outline for the proposal.
  • Use the funder’s technical resources such as its publications and expertise.
  • Study grants recently awarded by the same funder for insights about what works.
  • Always keep the reader/reviewer/panelist in mind.
  • Know the proposal’s likely audience and its characteristics and concerns.

Production:

  • Take a team approach to proposal development.
  • Involve impacted constituencies in planning and designing the project.
  • Look at the proposal as a blueprint for implementing the project. 
  • Integrate graphics (tables or charts) with the narrative, if possible.
  • Use correct format, spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation.
  • Avoid abbreviations and acronyms wherever possible. 
  • Expect to write several drafts of the proposal. 
  • Have a neutral third party critique a draft of the proposal. 
  • Proofread the final draft. 
  • Follow the funder’s instructions for submitting a proposal.

Program Design:

  • Describe the who, what, where, when, and how of a project, as well as the why.
  • Explain clearly what will be done and why the plan is a good one.
  • Offer and establish potential for a significant improvement over the present situation.
  • Benefit a specific and well-defined population.
  • Use recent research to inform the details of the program design.
  • Demonstrate how a proposed innovation is effective and research-based.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of what others have done about similar problem situations.
  • Strive for state-of-the-art innovation where appropriate.
  • Propose achievable, realistic, and measurable goals and objectives.
  • Align goals and objectives with identified needs.
  • Present baseline data to substantiate the need for a project.
  • Become clear about goals and activities before considering resources needed for them.
  • Offer a plan for effective use of appropriate technologies in project tasks.
  • Present a research-based rationale for the project’s approach.
  • Specify a practical timetable for performing tasks and attaining goals.

Competitive proposal writing has two laws. The first law is to master the specific rules of every grant competition you enter. The second law is to observe those rules. Funded proposals obey both laws.

Sometimes you will find more funder guidelines available than you ever imagined: you will need to use all such rules as you structure your writing. Other times, you will need to structure your own proposals: you will need to know and apply the rules of proposal writing without having explicit guidelines.

In both situations, while remaining creative, innovative, research-based, collaborative, and cost-effective, you will need to answer basic questions. These questions embody the fundamentals of funding, the nearly generic guidelines for writing a successful grant proposal.

You can start by answering questions for each of six basic parts of most grant proposals.

Background Information:

Where are you located? How long have you operated? How big is your organization? What physical, human, and financial resources does your organization already have? Do you have a history of doing similar projects? What kinds of success have you had?

Needs Assessment:

What do you need? How do you measure what you need? What specific data substantiate your needs? What specific published research substantiates your needs? Does your project fit into any larger organizational plans to meet the identified needs?

Program Design:

What are your goals? What are your objectives? Who are your participants? What activities will your participants do? What strategies will you use? When and how often will key activities occur? What will make your project innovative? What will make it sustainable? What other organizations will work with you? What is your social marketing or dissemination plan?

Personnel:

Who will lead your project? Who else will play key roles? What are their qualifications? Will your personnel share or reflect your participants’ backgrounds? Will you use consultants and, if so, for what roles? Will you network with other service providers? Will your personnel or participants need any training? How will you conduct training? Who will report to whom?

Evaluation:

How will you measure success? What will you measure? Will you evaluate outcomes for both process and product? How will you report your results? To whom will you report them? How often will you evaluate? With whom will you compare your participants? Who will be your evaluator and with what qualifications? With what audiences will you share your results?

Budget:

How much will your project cost per participant? What will be your major budget items and costs? How much will project administration cost? What is your financial management plan? What other funding sources will you have and use? Will you share total costs with other organizations? How will you continue your project after your initial grant funding ends?

These are a few of the basic questions in writing a narrative for a grant proposal; there are others. If you’re able to answer them, you’ll be able to develop and present a compelling proposal for funding.

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