Studying Ways to Improve the Use of Research Evidence: Is Your Proposal a Good Fit?
Editor’s Note: This post was fully updated in 2021.
The William T Grant Foundation receives hundreds of letters of inquiry every year from individuals pursuing funding for their research. But we decline between a third to a half of submitted letters of inquiry because they are not a fit with either of our focus areas. For research grants in our focus area on improving the use of research evidence, for instance, we decline approximately 80% of the letters of inquiry we receive and invite only those remaining to submit full proposals.
Designing studies and crafting letters of inquiry takes many hours of thoughtful work. To increase your chances of being invited to submit a full proposal for a research grant on improving the use of research evidence, it is important that the study you describe in your letter of inquiry is closely aligned with the focus area.
Below are ten tips to help assess whether your idea is a good fit. These are not in any rank order—each tip is important to consider as you prepare your letter of inquiry:
The application guidelines are specifically designed to help you understand our focus on improving the use of research evidence and increase your chances for success. A close read of the application guidance, as well as a review of the resources for applicants available on our website, are important foundations for successful applications.
Studies on improving the use of research evidence aim to identify, build, or test a strategy to ensure that research evidence is used in ways that benefit youth. Your idea for a study should be able to complete this sentence: This project explores how [proposed mechanism] improves the use of research evidence in [specific youth program or policy areas]. For example, “this project explores how a research-practice partnership operates as a lever of change to increase the use of research evidence in the mental health system.”
There are many forms of evidence that inform policy and practice, but our priority is improving the use of research evidence, defined as applying systematic methods and analyses to address a predefined question or hypothesis. While evidence from the use of data is often considered in policy and practice, a study looking at only the use of data would not fit our priority focus.
There are many research questions that focus on describing the use of research evidence, but the Foundation’s focus is on improving the use of research evidence. We welcome letters of inquiry for descriptive studies, but they must clearly aim to identify mechanisms for improving research use.
Prior research on the use of research evidence has demonstrated remarkable consistency of findings across disciplines and populations. Studies focused on applying findings on research use from one type of mid-level manager to see if they also apply to another type of mid-level manager are not a fit.
Past research on the use of research evidence has indicated the critical role of mid-level managers and leadership in whether and how research is used. Therefore, the Foundation is especially interested in studies that focus on decision makers, mid-level managers, and/or intermediaries. Studies focused on front-line workers such as teachers or therapists are not a fit with our priorities.
Proposals must center the outcomes on youth ages 5 to 25. While projects may include some participants outside of that age range, studies that do not clearly center the needs and outcomes of youth 5-25 are not a fit with our priorities.
The field has learned much over the last decade about how research is used and about ways to improve research use. Studies that are not deeply grounded in the existing literature will face challenges during review. Again, the resources on the Foundation’s website can help new investigators become familiar with the literature.
Research evidence is used in many different ways (e.g., instrumental, strategic, conceptual). Successful studies demonstrate a clear operational definition of research use.
The field has developed a rich set of methods and measures to study the use of research evidence. Successful proposals continue to strengthen and deepen the methodology. Studies should begin by examining the existing methods and measures for their studies. If measures cannot be used or adapted, studies may propose developing new methods or measures. Studies need a compelling rationale why new methods or measures are needed.
We hope you find these tips helpful in preparing your letter of inquiry. Funding for our grants will always be very competitive, but ensuring your project is aligned with our priorities will increase the chances your innovative project will be invited for a full proposal. We look forward to reviewing your letters!