Sunday, September 1, 2019

Pro Tip: How to Work With an Expert Consultant

Federal grants are highly competitive. These grants can become quite technical and your ability to win may depend on the last minute relationships you build with people who have very specialized expertise. Below, I will give you a peek at the techniques I use to manage these temporary but very important relationships.
Since I do not do academic research full-time anymore, I find I am now more dependent on the goodwill and understanding of national-level research/evaluation consultants. I still remember how to do regression analysis, survey research, or program evaluation; Nevertheless, my expertise is stretched to the limit when it comes to understanding the literature reviews of other fields -- particularly in the hard sciences or in the sometimes obscure details of esoteric educational theory.
Here are some of my best tips for working with experts in your field:
  1. Give Experts Your Best Work: I think the most important thing is to get a very polished draft ready to submit to the outside research consultant. I have found that many of these extremely talented individuals are more than happy to comment on or improve your grant application, but you need to be careful with their time and their attention span. By waiting to send them a virtually finished product, you demonstrate that you are conscientious and that you have gone as far as possible on your own expertise and power.
  2. Follow Up on Expert's Suggestions: I am careful to follow up on their suggestions in terms of additional reading material, theoretical perspectives, or new ways of displaying information. I have found it surprisingly easy to follow up on the outside expert's suggestions simply by looking for the same information on line. I do not need to become an expert in their field. Nevertheless, with a little on-line research, I can get my understanding up to the 80% level needed to win in a federal grant competition. By following up on the consultant's suggestions and being a good student, you win more of their time and their respect. 
  3. Reward Your Experts: I am generous about including the outside expert in the federal grant application. Often, I will include an outside expert as an evaluation specialist, a role that entitles them to at least 10% of the gross revenue coming in from the federal grant. On a million dollar grant, this will give the expert the possibility of a $100,000 payday - more than enough to engage their full attention in perfecting your grant. 
Finally, if you are having a hard time finding a national level expert to help you out, you can sometimes get leads from the folks teaching at major universities. Often the federal government itself will provide you with a list of outside experts that have passed their standards of approval. All in all, it is best to approach the national level expert when you have completely run out of ideas and absolutely done your level best. This way you will demonstrate that your project and your work effort are worthy of their best attention.