Many years ago, I was asked to be a proposal reviewer for the California Arts Council. I remember that I was selected to be on the “Artist in the Schools Panel,” which had an allocated amount of $250,000 for that year’s funding. There were five of us reviewers selected to be on this particular panel. We were each mailed forty-five proposals, which we had to screen and rank according to the proposal criteria given us by the Arts Council staff.
Once that task was completed, we had to meet as a group in Sacramento for a full day of discussions on these proposals. We felt like a sequestered jury. The panelists had to look at the evidence presented to us, and make a judgment call, until we were all were in agreement upon the decisions. Within our group of reviewers there was some discussion over our rankings and point spreads until collective scores were agreed upon. The rankings and amounts of dollars were then given to the staff, who, forwarded them to the Director of the Arts Council, who still needed to present the slate of awardees to the Arts Council Members for ratification.
Flash forward to late 2010, when I was one of 29 reviewers selected for the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) pre-proposals. NGLC is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. EDUCAUSE leads the program, working with the League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
As described on its website, “Next Generation Learning Challenges is a collaborative, multi-year initiative focused on identifying and scaling technology-enabled approaches to dramatically improve college readiness and completion, especially for low-income young adults. NGLC, therefore, addresses college readiness and completion as a continuum of interrelated issues spanning secondary and postsecondary education (grades 6-16). The program provides grants, gathers evidence about effective practices and works to develop a community dedicated to these persistent challenges.”
The Wave 1 competition that I was involved in reviewing focused on:
- Increasing the use of blended learning models, which combine face-to-face instruction with online learning activities.
- Deepening students' learning and engagement through use of interactive applications, such as digital games, interactive video, immersive simulations and social media.
- Supporting the availability of high-quality open courseware, particularly for high-enrollment introductory classes like math, science and English, which often have low rates of student success.
- Helping institutions, instructors and students benefit from learning analytics, which can monitor student progress in real-time and customize proven supports and interventions.
Had things changed drastically from my first proposal reviewer experience? Everything was done online, via e-mail and proposals posted on the Panel Reviewer website, where we were each given our own individual password to connect and review the 31 submitted pre-proposals. Prior to the actual three week review, we all had to attend a mandatory webinar delineating our roles and responsibilities, along with scoring and ranking criteria. Additionally, we were given a “Cheat Sheet,” that enabled us to quickly scan for ineligible factors in the rating review system. This was extremely helpful in culling out proposals that did not meet the criteria.
I found myself individually addressing the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal in the narrative fill-in boxes. It was interesting to note that half of the proposals did not address the key issues of this grant competition: being national in scope, having a community college as a partner and identifying the capacity to scale up their projects. Overall, it was an enriching process to see how funders rank proposals.
You may want to consider becoming a proposal reader yourself. Here are a couple of links related to becoming a Federal proposal reviewer:
Tina McMetchen's blog Grant Funding 101: FIPSE seeks proposal reviewers for its FY 2010 grant competitions
National Science Foundation (NSF): Why You Should Volunteer to Serve As An NSF Reviewer
To write a proposal that will get funded, think like a proposal reviewer—become one!<>