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The future of the grant management marketplace

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The grant management marketplace has ample opportunity for improvements.

Due to the lack of consistency between applications, the cumbersome technology and process, the time-consuming nature, and the layers of bias throughout, serious change is needed.

1907 Foundation is incredibly excited to have launched Atala: a grant management software with the capacity to launch us into a more efficient, effective, ethical, healthier, and well-researched future.

The Current Problems in Grant Management Marketplace

For more specifics, check out our article on Gaps in the Grants Management Marketplace.

We’ll summarise the problems here, but that article pinpoints the following major opportunity areas with current grant management systems.

  • Bias: There are multiple forms of bias both implicit and explicit that occur throughout the funding process. There are not adequate checks in place to prevent that bias from occurring and influencing funding decisions.

  • Time waste: Applicants (i.e. scientific researchers) spend over 40 percent of their time applying for funding because of the variety of systems, the multitude of questions, and the lack of user capabilities within each system. Expert reviewers consistently report being frustrated by the excessive amounts of time they must dedicate to navigating each system during a review process.

  • Lack of customisation: A majority of respondents report that their organizations use automation technology, but only 27 percent see significant value from it.

  • Bugs: Since so many grant management systems are outdated, over 60 percent of organisations that use them report significant bugs.

  • Navigation: Only 10 percent of survey respondents say that eligible grantees can always find available grants.

  • Analysis: For nearly a third of respondents, quality data – and the technology to analyse that data – is insufficient for all parts of the grant funding marketplace.

  • Lack of security: Again, many systems date back to the late eighties and suffer from several security vulnerabilities, which have been targeted by many attacks aimed to break the underlying communication protocol.

1907’s Founding: Realising the Extent of the Problem

1907 Co-Founder and Chair Adam Pieczonka started 1907 Foundation in 2020 with the primary goal of funding research and technology to close the gaps in knowledge, access, and resource allocation across the mental health industry.

Since then, we have discovered the grant management marketplace houses many inconsistencies and disregards far too many inequities and biases that only get in the way of funding the best science.

Enter: Blair Kelly.

Kelly got involved with 1907 Foundation early on.

“Adam and I have known each other since I was five and he was two,” he says.

“Fast forward to 2019: his sister Rachel who was also my friend passed away.

“He let me know his idea for this charity and he had actually already done a ton of work to get it started.

“He asked if I’d help him build a donation platform for it. Then he asked me if I’d come on board as Chief Technology Officer.”

As 1907 Foundation came to life, Kelly found himself enmeshed in the world of grant management systems.

He described how they have become clear obstacles: “I vetted 19 different GMSs and we ended up landing on WiseHive.

“It was fine, and we started accepting applications. The application part wasn’t very slick.”

“It was in the first round of reviews that we started to notice pain points.

“We first noticed there was no way to go to the next application to review – you have to go back to the home screen.

“The larger problems came when reviewers were trying to see what applications they had starred but that didn’t exist in the system.

“It was also very manual to get the data out: you’d have to dump it into a separate spreadsheet and conduct your analysis independently.”

Within this description alone we can identify many opportunities for growth within GMS software:

  • Meet basic expectations of users

  • Improve the user experience for all users 

  • Create intuitive UI 

  • Save time

Kelly got a first-hand look at the specifics of a particular system after using it, but that’s when he really noticed that these weaknesses in the grant management marketplace run much deeper than the original GMS he tried to use.

“In the traditional grant management system, there’s one funder and they have their own process with their own team that goes in and reviews applications,” he says.

“It’s siloed to this grantmaker, and we want to totally open that up so applicants are applying to many grantmakers.

“There are all kinds of tools we can use to get money to the people we want to be researching and the things we want to be researched.

“And, grantmakers would be able to rain in their process to customise their individual grant with the way it’s been built.”

Pieczonka was in complete agreement with Kelly, and that’s when they started thinking up ways to fix it. Pieczonka muses:

“The solution is so simple yet it’s been disregarded. Imagine being one of the smartest thinkers in the world and having to run through walls just to do your job.

“It’s terrible for the field and the reality is, if scientists care about the field, they need to improve the system. We need to improve the system.”

In the words of Pieczonka, “If you want to fix the problem you have to fix the system.”

So, what did he and Kelly do? They decided to fix the system.

1907’s Own GMS: Atala

Our team values innovation in technology and thinking critically about how we can improve our world with it, which is why we built, and are now scaling, Atala: a GMS toolkit designed to streamline the applicant, review, and award process.

“GMSs are pretty expensive so I started building my own platform to get what we needed,” says Kelly.

“I built out the Atala review portal and it was received very well.”

Kelly’s sole focus was on providing 1907 Foundation and its team with a GMS that served its purposes and made everyone’s life easier.

By accomplishing this, it would also allow more money to power more research – and that was the primary goal.

It was not until over a year later that Kelly and Pieczonka started to think past the mission of 1907 Foundation to what the broader potential impact could be if this software was shared.

Atala is a GMS toolkit designed to streamline the applicant, review, and award process.

Atala creates collaboration opportunities between funders to ensure that the point of nonprofit work (aka getting the money into the hands of those who need it and can create progress) is realised more ethically and more equitably.

It will also serve as a repository for data collection by collecting and analyzing application data on the research, the researcher, the reviewer, the funders, and the entire grant funding industry.

Atala will be up to date and current with the newest efficiencies in the for-profit industry, relatively affordable and accessible, and it will be catered specifically to nonprofits while addressing the concerns that have been highlighted with other GMSs.

“The idea is that if everyone’s listed in one place the candidate doesn’t have to apply to as many institutions. It’s all about return on time,” says Pieczonka.

Not only will Atala be able to give researchers valuable time back to conduct their work, but it will also create efficiencies throughout the process (for applicants, experts, and funders).

Using blinding during the review process, Atala will close the gaps we currently see in resource allocation to scientists, making the opportunity more equitable.

For more information on the bias throughout most grant funding processes, check out our past articles on gaps in the grant management marketplace and research bias sources and impacts.

By ensuring an adequate sample size of reviewers, Atala will be able to guarantee a higher degree of ethical decision making.

By providing a platform and process for reviewers to make decisions solely based on the purity of science, Atala will allow for more effective and more results-focused selections of studies.

Kelly added:

“Reviewers have found the UI very simple and very easy to use. They said it’s much easier and a pleasure to use.

“Our researchers and advisors also like our process. In our process, we have an initial lightning round – not bogging everyone down with every detail of the application.

“We’re not sharing the person’s name or what schools they went to.”

 “We realised, we now have our own system and there’s a potential to turn this into something much bigger than a grant management system,” he adds.

We’re incredibly excited to launch into the future with Atala.

If you would like to learn more about Atala, would like to book a demo, or would like to help support the scale of this revolutionary software, we appreciate your interest and support and look forward to hearing from you.

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