When performing grant evaluations, our clients develop specific project objectives to drive attainment of overall grant goals. We work with principal investigators (PIs) to monitor work plan activities and project outcomes to ensure objectives are attainable, measurable, and sustainable.
However, what happens when the project team encounters obstacles to starting the activities related to project objectives? What shifts need to be made to meet grant goals?
When the team determines that the project objective cannot be achieved as initially planned, it’s important for the PI and evaluator to determine how to proceed. In the table below, we’ve highlighted three scenarios in which it may be necessary to shift, change, or eliminate a project objective. Then, if changes are made, based on the extent of the project objective modifications, the team can determine if or when the PI should notify the project funder.
Example: Shift in Project Objective
|Grant Goal||Help underclassmen understand what engineers do by observing the day-to-day activities of a local engineer.|
|Problem||The advisory board members (engineers) in the field were unavailable.|
|Objective||Current: Shadow advisory board member.||Change: Shadow young engineering alumni.|
|Result||The goal is still attainable.|
|PI Notify Funder||No, but provide explanation/justification in the end-of-year report.|
Example: Change a Project Objective
|Grant Goal||To create a method by which students at the community college will earn a credential to indicate they are prepared for employment in a specific technical field.|
|Problem||The state process to establish a new certificate is time consuming and can’t occur within the grant period.|
|Objective||Current: Complete degree in specific technical field.||Change: Complete certificate in specific technical field.|
|Result||The goal is still attainable.|
|PI Notify Funder||Yes, specifically contact the funding program officer.|
Example: Eliminate the Project Objective
|Grant Goal||The project participant’s salary will increase as result of completing specific program.|
|Problem||Following program exit, salary data is unavailable.|
|Objective||Current: Compare participant’s salary at start of program to salary three months after program completion.||Change: Unable to maintain contact with program completers to obtain salary information.|
|Result||The goal cannot realistically be measured.|
|PI Notify Funder||Yes, specifically contact funding program officer.|
In our experience working with clients, we’ve found that the best way to minimize the need to modify project objectives is to ensure they are well written during the grant proposal phase.
Tips: How to write attainable project objectives.
1. Thoroughly think through objectives during grant development phase.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) provides guidance to assist PIs with constructing realistic project goals and objectives. Below, we’ve linked to the NSF’s proposal development guide. However, here are a few key considerations:
- Are the project objectives clear?
- Are the resources necessary to accomplish the objectives clearly identified?
- Are their barriers to accessing the resources needed?
2. Seek evaluator assistance early in the grant proposal process.
Link to additional resources: NSF – A Guide for Proposal Writing
Leressa Suber is the Evaluation Coordinator with NC State University Industry Expansion Solutions and the IES Evaluation Solutions Group. Leressa works with program and grant evaluations related to workforce development, community college, STEM, and the Department of Defense (DOD). Leressa has background in human resources and adult education. She has a MS Degree in Occupational and Technical Studies from Old Dominion University and a BS in Business Education from North Carolina A&T State University.
Evelyn Brown is the Director of Extension Research & Development with NC State University Industry Expansion Solutions and the IES Evaluation Solutions Group. She works to develop relationships with faculty whose research interests can be applied to solve problems for North Carolina businesses. Evelyn comes to IES after 18 years in academia. She has a B.S. in Mathematics, an M.S. in Operations Research, and a Ph. D. in Systems Engineering.