Monday, 14 August 2017

Writing a Successful Documentary Heritage Communities Program Proposal

It's shocking. One of the lessons I learned as a PhD student is that major effort goes into writing persuasive project proposals. That's something most of those submitting proposals for Documentary Heritage Communities Program funding have yet to learn.
Library and Archives Canada announced the successful proposals in the third round of the DHCP in June. $1.5 million was allocated to 48 projects, 18 in Quebec, 17 in Western Canada, 8 in Ontario, and 5 in Atlantic Canada. Those included 12 projects continued from previous rounds and 36 newly funded projects.
No information was made available about unfunded projects. Through an access to information request I was able to review copies of all third round proposals, funded and unfunded. Much information, including all personal and location information for those unfunded was redacted; it was not possible to evaluate the intrinsic merit of the proposals.
132 new proposals requesting a total of $5.8 million were submitted. 36 were funded (23 in English, 13 in French), 98 remained unfunded (67 in English, 27 in French). The success rate was one in four for the English language proposals, one in three for those in French.
The median amount requested across all new projects was $21.8K, for those funded it was $19.6K, for the unfunded $25K.
The most significant difference between funded and unfunded projects was the amount of detail provided as reflected by the number of pages in the proposal file. Each project proposal file I received included at least two pages not part of the original submission, but the number of pages is nevertheless indicative.
Funded project files averaged 16.5 pages, unfunded 5.7 pages. French language proposals were longer than the English, by 3 pages in the case of the funded projects. The longest unfunded project proposal was 15 pages, the shortest funded proposal 10 pages.
Proposals that provide substantial detail indicate a well thought-out project to the evaluators. Bare minimum proposals waste the time and effort for both proponent and evaluator.


Judy Lynn in Ontario said...

This posting is interesting because it highlights what so many of us have been taught -- especially in government circles: be succinct. "Don't waste the time of the reader. Get right to the point, give sufficient detail, but say it as clearly and succinctly as possible. Quantity of pages does not earn marks; it's quality of ideas that is rewarded."

I cannot understand why the length and the quantity of verbiage would be rewarded rather than the quality of the proposed project. It would seem to me that the ability to capture the essence of a quality project in as concise a way as possible might speak volumes about about the ability of the applicant to get down to "brass tacks" and get that project up and running. What am I missing? Quality ideas can be expressed in few words as well as in pages and pages of verbiage.

JDR said...

It's perhaps helpful to look at this from the evaluators perspective. They had 132 projects to evaluate and each likely had some merit. The number than can be funded must fit within a budget. A reality is the need to have rough linguistic and regional balance.
Inevitably reading the first few sheets of a proposal raises questions. If supplemental material is available in the application there is a chance to find the answers. If not, no matter how well written, those questions go without answer. There's also the possibility that a minimal proposal was not well conceived - hastily put together to meet the deadline on the chance that funding would be available.