The Three Rs of engaging for funding: Research, Respect, Relationship

By Dr. Liz O’Brien, Senior Research Development Manager

You’ve worked really hard to generate some beautiful science, put in the hours to turn it into a peer reviewed paper, had it accepted for publication, and even had your peers cite it in their work – Congratulations!

Now, you want to do more beautiful science and you are looking for funding.

The majority of funding bodies, whether they are government, industry or philanthropy, expect that their investment in your science will result in outcomes not just outputs. They want to know that the new knowledge you generate can make a difference. This means, you can take your beautiful science beyond a static paper and bring it to those who can use and apply this new knowledge and, hopefully, you get funded again.

So, where do you start? The first step is research.

RESEARCH your funders and your end-users

Understanding the funder is critical to ensuring that the type of science that you want to do is the type of science they want to fund. Some funds are targeted at generating new knowledge, fundamental science to advance field of research. Others are targeted at solving a challenge or meeting a need, bringing the latest research together and applying innovative approaches to develop a solution.

You can find the focus in their research priorities, funding guidelines and in the background information about the scheme. As you read, note their motivations and drivers and ensure the project you are designing aligns with their objectives. If it doesn’t match, look for a different funder.

Since your funder wants to see outcomes, it is also critical that you research who will be the end users of your beautiful science. Who are the key stakeholders?

If you are partnering with government or industry, what are their expectations? What pressures are they under? What problem do they need solved? When do they need it by?

How does your proposition align with their strategy/core business?

You can often find these answers on their website and through publicly available annual reports. Some even publish their research priorities and future directions. It is critical that you find out who is already working with them within your own organisation and coordinate with them for intelligence sharing and for relationship management. You also need to be aware of who your ‘competitors’ (or potential collaborators) are. Are they already partnering with another research team? Do you bring something better and new?

RESPECT their priorities and needs

Remember, you are being given other people’s money to do research. It is important to respect the priorities of the funders and your partners and strive to deliver so that it meets their needs as well as your own.

As you develop a partnership you also need to understand and manage their expectations. The budgets may be bigger in industry but the scrutiny is closer. You also need to understand the ownership and confidentiality requirements before starting a project (e.g. Do they want to own the knowledge? Would there need to be a delay in publication of your research? ).

You need to respect the decision structure within a partner organisation – some projects may need the involvement of several people or levels of approval up to a board decision – and you have to account for that in preparing your funding submission.

RELATIONSHIP – it’s more than a financial transaction

It doesn’t just stop with you getting the cash. Engaging with your end users and partners also help shape the research. There is an incredible wealth of information that exists within organisations that hasn’t been captured in publications or reports. Take the opportunity to talk with people outside of academia Their observations and experience can hint at a missing piece of the puzzle and spark a new line of investigation, or provide context for how the research can be used.

Also, engage with your partners outside the project and expand your networks. Attend industry events and conferences to understand their key drivers and needs. Use social media tools to keep up to date with the sector and contribute to discussions.


You work hard to generate beautiful science and, by committing to research, respect and build your relationship with funders and partners (old and new), you increase your chance of securing funding and delivering outcomes that can really make a difference.

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