Ducks in a row

A popular recent post on HEFCE’s blog identified six emerging forms of funding to support university investments in local growth. But these new risk-based forms of finance need different types of project proposals featuring more robust design and development work. The providers of these new funds also demand different forms of stakeholder engagement, and different forms of written proposals.

Success in these new partnership settings means getting your ‘ducks in a row’ more than ever before. The following is a simple checklist which senior managers in universities can use as a basic guide.

Not every project will address all these points, but having as many ducks as possible all swimming at once in the same direction is fundamental to success in seeking external funding for local growth.

Is it a good idea?

  • What exactly is the project? You need a clear description that people outside your organisation will understand.
  • Is the proposal based on a clear theoretical and conceptual footing? Will it create new knowledge, and if so how will it transfer it?
  • Is there a clear basis for intervention in the market? Does it justify your institution taking forward the proposal?
  • In what specific ways does the proposal deliver your own strategic objectives at the same time as those of the funders?
  • Why should the proposed activity happen in your local area? Does the proposal build on existing hard and soft local economic assets?
  • Is the proposal properly connected to similar activities elsewhere, in terms of flow of ideas, trade, finance and people?
  • How exactly is the proposal genuinely innovative?
  • Are the suggested impact and scale of the proposal the most effective ones?
  • Is the proposal sufficiently well developed to seek external funding? (Don’t expect external funders to fund your development work.)
  • What really happens when the money runs out?

Is it properly positioned?

  • Is the proposal really a top priority of the highest level of leadership within your institution? If so, what real cash contribution are you making to its success?
  • How is the proposal being supported across your wider organisation? What use are you making of good branding internally and externally? How is the proposal promoted in the local and social media?
  • How has your leadership team positioned the proposal with local universities and other relevant institutions?
  • Do other local partners really support your proposal? A letter of support often counts for little. Real cash counts much more.

From a good idea to a good project

  • Are the intended customers precisely identified? Is there real evidence of unmet demand? What is the customers’ likely number, size, type? Where is the good evidence of your due regard for equalities? Are state aids issues sorted?
  • For capital investments, are any land issues sorted? For instance ownership, planning permissions, covenants, site investigations, access arrangements etc. If not, when exactly will they be? Are the building designs sufficiently advanced? External funders will often expect higher standards of environmental and disability awareness and benefit.
  • Is the financial package sorted? What is the real status of other sources of cash? If not confirmed, when will they be? Does the business plan really stack up? (Don’t expect others to fund your contingencies.)
  • Do you have the ‘starter-finisher’ people in place? Who is managing the risks, the money, procurement and the delivery contracts? Who exactly is responsible for successful delivery?
  • When will the money really be spent? Of what risks do external funders need to be aware?

This checklist may appear long and daunting, but good leadership and management coupled with the necessary commitment can deliver real success.