4. Getting grants

From which side of the aisle?

In rare circumstances, no additional funding may be needed for your education outreach project; the partners bring the perfect balance of in-kind resources to the table. This may be true, for instance, if the science museum has an infrastructure and staff in place, perhaps through general operating funds or endowment, that supports ongoing development and delivery of current science and technology interpretive activities, and the staff are looking only for contributions of authentic content and talent from a science and engineering research center; and, in tandem, that researchers at that center have their own reasons for participating in outreach to broader audiences. Or, perhaps the science museum has funding for building a new exhibit, and the exhibit developers are seeking technical advice and science consulting from researchers. Or, perhaps, as with NanoDays, this is a one-time event that the museum sponsors annually, and seeks volunteer researcher participation for a fun-filled day or weekend.

In most circumstances, however, science museum staff is stretched to the limit on a daily basis to keep up the regular programmed schedule of demonstrations, presentations, and floor time with visitors. Even running a volunteer program for researchers to come in and help to enrich museum activities requires resources for staff time, organizational infrastructure and some appropriate facilities. The exhibits people are likely to be engaged in maintenance issues or other long-term development projects that would preclude their availability to whip something together for a current newsworthy event or to consult with researchers on their own concepts for exhibits.

As a result most partnership efforts to bring public audiences face-to-face with researchers or to help keep visitors abreast of emerging science and technology, will need some other form of dedicated support. Typically, funding comes from one side of the aisle – an informal science education granting agency – or, from the other – a science research granting agency. In the first instance, the ISE institution is the primary applicant; in the second instance, the university research center is the primary applicant. Most science museums are fairly familiar with the ISE approach; this guide will address that approach, but will also recommend that you explore the other approach; not only because it offers many more opportunities, but also because it is so underutilized.

The typical approach:
Funding from the informal science education side

All of the usual sources of grant funding for science museums and other informal science organizations welcome proposals that show strong collaboration with a university-based science and engineering research partner. These include foundations, private donors, and federal agencies that have specific programs that solicit and review proposals for public engagement and informal science education activities and research. Here are some of the major federal sources of funding for ISE:

National Science Foundation
The most robust of the informal science education funding programs is the National Science Foundation’s ISE program, administered by the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL). As the division title indicates, this program is focused on exploring, analyzing, and advancing knowledge of effective approaches to enhance both formal and informal science learning. Proposals must include a well-integrated and rigorous research and evaluation component. The point here is that the investment is meant to advance the field as a whole; not simply serve local needs:

The ISE program invests in projects that promote lifelong learning of STEM in a wide variety of informal settings.  Funding is provided for projects that advance understanding of informal STEM learning, that develop and implement innovative strategies and resources for informal STEM education, and that build the national professional capacity for research, development, and practice in the field.

There are five categories of ISE program grants: Research; Pathways; Full-Scale Development; Broad Implementation; and Communicating Research to Public Audiences. All but one of these welcome proposals from ISE institutions including museums, community and media organizations, as well as from research institutions, including universities and private education organizations. The “Communicating Research to Public Audiences” category, or CRPA, accepts only proposals from scientists who have already been awarded NSF funding for their research.

The DRL’s Informal Science Education program is the nation’s premier funding program focused on informal science education, and the annual funding cycle is fiercely competitive, even more so now that the program has expanded to include university-based informal science education research. Pre-proposals must be submitted more than a year in advance of the proposed work, fitting into one of the five distinct categories. While awards for full-scale development can go as high as $3 million over five years, the other four categories have more limited ceilings, and in all likelihood, only about 25 full proposals can receive funding in any given year, at present appropriation levels.

The National Institutes of Health
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has one significant program that specifically supports informal science education learning and research alongside K-12 and university STEM learning and research. This is the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA), awarded annually by the Division for Clinical Resources within NIH’s National Center for Research Resources (NCRR).

As the name implies, this program encourages partnerships between educators and health science researchers. Science museums are welcome to apply directly for support. These five-year awards include funding for development and dissemination of successful programs and exhibits and also require rigorous research and evaluation components. SEPA “is designed to improve life science literacy throughout the nation through innovative educational programs.”

SEPA-supported projects create partnerships among biomedical and clinical researchers and K-12 teachers and schools, museums and science centers, media experts, and other educational organizations. Working together, these partners provide educational resources such as classroom curricula, mobile laboratories, workshops, films, software and Web sites that give K-12 students, teachers and the public a better understanding of the life sciences. Science centers and museums across the country use SEPA funding to develop stationary and traveling exhibits on fundamental biology and related topics. SEPA support also provides researchers who study human disease a vehicle for contributing to science education programs by sharing their knowledge and demonstrating the excitement of carrying out health-related research.

– From the SEPA program solicitation

This is a smaller ISE program than the NSF offers, and the funding allowed for it tends to vary more from year to year, sometimes skipping a year, as in 2010. However, since 2000, SEPA funding has supported the development of numerous science museum exhibits and programs on areas of current research in health science, all of them based on collaborations with university-based research partners. The SEPA website is found at http://nihsepa.org/

Other Federal Science Funding Agencies

The National Aeronautic and Space Agency (NASA) and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) also offer programs from time to time in support of informal science education efforts.

NASA has a variety of active programs encouraging what it calls EP/O, or Education and Public Outreach, and has had a genuine interest for a long time in collaborations between research centers, schools and science museums. NASA also sometimes funds and distributes science museum programs and exhibits and has supported the organization of ISE networks addressing particular topics, such as solar research, the Space Shuttle program, the International Space Station, and the Mars exploration program. Find the NASA Informal Science web portal at http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/informal/index.html

NOAA has become more active in formal and informal science education programs in recent years and has funded collaborations between research institutions and museums and aquaria.

A New Approach:
Funding through science and engineering sub-awards

Programmatic pathways offering direct funding for informal science education are not too abundant, and the total amount of funding they have to award to each year is quite modest compared to the much broader portfolios of funding programs available to universities and other scientific research organizations. That would be reason enough for ISEs to look for pathways of funding from “the other side of the aisle,” the science research side. However, add to that scarcity the fact that more and more ISEs and now other organizations are competing each year for that limited number of ISE awards. An ISE organization that submits one or more proposals to these programs each year is competing against other ISE organizations (and often with itself) for a piece of that modestly-sized pie. And, each proposal requires a significant investment of time and resources from the prospective organizations and their PIs in order to be competitive. The odds just aren’t good. About 650 pre-proposals were submitted to the NSF ISE program during 2010, and roughly half of these were to be invited for full proposals. According to current estimates, only about 25 of the invited full proposals will be given awards in 2011. Among the losers will be some very fine proposals.

Contrast this with the option of collaborating as an education outreach partner or a subawardee on a research center proposal. Each year, much larger chunks of federal funding are offered to fund basic research in university settings than are offered directly to informal science education institutions.

Research center grants tend to be quite large and can last five years or more, and they are often renewable: quite a healthy return on an investment in a partnership building. Because research center budgets are larger and more discretionary than individual investigator budgets, more resources may be available to engage with an education outreach partner, as a potential sub-awardee. This not only relieves the individual center investigators of the burden of each coming up with their own E&O plan, it also creates a critical mass of resources for generating higher-impact activities. If the E&O partner is a science museum, it is typically selected by geography and prior connections; there needn’t be the kind of fraternal competition between multiple ISE organizations as there are with direct ISE funding programs, for which there is a national playing field.

This is truly one of the greatest areas of untapped potential for enhancing programming and resources for the mission of the informal science education world. And here again, it is the National Science Foundation that offers the best opportunities.

Broader Impacts Criterion
The reason the NSF offers the best opportunities, as you may recall from Section One, “The Partnership Landscape,” is because of its Broader Impacts Criterion, the mandate that all proposals for research funding include explicit plans to make meaningful contributions in one or more of the following five areas:

(1) Advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning with innovative connections of research and education, including opportunities to involve undergraduate and high school students in research experiences and participate in the professional development of K-12 teachers.

(2) Broaden participation of underrepresented groups by involving their members in research and education activities at all levels in order to increase the pool of future talented educators and promising researchers.

(3) Enhance infrastructure for research and education by linking with scientists and programs to bring added value and enhance impacts of research activities. These can include advances in networking and cyber infrastructure in ways that give researchers new opportunities for collaboration, conducting research and education, and sharing their work.

(4) Broaden dissemination to enhance scientific and technological understanding, for instance, by working with science centers on new educational exhibits; assisting journalists with their stories on technical topics; developing new art forms for communicating materials research to wider audiences; creating related websites enhanced by engaging animations and movies to educate non-scientists and the public at large.

(5) Provide benefits to society by communicating to the public the excitement, benefits, and long term impacts of materials research and enhance public appreciation of the relevance of advanced materials research to the future and society.

Although areas 4 and 5 show the most obvious role for an informal science education partner, areas 1, 2, and 3 can also be addressed through such partnerships; for instance, many museums offer professional development programs for K-12 educators, and some museums offer science communication and inquiry-based education skills-building sessions for early-career researchers from partnering universities. Please refer back to the “Broader Impacts Criterion” discussion in Section one: The partnership landscape, to review how science museums can help university PIs address the BIC with the kind of rigor that NSF requires.

The Broader Impacts Criterion gives your ISE organization a leg up when you go out to recruit potential NSF research grantees.

Communicating Research to Public Audiences
The fifth category of NSF DRL ISE program grants, “Communicating Research to Public Audiences” (CRPA) is specifically dedicated to funding innovative partnerships between university researchers and ISE institutions. Currently, only about five of these are awarded each year, and what makes them unique is that a principal investigator who already holds an active NSF-funded research award in good standing must propose them. In other words, the proposal must come from the university-based science or engineering researcher. Nevertheless, NSF strongly encourages researchers to partner with an ISE organization: “Collaboration between NSF-funded researchers and informal science organizations is strongly encouraged to ensure use of best practices.”

Effective projects assist in the broader dissemination of research findings and promote STEM learning by the general public, especially as it relates to the understanding of and engagement with cutting edge research findings and methodology. As with other categories of ISE awards, CRPAs may include the design and implementation of exhibitions, films, television, radio, web, and youth and community projects. While these projects will be less extensive than Full-Scale Development projects, they should be similarly guided by a conceptual framework and include an evaluation plan that is commensurate with the scope and depth of the proposed activities. The proposal should clearly describe the NSF-funded research upon which the project is based, the educational need that is met, and the informal learning strategies that will be employed to engage the targeted public audiences. CRPA proposals can be a maximum of $150,000 and up to two years in duration. The award size, however, will be consistent with the project scope and the size of the original research award. They may be submitted at any time and do not require preliminary proposals. [Program Solicitation NSF 09-553].

So, even though a CRPA grant proposal has to be initiated from the research center side of the aisle, it’s specific purpose must be to fund informal science education and public engagement opportunities, for which it recommends recruiting an ISE partner. However, there is no reason that the idea for a CRPA project needs to originate with the researcher, and they may not even be aware of the opportunity. If your organization is locally connected with a researcher whose work would be a terrific focal point for a valuable ISE opportunity, you can always bring the idea to that individual and offer to help develop the concept and the grant proposal, allocating the funding appropriately.

NSF and some of the other federal science agencies offer researchers other types of direct and supplemental funding programs, for which partnerships with science museums can be especially useful and the museums included as sub-awardees. For instance the revised 2010 Program Solicitation for the Integrative Graduate Education Research and Traineeship program (IGERT), an NSF-wide endeavor, says “all IGERT projects must now specify how students will receive training in communication of the substance and importance of research to nonscientist audiences. [NSF 10-523] This is a role some science centers can step in to join. For example, the Saint Louis Science Center has developed, with IGERT funding, a graduate student training program partnership with Washington University in St. Louis, underway since June 2005. The same type of partnership can be made in the case of a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) or Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program, hosted by a nearby college or university.

Finally, it should be noted that NSF is increasingly generating opportunities for cross-cutting collaborative proposals for networks, centers, and programs that bridge the worlds of research and formal and informal science education. It seems there is a very deliberate effort to stimulate innovative collaborations to advance research education and outreach. The Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net) is one such example of a very large award going to a collaborative effort among science museums and research organizations, with funding from several NSF science and engineering research directorates, though administered through the ISE program. In 2010, NSF launched a large Climate Change Education Partnership Program, which is similarly designed to encourage a network of partnerships between climate change researchers, educators, and formal and informal science education practitioners. We can expect to see more of these center and network style partnership programs in the future. Those science museums that have already begun to develop relationships with research centers will no doubt be better prepared to demonstrate competence and provide leadership in these areas.

Partnering on a Grant Proposal

Presuming that you have been successful in recruiting a university research center partner to work with your organization to help meet a mutually-shared education outreach agenda – or, perhaps, to meet an NSF-style “broader impacts” requirement -the best thing you can do is to start early.

If you start early, you will have time to vet the proposal with the stakeholders and you can gather valuable ideas, advice, and knowledge of relevant prior work. A partnership proposal will be the subject of not one, but two institutional vetting processes. In addition, you will need to negotiate and adjust both the budget and the proposal elements until they are in true alignment. There may need to be an evaluation plan and a commitment from an outside evaluator, who will need to see the proposed education outreach plan in order to do their part. You may need to supply letters of commitment or support and examples of prior work, as well as curricula vitae and “current and pending” statements, formatted in a particular style.

It is important to pick a well-qualified person to serve as the museum’s lead on the partnership. This person effectively serves as the principal investigator (PI) for the sub-award. Principal investigators should be people who can demonstrate to the peer review committee that they have the appropriate training, credentials, and experience to do the work. They should also be the people actually in charge of carrying out the work being proposed, as well as the lead communicator and liaison for your side of the partnership.

So start early. Have some discussions, brainstorm some ideas, ballpark a rough timeline and a budget and see what your partners and other stakeholders think. Maybe come up with two or three options.

Advance preparation
If your organization has utilized something like the assessment process we recommended in Section Two: Developing a Partnership, the vetting process will be  easier to carry out.  You will have criteria against which to assess the value of the proposed plan to your organization and to your audiences, and you will know who needs to be consulted.   Also, in this section, we are assuming that your organization has had some experience in writing and submitting grant proposals to federal granting organizations.  If that is not the case, then, before it comes time to submit the grant proposal, the organization many need to register with federal agencies, authorize SRO’s (sponsored research officers), and establish an indirect cost basis. [Also covered in Section Two]. Most science museums also need to have access to an appropriate IRB or Institutional Review Board, either at a nearby university, or by establishing their own.  IRB reviews are becoming mandatory in most cases where museums need to conduct research and evaluation on the impact of their programs because that research will involve surveying and/or observing and/or interviewing human subjects (visitors and audiences), especially those that include minors.

Designing an approach
Many research scientists and science funding agencies tend to think of a science museum “education outreach” partnership primarily as a means to disseminate knowledge, increase science literacy, attract young people to the field, and demonstrate the benefits of science.  We also want to empower our audiences with the tools of the scientific process and connect engineering design process to problem solving in everyday life.  We want to engage our audiences in science as an activity, an open-ended process; not simply a set of facts written indelibly in a text.  In addition, many informal science educators have come to feel that we  are also responsible for nurturing inquiry, dialog, and discussion between and among public audiences and researchers, concerning the methods and goals of research and the broader societal implications.

By discussing the various approaches to these ends with our research center partners, we are helping to educate them about the nature of informal science education, and its aspirations as a field.  It is up to us to help our partners understand that while a lecture may be effective for some audiences; for others it’s going to be that hands-on demonstration or that impassionated science café discussion that’s going to deliver the “ah-ha” moment.  Generally, we want to bundle together a variety of approaches to reach our diverse target audiences effectively, and to look to see where this particular partnership might be able to help us try something innovative, that we might not have had the opportunity to try before.

Research and evaluation
Informal science education funding agencies are increasingly ISE projects for evidence that they are designed, structured, and evaluated in such a way that they will produce knowledge about the validity and impact of various approaches; knowledge that may enhance the ISE field as a whole.

These types of projects have the potential not only to produce local benefits, but also to inform the larger field of practice.  The more you conceive of your approach as a research project, the better it will fit with most funding agency criteria and the more helpful it may be to others down the road.  What are your goals?  How will you assess whether you have reached them?  On what basis have you chosen your approach?  What is the logic model behind it?  What is the potential significance of your approach to the field?  Is it innovative?  Will you advance knowledge and practice beyond what is already known? Would your approach be adaptable to other environments, and is it scalable for greater impact or for larger groups? Does your team have the appropriate credentials and expertise?  Do you post or publish your findings?  What plans do you have to share what you learn with other professionals in the field?

A proposal that makes reference to prior literature in the field to back up its approach and that outlines a research and evaluation plan that is rigorous, yet appropriate for informal science education settings, is more likely to gain support than one that just outlines a set of activities to be performed.

However, while such robust plans for research and evaluation are often centerpieces of an informal science education proposal to a program such as NSF’s ISE, they are not necessarily considered essential by your STEM research center partners nor by their research funding directorates.  This is because STEM researchers are more conditioned to think of the science as the research, and the education and diversity efforts as accompanying outreach practices. This viewpoint contributes to the assumption by some researchers that the outreach plan can be developed at the last minute, without much specialized expertise.

Those attitudes shouldn’t necessarily deter you from trying to enroll your science research partners in supporting more rigorous and perhaps experimental research on the design and impact of your collaborative education and outreach efforts. Certainly those efforts will reflect well on the Center’s work, especially if you publish them. However, the budgetary impact of rigorous evaluation plans may dampen some of the enthusiasm for them, especially, if, as a subaward to a large research grant, the amount of proposal narrative allotted to describing those plans is sharply curtailed. Nevertheless, your subaward proposal should include sufficient plans and funding at least for formative evaluation, with time in the schedule allocated to making adjustments to programs and exhibits based on that evaluation, and plans to disseminate what has been learned.

And, of course, if the research and evaluation plan involves human subjects, as it indoubtedly will, it is probably going to be necessary for your institution to have a plan for approving it via an Institutional Review Board or IRB.  [See Section Two].

The proposal narrative
In many ways, the most difficult part of writing a grant proposal is in keeping the many required aspects of the research plan to a critical page limit.  If it is a education outreach sub-award, it may be very difficult for the lead institution to devote as more than a few paragraphs to the proposed plan, even though if it’s an NSF proposal, the broader impacts plans must be rigorously addressed.

Thus, this narrative section needs to be very clear, consistent, and specific.  It may refer to documents that can be included in appendices or in optional “exhibits” that reviewers may or may not have time to peruse.  Web links may be provided. But the narrative must succinctly describe the key elements of the plan, reference supporting literature or prior work, provide evidence of the suitability of the partner organization and its lead investigator, clarify goals, and indicate measurable impacts. Any education outreach plan should be specific about target audiences, numbers and demographics. And there must be evidence that there is a plan for the rigorous assessment of program impacts.  The reviewers will want to know that the budget provides specific funding in support of these activities, that they are not merely “synergistic.”  And of course, when reviewers examine the budget, it should align with the plan that has been described in the narrative.

Budgeting a partnership
Everything costs something, and this is true even if the partners are volunteering time and resources.  For example, an agreement to host a series of lectures or public presentations or a research fair still requires staff time planning, publicizing, managing and cleaning up from the event.  Such an event will also consume other resources, such as refreshments, parking spaces, heat and electricity, water, and space that could have been used for a paying “client,” since many museums rent out their venues to private parties.  An agreement to invite graduate students to serve as volunteers or interns will necessitate recruitment, training, and supervisory staff time.  An agreement to accept an exhibit designed by a researcher and his or her graduate students may result in many hours of exhibit planning and production team time to modify it to suit museum standards or to truly serve museum audiences.

It is important to take these often hidden costs into account before signing on to a partnership agreement, or taking a last minute call from a researcher offering a lecture and needing a letter of support.  There may be little problem if the museum already has the necessary staff and infrastructure support, an existing volunteer program, and has already assessed a need for the content, creativity, and robust associations the partnership can bring.  But the real costs should not be ignored.  Museums are particularly vulnerable on this front because they are non-profit, mission-oriented institutions, and their staff are motivated to serve the community more than they are motivated by the bottom line.  They may also be too shy to ask if financial resources are being put on the table.  They need to ask.

If some resources are being offered, as in a sub-award or contract, it is important to open up a spreadsheet and start doing the numbers.  You’ll want to ensure that you do not over-promise what you can deliver on a given amount of funding.  Doing a spreadsheet in a program like Excel can allow you to explore various program models and contingencies quickly and understand how small differences in schedule and personnel can affect the bottom line.  A spreadsheet also allows you to map out the activities month-by-month and form realistic expectations.  For that reason, it is wise to draft a budget early on, based on initial planning with your partner, and use it interactively to refine your planning.

Indirect Cost Recovery
The first thing to take into consideration is “indirect cost recovery.”  Indirect cost or IDC is essentially an institution’s overhead rate, the cost of maintaining a facility, offices, utilities, and basic services.

Some funders do not provide IDC.  Some cap it at a certain percentage. Others negotiate a rate, institution-by-institution, based on complex formulas.  Typically, an institution will go through the IDC determination process with the federal agency from which it most frequently seeks funding.  For many science museums, that agency is NSF.  The rates are re-established each year. Other federal agencies often accept the rate established by sister agency.  However, many private donors and foundations do not allow IDC recovery at all or instead require specific line-item delineation. And, the NIH SEPA program allows just eight percent, even though NIH negotiates some very high rates for its scientific research centers.   Both NIH and NSF IDC rates can range well over 50% in university environments.  Obviously, the higher the IDC recovery rate allowed, the better for the institution as a whole.  The grant or sub-award is not only supporting terrific work, fully-funded, but it is also paying its fair share of the institution’s basic infrastructural “overhead” costs for doing this kind of business – those burdensome utilitarian costs that most corporate sponsors and private donors don’t want to spend their gift or marketing dollars having named after them, like the IT network and servers or the monthly utilities bills. Large organizations that have a high proportion of grant-funded work have to rely on grant IDC to help cover the cost of doing business. Of course, the downside for the PI’s and the partnership’s key education outreach enthusiasts is that less of the sub-award budget is going to go toward direct program costs.  For example, if the grant provides a $100,000 subaward and the institutional IDC rate is 30%, then $23,077 of the $100,000 will be allocated to your organization’s general operating funds coffer and there will be $76,923 for staff time, benefits, and the direct expenses of the educational efforts.  The formula to find how much there will be to spend in direct costs is:  [Total Grant Award] divided by 1.x, with x being the IDC rate.  In this case, $100,000 ¸ 1.30 = $76.923.

Staff Time
The next most important item on your spreadsheet is the staff time the project will require.  The staff time should represent the actual number of hours required for each individual working on the project by month over the length of the project.  Don’t forget to estimate time for planning meetings, staff supervision, prototyping and revising, formative evaluation, and documentation. Hourly staff costs are then augmented by your institution’s benefits rate.  It that subtotal comes out higher than the budget can afford, you must stop there and reduce the project’s aspirations.  It’s tempting to try to fudge it, but you will risk disappointing yourself and your partner, perhaps be unable to fulfill your contractual obligations, or end up “contributing” staff time and other resources from general operating funds.  You can’t hold a bake sale to finish an exhibit.  Neither can you go back to the funder and say, oops we goofed; we actually need twice as much as we budgeted.  You want to build a track record of completing successful projects, according to plan, on budget and on time.  One more thing to keep in mind about staff time:  if you need to hire new staff, you’ll have to anticipate in both your budget and timeline the amount of time it may take to recruit and hire them.  Depending on the time of award notification, you may need to build in a buffer for that.

Research & Evaluation
The research and evaluation components could require some combination of internal and external labor and expertise: designing a plan, developing survey and assessment instruments, administering them, analyzing results, and reporting.  If you include front-end and formative evaluation, consider the costs of making revisions to your programs based on the interim results. Your research plan will fail to inspire confidence if no budget is allocated for it.


Be sure to also budget for necessary equipment, materials and essential outside services.  Try to think through everything you will need at every stage of the process.

If special public events are involved, there will courtesy costs for parking, refreshments, as well as printing, signage, and theme costs.  If you are running workshops, do not forget participant support. If you are working with graduate students, you will need to feed them. You may need photographic documentation of your events, and recordable electronic media.  If you will be presenting what you learned at a conference, or if you will be participating in a reverse site visit, build in funds for travel.  Check the program guidelines carefully.  Some programs may require you to travel to a yearly PI meeting, which you will have to build into your budget.

Using your spreadsheet
Your budget worksheet is an internal document that does not have to be shared with your partner.   It is for you and your organization to use in understanding what the proposed activities will cost, and to make adjustments as the budget allows.  If you realize you need more funds than the current amount under discussion, you will face a choice of seeing if the partner has leeway to allocate more in your direction or of explaining to them that you will need to cut back on the scope of the plan.  Sometimes the decision is to start in a smaller and more limited fashion than both partners had originally brainstormed.  Yet, if that limited scope of activities proves very beneficial to both parties after a year or two, sometimes the partner will find other funds to expand the program.  Christine Roman reports that this is what happened after the Saint Louis Science Center began providing its public communication skills development program to graduate students from Washington University in St. Louis.  The program began in June of 2005 with a very small sub-award.  It was almost immediately successful, but produced a growing deficit in staff time spent on the project.   Happily, the success of the program spurred the University to find supplemental funding from other sources. [Roman, 2010]. Nevertheless, one of the goals of the pre-proposal budgeting process is to try to ensure that your organization doesn’t need to go into a staff time deficit or any other kind of deficit completing the scope of work.  It is to ensure that you and your partner can match your expectations for the work you are going to do together for the given amount of funding.

One of the best forms of support a science museum partner can receive from the lead research institution of a new center is full or part-time staff support and materials for a staff educator dedicated to developing and delivering ongoing programs, presentations and demos in the targeted area of research.  This provides for flexibility and updating and for facilitating other kinds of joint efforts, perhaps with K-12 teachers or with graduate student science communication skills.  A respectable five-percent of a five-million, five-year center award can provide $50,000 per year to a science museum, enough to fund a half time staff person with benefits and supply educational materials, some travel, workshops, participant support and the obligatory IDC.  On a more cautionary note, I’ve seen instances where a museum manager has worked out an extensive program of time-consuming annual weekend events in partnership with an investigator applying for an individual research grant of $400,000. The two percent sub-award, or $10,000 over a five-year period, will not come close to covering the actual programmatic costs of the effort planned, particularly once a quarter or more of it has been allocated to IDC.

Grants officialdom
Once the partners have come to an understanding about the scope of work and the amount to budget for it, and these plans have been vetted by both organizations, finance or grant administrators at both organizations can help prepare budget, justification, and other forms that must be signed by the cognizant officials. The principal  investigator for the project and for the sub-award usually needs to be pre-registered into the system by the SRO.

The budget form used by NSF, Form 1030, includes more generalized expense categories than your budget worksheet; however, the budget justification form offers the opportunity to clarify the basis for particular lines on the 1030 that aggregate your worksheet budget assumptions. (e.g. for “participant costs,” how many participants, with how much budgeted per participant on food, materials, transportation, etc.).  The official forms need to be orchestrated and submitted into FastLane, NSF’s online proposal portal. Other agencies have other portals; for instance, NIH has the “eRa Commons.”  Detailed instructions are provided on the program solicitation and the website, and there are always links to the cognizant program officers who can provide further counsel.  It is not wise to wait to the last minute to file on one of these electronic portals, since last minute problems can arise. For instance, there may be a web technical difficulty on either side, or, there may be a requirement for a document or certification that was not noticed beforehand.

Partners also need to provide institutional letters of support, signed by board-authorized representatives, bio-sketches for PI and key personnel, and other institutional documentation.    It can take six months to a year to get a response.

Alas, there have been more than a few cases in which a university-based PI has agreed on an outreach plan with a partnering science museum and has written it into a center proposal, even including a letter of support from the museum, and then failed to contact the science museum once they have received word on the outcome of the proposal. This is mildly annoying in the case that the proposal was unsuccessful; understandably, many people have the tendency to keep bad news to themselves and just plow ahead or try again the following year.  However, when a proposal has been funded, and the education outreach partner has not been notified, and the education outreach plan has seemingly been forgotten, that is a big cause for concern, not just for your institution, but also for the funding agency which may have granted the award partly based on the merit of its broader impacts or education outreach plan.

This is where it is helpful to have, if not an actual sub-award built into the proposal ahead of time, then, at the very least, a letter of agreement (LOA) or memorandum of understanding (MOU) from the proposing party before delivering to them a letter of support.  The letter of support written on behalf of the science museum or other education outreach partner should explicitly mention the agreed-upon budget, especially if it is not structured as a sub-award. I also recommend getting a copy of the proposal narrative, and knowing the program solicitation number and the schedule for making awards, so that you can check up on it yourself.  Put a note in your calendar!

Partnership and proposal elements and budgeting

Some useful elements for an optional partnership agreement, sub-award, LOS, LOA, or MOU

  • A description of the ISE plan: who will do what, when, and how
    A rough timeline
    Allocation of responsibilities
  • Designation of a principal liaison for each partner
  • Statement of intent to be responsive in a timely manner to partner’s needs
  • Source of funding and contingencies; notification of award protocol
  • Protocols for naming, listing, and crediting partner organizations
  • Budget totals and agreed overhead or indirect cost allowances
  • Billing and accounts payable procedures
  • Reporting requirements
  • Procedure for modifications of the agreement
  • Signature of CEO, principal investigator, or other high-level authorized entity

Elements often required for a sub-award submission


  • A description of the ISE plan: who will do what, when, and how, and rationale
  • Designated PI and references to prior work, a biosketch or CV, sometimes in  particular format.
  • Targeted audiences and planned impacts
  • Evaluation plan for assessing impact, showing evidence of consultation with an evaluator
  • A budget, usually overall for full extent of project, with particular detail provided for first one or two years.
  • Federal IDC rate statement
  • Letter of support signed by a board-authorized representative of the institution.
  • Current & Pending form (C&P) for the principal investigator or project leader on the informal side.
  • Sometimes pre-registration of the organization and of the principal investigator on the proposal portal of the funding agency’s website.
  • Sometimes an IRB certification or pending application number

Additional elements that may be required in a proposal for a direct award

  • Rationale: the “why” of the plan, including appropriate references to prior work and a logic model or theory of action
  • Research Plan including rationale, literature review, benefits for wider field, dissemination, intellectual merit and broader impacts
  • Timetable mapping out the plan of action, milestones, and reporting deadlines
  • Biosketches for all key staff on the project, their role on the project, the percent of time they will devote to the project, and their C&Ps
  • A detailed evaluation plan and letter of commitment from evaluator
  • A dissemination plan
  • Letters of support from the CEO or director of the institution, advisors, partners written into the research plan or listed as collaborators.
  • Many agencies will require acknowledgement of common ethics and standards, such as research on human subjects certification and Institutional Review Board (IRB) certification, if the project includes elements such as collection of personal data or research with minors.


Getting Started

Once the award comes in, it’s a good idea for the lead institution to call a meeting of all the partners and collaborators, if only to shake hands and pat each other on the back, and remind each other of what you agreed to do and the timeline for doing it.

Although everyone will be in the midst of other projects, possibly other proposals, and certainly other demands on their time, the best collaborations hit the ground running.  There are contracts to be signed, papers to be filed, email lists to be assembled, and a governance structure to be put in place.  Sometimes changes to the plan will have resulted through negotiations with the funder, or through back-and-forth negotiations on questions raised by the program officer. Sometimes, conditions on the ground have changed, or key personnel have moved off.  So the goals and timelines and responsibilities typically need to be readdressed, readjusted, or at least reconfirmed.  Also, once the grant has been awarded, the clock starts running.  If you budgeted to spend a certain amount in the first year of the grant, or to accomplish a certain amount, you need to get going.  Sometimes you have to hire new staff and train them.  This is not to say that you cannot often get extensions on grants and rollover funds from year to year, but that route is best regarded as a fallback position.  This is the time to look back over the advice on building a good partnership, as presented in Section Two, and apply it.

Congratulations.  You have been given the opportunity to some wonderful, meaningful work, with some great partners, and a new  opportunity to expand minds and hearts.

In the next section, we will take a look at why this subject is such a fertile area for science museums seeking education outreach partnerships with research centers;  the kinds of resources that are available; and case studies of particular forms of partnerships.  We also take a look at the philosophy behind tackling nanoscale science and other emerging technologies in our science museums.

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