Looking for funding? Think as widely as possible.

Working with predominately smaller institutions provides additional challenges when supporting academics to secure research funding. We would all like to secure funding from the traditional research funders (a list can be found on my homepage that is particularly relevant to UK scholars in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences) but these may not always be the best port of call, especially if you don’t have a strong funding record or perhaps are still early on in your research career. So I spend some of my time encouraging researchers to look as widely as possible for potential sources of funding as by casting your thinking (and net!) widely you never know what may lay around the corner. So what then are some of the options worth exploring? I have outlined some of the different types of funding below, some of which will overlap with others but should provide a good base for starting your search.

  1. Crowdfunding – Okay, I know what you are thinking…. Crowdfunding?? I have named this first to keep it at the forefront of everyone’s minds. I’ll admit I’m not an expert in this but it is becoming more common in other parts of the world. There is a great blog written by Jonathan O’Donnell which outlines some of the potential benefits of this approach. His blog, “In defence of the crowd” can be found on the Research Whsiperer blog. It won’t be appropriate for every type of research project but for smaller pilot projects which may be of particular interest to a large number of people then it may be worth exploring. If this is a road you want to go down then make sure you start your planning early.
  2. Stakeholders / interested parties – who might be interested in your research? If they are interested, might they fund it, at least in part? This doesn’t have to be a conflict of interest. If your proposed research is of potential benefit to a particular stakeholder/s then why not approach them. If you don’t have a relationship with them already then a cold call may not be the best way to go, you might want to engage with them first, find out what might be of interest to them and look for ways to work with them for mutual benefit. If you don’t know who your stakeholders are then map them out. By mapping out your stakeholders (some useful resources here and here) you will get a better picture of where you may secure funding from.
  3. Charities – relevant to your area of research or may be tendering for work. Keep an eye out, many charities commission research for all sorts of things including evaluations of their programmes. Would undertaking an evaluation on behalf of someone else be a good way to answer your own research questions as well, be they theoretical, practical or methodological? If so, you may need to tender for the work. If you have never tendered for work before then you should read my guide to tendering before you do anything!
  4. Government departments / local authorities – Despite significant cuts to government funding over the last parliament there are still opportunities to respond to government tenders for research. You should find and bookmark the websites of relevant government departments, local authorities and government quangos for future reference and then sign up to email alerts from tender sites like this. It is worth noting that winners of publicly funded contracts are made public so you can usually see who your competition might be. Often they will be private sector consultants and the tender guide outlined above will give you hints and tips to help you put together a professional case for funding.
  5. There may be associations relevant specifically to your field, areas of interest or geography. These may include businesses, representative organisations, unions, historical societies, sporting bodies and many more. You may find that these groups or associations have money available to members for research. In addition some may wish to fund relevant research and would be open to being directly engaged in co-producing research. Some may be key stakeholders as mentioned above.
  6. Internal funding and resources! I have written about using internal resources effectively in a previous post. Make sure you don’t forget there are often great resources available within your own institution which can be incredibly helpful for pilot and scoping research.
  7. Foundations and trusts. It is worth the time and effort of searching for local foundations and trusts, particularly if your research is focused spatially on the areas around your university or the wider region. In addition there are many thematic trusts who may only fund projects in specific interest areas and these may overlap with your own research. Finding out about these trust is not always easy -Google searching can be very effective but for UK readers the Directory of Grant Making Trusts is an excellent resource. I have my own copy but many university libraries will also have copies. If they don’t, encourage them to get it.
  8. Lastly, keep talking to colleagues and your research office. Getting a different perspective on your research may open up some of the options above that perhaps you had not yet considered.

I have no doubt there will be other option and approaches and I’d love to hear about them. Just make sure you think as broadly as possible. Both researcher colleagues and your research office can help you with this – it is usually easier to talk the ideas through with someone else as this can give you greater clarity and definition to your research and your options.

Lachlan Smith

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