On 2 November we hosted a lunchtime webinar on crafting successful research proposals tailored to meet the specific needs of the Scottish Government.
ClimateXChange is funded by the Scottish Government and commissions and manages research in response to calls for evidence from policy teams.
This pilot event was designed to equip participants from academia and consultancies with the knowledge and best practice for writing proposals for ClimateXChange projects.
Dr Sarah Govan, Project Manager for climate and land use at ClimateXChange, guided attendees through the elements of a research call and offered insights on how to produce a winning bid. This blog explains what was discussed at the event. For a summary, please see the slides under Related links.
Understanding the research specification and the policy environment
We expect research proposals to clearly demonstrate that bidders understand the aim of the project and how their work will address it.
This goes beyond copying the text from the project specification and should be written in your own words.
Good proposals include relevant Scottish policy context and policy development timelines, with an understanding of research and evidence needs stemming from those. Furthermore, proposals should include information on the cross-sectoral nature of the project.
Tell us what you are going to do to answer the policy questions and how you are going to do it.
Explain your robust methodology in plain English, stating what the outputs will be for each stage. Describe the steps of data collection and analysis, and the rationale for choosing particular types of evidence.
It is very important to honestly address both strengths and weaknesses as well as gaps of the approach you will take to conduct the work.
This section is an opportunity to demonstrate an understanding of the policy audience for this work by not using technical terminology or acronyms, given that people who are not experts in this area may not be familiar with them.
If you list academic references, clearly state how they relate to the specification. The panel who will assess the bids want to know exactly what you know about relevant work in the area. References to research papers are not usually helpful in a proposal of this type.
Project management and staff resource
This section is where you tell us who will be doing what, when and how everyone will work together to deliver the whole project.
Introduce the team that will deliver this project. This is more than just their CVs – we want to know how their expertise meets the project requirements. You will want to put forward a strong project team and demonstrate why this team will deliver this project, rather than relying on reputation.
Bidders are also expected to allocate staff to each task and analytical step, and to ensure that the named team members will be available to conduct the work.
We need to know who will be the contact person should we work with you, so please name them in the proposal and describe how they will be involved throughout the project.
In this section you should also reference compliance issues such as GDPR and, if there aren’t any issues, explain why that is the case.
Communication and report writing
ClimateXChange reports will be read by very knowledgeable people in the Scottish Government, but they might not be experts in your area of work. Therefore, the language you use in the reports will need to consider that. In this section you should show how you will communicate clearly with policy teams.
Describe the approach you will use in writing this particular report. It is important to respond to the specification, but not repeat it; copying the specification does not tell us how you will approach the reporting process and will lose marks.
Explain the process for delivering outputs, including quality assessment processes.
You are encouraged to link to your previous work, in particular to reports written for a policy audience. However, links are not enough; you should explain the role of specific team members in producing those outputs or publications and how they are relevant for this work.
Detail the process for developing and added value of planned visualisations and presentations – this is often missing from proposals. And detail specific data management tasks and their related costs.
Quality assurance and risk mitigation
We all know things can go wrong, despite careful planning. This section is here to demonstrate that you have anticipated the key risks, thought about how to minimise their likelihood and that you have a plan to reduce the potential impact on project delivery.
Detail your approach to quality assurance, demonstrating checks and balances, and addressing issues. QA should be done throughout the project and we would like to know who will be responsible for checking quality at different stages as well as the final report.
Do not rely on a single person for this, as we can all become text blind after a while looking at the same report.
List risks at each stage of the project, tailored to this specific project. Demonstrate an understanding of risk of staffing and data accessibility, for instance whether you will need a data sharing agreement.
Show that the project plan takes account of all of those risks. It is very useful to show us a risk mitigation matrix, including a description of each risk, how likely it is, the impact it will have, how you will mitigate it and respond to it.
We commission more than 30 projects each year responding to Scottish Government requests. Keep an eye on our website and subscribe to our emails to make sure you receive our latest invitations to quote, calling researchers to work with us.
We will guide successful bidders in planning their work to meet policy timelines. Outputs from projects will support the Scottish Government as it develops policies on adapting to the changing climate and transitioning to net zero.
Unfortunately we are unable to share an example of a successful bid, as this would risk the commercial confidentiality of the successful bidder. We do recommend that you look at our most recent completed projects, which will give you an idea of the outputs we are working towards. For examples, you may want to look at the structure and content of the reports under Related links below.