Grants are the #1 source of support for research studies across the globe. And the focus and types of research projects are as varied as there are investigators, scientists, and clinicians who are seeking answers, therapies, treatments, and cures to rare disorders and common viruses.
To support researchers in their quest for answers, many organizations, universities, and nonprofits have established a process and workflow to assist their faculty with obtaining the resources needed to complete their research endeavors successfully.
In this post, we will look at the three key stages of research grant management, as well as the roles of the internal stakeholders involved, and the tools used to effectively manage each grant’s lifecycle – from submission to close-out.
The Lifecycle of Research Grants
There are three key stages in the life of every research grant
Each stage has its own set of responsibilities and requires a certain level of oversight by several entities within the organization and/or departments.
Below, we will review the life of a grant and each stage of its existence.
Stage 1 – Pre-Award
Where does the life of a grant begin? It begins with an idea or better yet, with a question.
In the research world, this is called a ‘hypothesis. Investigators, who are usually academia-based, have a question that they want to answer.
Why does it (the disease) present this way in patients? What is its biochemical makeup? This treatment works on mice, will it work on humans? It is a question that sets in motion the pursuance of a research grant.
Conceptualizing the project is solely in the wheelhouse of the researcher.
Search for Funding
Research projects require resources and resources come at a price. There are staffing costs, supply and equipment costs, space costs, and possibly consultants’ or collaborators’ costs. While many institutions are vested in and promote research endeavors, financial assistance is often not readily available to support research activities. Thus, the need for grant funding.
The search for funding is a joint effort between the investigator and the research grant management team. This may be someone in the central Research Administration office or a grant manager or administrator within the department.
Entering keywords and specific criteria into a searchable grant engine, like Grants.gov for federally funded projects, will generate a laundry list of funding opportunities for the investigator to consider. Upon further review of the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), the grant manager or administrator will know the eligibility criteria, proposed award amount, and research focus of the funding agency.
Based on this review, a NOFO that best matches the researchers’ project is identified to pursue.
With the NOFO in hand, the manager pulls the application guidelines and completes a checklist of all required elements. The checklist will serve as a roadmap to ensure that the submitted grant includes essential data and requested documentation.
Many institutions have a specific workflow for grant submissions which includes notifying department chairs and the institute official that a grant is being submitted. This may be via email or for those organizations with an electronic research administration (ERA) system, the manager initiates the proposal with basic information and continues to build the proposal until it is completed.
The grant traditionally undergoes several layers of internal reviews in the ERA system or is manually routed and upon final approval by the Grants Management Office is submitted to the funding agency.
Stage 2 – Award
After careful review by a panel of scientific experts, the proposal receives a favorable rating, and a Notice of Award (NOA) or an Award Letter, depending on the sponsor, is released.
While the project’s concept was derived from the brain of the investigator, the award is designated to the organization, which by accepting the award agrees to the numerous regulatory and federal mandates appropriated by the funding agency.
On behalf of the organization, commonly it is the Grant Management Office that receives the award notification and distributes it to the investigator and the organization’s leadership via the ERA system if one is in place. For those institutions without an electronic-based system, the award notification is housed and tracked manually via a spreadsheet or some other word-processing software. Whichever method is used, it is imperative that all terms and conditions, including required protocols and reporting requirements, be documented, and followed.
Stage 3 – Post-Award
Based on the organization, the Manager submits the NOA and a detailed budget to the Grant Accounting Office so that an account is created for the investigator’s use. The budget will include line items specific to the research project, ie. personnel, supplies, travel, etc…
Once the internal budget is created, every dollar spent from the grant is tracked. In fact, every expense is reviewed carefully for appropriateness and allowability, per the sponsor’s guidelines. Ensuring that funds are being expensed in accordance with the submitted proposal reduces the risk of an audit, either by the funding agency or the organization’s independent auditor. This is a joint responsibility of the investigator and the grant manager/administrator in partnership with the Grant Accounting Office.
In most organizations, the primary role of the Grant Accounting Office is to confirm that grant monies are following standard accounting rules. This office is also responsible for either drawing down funds electronically from the sponsor’s payment management system or invoicing the sponsor for actual expenses charged to the grant. Typically, a G/L report is provided to the sponsor to substantiate the expenses and serve as supporting documentation for the billing.
Regulatory and Compliance
Funding agencies require documentation that protocols, describing the proper procedures and study space, are in place and being followed.
Whether a study is clinically based, involving the recruitment of human subjects, ie. patients, or pre-clinical based, utilizing animal models, there must be a review of the study by an internal or external committee. The committees, the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), will determine if the study is low or considerable risk to humans or in the case of animals, that they are handled humanely.
The Grants Management Office ensures that each project is reviewed and approved before it begins and throughout the life of the grant. Utilizing a robust ERA system makes this task easy, as it can track protocols and notify all parties when a new review is needed.
There are several types of reports associated with a research grant. There are progress reports that may be required quarterly, semi-annually, or annually. These reports provide the project’s status and may include data on patient recruitment, study milestones met, or the status of a particular experiment. It is an important aspect of grant management, as some sponsors determine the continuation of research funding by the progress reports they review.
Again, because the award was made to the Institution and not the individual researcher, it is the organization that is responsible for submitting reports to the sponsors and this is usually submitted by the Grants Management office.
The average grant life expectancy is 5 years, but even if a project’s funding continues for 20 years, at some point it will end, and it is then that the grant closeout process begins.
If the organization has a more manual workflow, the NOA will be pulled for referencing the required closeout dates and reports. However, if the organization has an ERA system, a pre-scheduled notification will alert the Grant Management Office, the investigator, and the manager that the project is ending, as they all have a hand in preparing, reconciling, reviewing, and submitting the final reports to the sponsor.
Research grants have supported many breakthroughs over the years, from birth defects too, more recently, Covid-19, and every funded study follows these three stages of grant management. What has changed over the years, however, and demands greater oversight and monitoring by institutions of its research environment are sponsors’ increased regulations and documentation requirements.
This is a challenge to manage in a manual, paper, email, or spreadsheet method of recordkeeping. It is becoming increasingly apparent that a vigorous, cradle-to-grave ERA system is the best option for an organization to effectively meet the needs of grant management now and in the future.
Are you looking to digitally automate your grant management workflow, centralize your proposal, award, and compliance documentation, as well as mine data and generate reports with just the touch of a button?
Get a personalized demo and explore how Fibi can assist in enhancing your research administration needs.