This article is taken from Research Professional’s Research Insight service and Research Fortnight so thanks to them.
Partnerships and impact should be at the base of a Nuffield Foundation bid
Grants range from £10,000 to £500,000, but most are worth between £50,000 and £300,000. The foundation has said it expects the deadline for outline applications to the next round to be in September.
Here, Gráinne McKeever, a professor of law and social justice at Ulster University, speaks about her 2016 Nuffield grants for studying litigants in person: people who represent themselves in the Northern Ireland court system.
What was the background to your bid? I had just completed a pilot project on the topic funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Small Research Grants scheme. Around that time, the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland published a major review of access to justice, which highlighted the need for more research on the position of litigants in person. The policy context coincided perfectly with the direction of my research.
What attracted you to Nuffield? It had previously funded tribunal reform research I had done for the Law Centre in Northern Ireland, so I knew it was interested in how the legal system works for ordinary people and how the values of the legal system play out. It was also clear that it would fund research on Northern Ireland as one of the jurisdictions in the UK—you can’t assume this with all funders.
What’s more, the application process is a tailored, staged system. It’s not one of those processes where you leap in, do eight weeks of work on a massive application and then you either get it or not. It’s more manageable.
Was there a fit with Nuffield’s priorities? Yes. The type of research we were proposing had the potential to generate evidence-based reform. We knew Nuffield was not a funder for blue-sky research—it wants to make a difference on the ground.
Did you consider any other funders? Not seriously. The Nuffield Foundation was our first port of call. I’ve done some work for the Legal Education Foundation in the past, who are also good to work with. If we hadn’t been successful with Nuffield, we might have approached them.
Did you work with any partner organisations? It was a joint bid with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and largely thanks to that, I knew that the stakeholder engagement section was going to be strong. Together with the chief commissioner of the Human Rights Commission I met the lord chief justice, the head of the Department of Justice of Northern Ireland and the head of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, to see if they would facilitate the research if we got the grant. Getting their buy-in at an early stage was essential.
What is the first stage of the application process? Applicants submit a brief outline application, which is an opportunity to refine your thinking to identify a good research idea and start to set out how it might be delivered. Nuffield gave us feedback at that stage saying, “We think you could do more on this and for that reason we think your budget might not be sufficient.”
It’s not my experience that a funder will come back and say you need to ask them for more money, but they were keen to make sure we maximised the project’s potential.
What elements did you bring to the fore in the full application? While some funders may be more interested in developing an in-depth theoretical understanding of an issue, Nuffield is more interested in improving society. So that was an important part of our application. In particular, we were keen to emphasise the value that the Human Rights Commission would bring to the project. They provided a legal advice clinic that as academics we wouldn’t have been able to do in the same way.
Do you have any tips for future applicants? Remember that Nuffield wants to make a difference. Impact planning really is intrinsic to the research that Nuffield has funded for us. We didn’t just do it to get a grant and produce a report. We did it because we could see very clearly that there was a chance to make a difference.
What else is Nuffield looking for? Another important aspect is partnership working. Our project has just been extended through another major grant from Nuffield and we’re now going to be working with the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service and others to provide support materials for personal litigants in family law cases.
For Nuffield, partnership is not just about working with an organisation to get their ideas. Being able to engage with an organisation on the ground that can sustain and add greater value to the research is something Nuffield has been very keen for us to do.
It’s also important to engage seriously with the feedback. Talk to people who have done other work in your area and get their feedback on your draft application.