Lessons Learned #1: The First Stages of Grant

One of the goals we’ve committed to in our IMLS grant is transparency about the lessons that we are learning along the way. This is the first in what we hope will be a series of “lessons learned” posts that will talk about our experiences.

Lesson 1: It will take longer to hire your grant-funded position than you think.

  • It took us 6 months to hire Jaime, our Project Director. Fortunately, the IMLS assured us that we are right on target and that they were expecting that kind of timeline.

Lesson 2: Administrivia, especially as you get rolling, will eat a lot more of your time than you anticipated (a good friend of mine likens it to being nibbled to death by ducks).

  • Figuring out logistical issues in terms of how to pay for concrete things from a grant, particularly when the grant’s payout system is based upon pay-first-then-be-reimbursed, rather than “here’s your big fat check; go get ’em!” takes time and patience from everyone involved.
  • Figuring out how to incorporate grant management practices and requirements for this particular grant and this particular granting agency into our library’s current business procedures also eats time. Administrative things like who signs what, who sends which form to whom, and in which order changes based on the current requirements, the granting agency, and more. Thus, even when you have an experienced Primary Investigator on board, it still feels like starting from scratch (which it rather is, in many cases).
  • Questions like “What is the standard per diem I will receive when attending X conference in Y location?” can get very complicated answers.
  • If your grant is working with other people in any way for research purposes (i.e. doing a survey), you will likely need to go through an Institutional Review Board training and application process.

Lesson 3: There is, despite our best efforts, really no replacement for an in-person meeting.

  • Our first in person meeting once Jaime was on board of the entire grant team got more accomplished in a single session than we did in the nearly 6 months of conference calls that we used to keep in contact before her hire.
  • In-person meetings work best with a strong agenda and a strong moderator. Time limits for discussion keep things moving, too. (We knew this, and that’s why our in-person meeting was so successful).
  • Lots of caffeine helps. So do breaks for food that are purely social. After all, we were all willing to get into this because we wanted to work with each other. 🙂

Lesson 4: The first time you put together your project timeline, you will likely scare yourself.

  • Our in-person meeting involved us looking at our goals, and then backtracking to figure out what we needed to do when to achieve them. Putting it all together in a timeline reinforced the urgency of the project, moving us firmly from a mindset of “we have two whole years!” to “we only have two years!”

Lesson 5: It’s okay. Do it anyway. Even failure is an option.

  • Fear can be a great motivator.  Make use of it.
  • One of the beautiful things about IMLS National Leadership Grants is that they have the possibility for failure built right into their DNA. The whole point of these grants is to take risks, to experiment, to try something new. Which may not work, or may not turn out how you think it will.
  • The real outcome of these grants is the lessons that you learn, and the skills that you gain, in the trying and the testing, regardless of final outcome.

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  1. The in-person thing cannot be overstated! In spite of (maybe because of) the fact we are dealing with digital objects, grounding them in real-world concerns is a must. We do not make these efforts in a vacuum. We serve the object creators and users in our communities, and communicating their needs is enhanced by struggling through the issues together. Seeing a grimace on a colleague’s face as they express (but do not vocalize) their feelings is priceless.

    Truly, the timeline was the scariest part. Working backwards from the “deliverable” date and hashing all the steps out in the same room was also invigorating. More energy expressed at the end of a five our meeting than I would have thought possible!

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