Every so often I receive a panicked email from an overwhelmed manager tasked with writing a proposal for a project or program in her organization. They need information and they need it fast.
They know that without supporting research and evidence, a proposal isn’t very useful, but don’t quite know where to start. Whenever I work on a proposal support project, I always start with 4 basic questions. These questions are the foundation I built all of the proposal research upon.
While all organizations will have specific proposal guidelines you'll be expected to follow, the following general research-based questions should be asked and confidently answered before you can write a winning project or program proposal.
1) What problem will my project or program address? Why is my proposed project or program needed?
If your proposed project or program is addressing a problem or issue in your organization, in your community, or in society, you'll need evidence to support that need. Begin by gathering background information on the problem or issue you're addressing. This background information on the purpose of your proposed program or project is important to justify its need. Gather statistics and other data on your problem. Look for studies that address the problem or issue you're looking to solve, especially studies that detail the long-term effects or consequences of this issue. For example, if you're aiming to implement a new training program to increase staff competency in a specific area, look for data on how lack of skills in this area affects quality of work and customer satisfaction. Knowing why (and being able to explain why) your problem is an issue that needs to be addressed is a step in the proposal process that cannot be overlooked.
2) Are there other projects or programs out there like the one I am proposing?
It's always a wise move to gather as much information as possible on the environment in which you're operating. This includes organizations and communities with missions similar to yours. Look for other organizations or communities that have implemented programs or projects like yours. Locating case studies and incorporating them into your proposal is a great way to convince the proposal reviewers that your project or program is viable and can make a true difference to your organization or community. Seeing how an idea has worked for others gives legitimacy and credibility to your idea, especially if your proposed project is costly, time intensive, or experimental. Identifying organizations with similar programs or projects can also be used as a list of allies that you can potentially contact for more information, advice, or opinions on project implementation.
3) How have others implemented similar programs or projects?
As with question 2 above, thoroughly researching similar programs and organization and locating resources such as case studies can also give you suggestions and a framework on how to implement your own project or program. Case studies, published academic articles, and even news reports on similar programs can give you a clue as to what resources will be needed as well. These resources can give you an overview and general idea of the work and financial investment that may be involved, and how the project management was carried out. These are usually things that you will need to include in your proposal, so having an idea of what this meant for other organizations can help you when it's time to draft your proposal.
4) Is there any research that backs up my proposed solution or gives credibility to my project or program's purpose?
Depending on your industry or organization, you may have to provide a literature review as evidence and support for your proposal. Even if this isn't a requirement, a search for published literature that supports your proposal idea is a valuable exercise. For one, it can help you clarify your purpose. Secondly, it can give you extra ammunition if asked for additional evidence that your proposed project or program is really necessary and viable.
Keeping these questions in mind when you write your proposal will go a long way in ensuring that your proposal is well-informed and properly supported by research and supporting evidence. And remember: if you need help answering any of these questions, help is out there!