The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is committed to continuous improvement and that includes the process by which people apply for and access grants.
Since its authorization in 2002, IES’ research centers—the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER)—have been making efforts to improve the Requests for Applications (RFAs) we put out each year. In this spirit, we have conducted surveys of applicants the past few years and used that feedback to improve the current RFAs.
In Fiscal Years (FY) 2014 and 2015, all Principal Investigators (PIs) who submitted an application to the Education Research Grants Program RFA (CFDA # 84.305A) or the Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy Program RFA (CFDA # 84.305H) were contacted via e-mail and asked to participate in the web-based survey. In FY 2015, applicants to the Special Education Research Grants Program (CFDA #324A) were included in the survey request. The response rates were good for all surveys:
|Education Research Grants Program
|Partnerships and Collaborations Program
|Special Education Research Grants
Survey respondents generally provided positive feedback in both years. Most respondents indicated they felt the RFAs were clear and helpful, though there were some areas that generated some confusion and criticism. For example, in FY 2014:
- Applicants to the Education Research Grants program thought it was inconvenient to have to refer to two separate documents, the RFA and the Application Submission Guide, in order to complete their application.
- Applicants to the Partnerships and Collaborations program reported some confusion about the distinction between partnership activities and research activities.
In response to the FY 2014 RFA survey results, the Institute made a number of changes. For the FY 2015 Education Research Grants and Special Education Research Grants, changes included combining the RFA and the Application Submission Guide into one document to provide all the necessary information in one place. According to responses from the FY 2015 RFA survey, this change was positively received. The majority of the respondents to the Education Research Grants and Special Education Research Grants surveys (n=398; 83%) reported that combining the RFA and Application Submission Guide was much better or somewhat better than having two separate documents. Overall, a majority of respondents (n = 161, 56%) felt the FY 2015 RFA was much better or somewhat better than in previous years, while another 43 percent felt that it was not better or worse.
For the Partnerships and Collaborations RFA, a number of changes were made to the FY 2015 RFA in response to the surveys. For example, the requirements for the research activities were disentangled from the requirements for the partnership in order to reduce redundancy within the application. Most respondents to the FY 2015 RFA survey (n = 53; 73%) felt this change made the RFA much better or somewhat better.
Respondents to the FY 2015 RFA survey also had some criticisms, and the Institute addressed those concerns in the FY 2016 RFAs. Specifically, in the Education Research Grants and Special Education Research Grants RFAs, more detail was added to the requirements for the dissemination plan and for the cost analysis plan. For the Education Research Grants RFA, the language around research gaps was expanded to clarify that these are not priorities. Changes made in the Special Education Research Grant RFA in response to the feedback from the survey included streamlining application requirements related to student disability, age range or grade level, outcomes, and settings across its 11 research topics. More details were added about the partnership tracking strategy (an area of confusion for many applicants) in the Partnerships and Collaborations FY 2016 RFA.
IES continues to strive toward improving RFAs and welcomes comments and suggestions for improvement. More information on the RFA results is available here: https://ies.ed.gov/ncer/projects/.
New FY 2017 RFAs are being posted on the IES Funding Opportunities page. If you have comments, please write to us at IESresearch@ed.gov.
By Christina Chhin (NCER), Rebecca McGill-Wilkinson (NCER), Phill Gagné (NCER) and Kristen Rhoads (NCSER)*
* Since this blog post was written, Dr. Rhoads has taken a position with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.