The Importance of Logistics

July 28, 2016

On the advice of several good friends, I started The Flash, a show about the DC Comics superhero by that name. My friends were right; it is a fun show. But, I want to reflect on one thing about the show’s first season that made me crazy and how you can make sure you don’t fall into the same trap when you write grant proposals.

First, a bit of backstory. In the show, S.T.A.R. Lab’s particle accelerator exploded and gave The Flash and others different powers. Since some of the people with powers are using them for evil, three S.T.A.R. Lab employees now work with The Flash to protect the citizens of Central City. Because the city’s jail obviously cannot handle the metahumans, the ruined particle accelerator is converted into a temporary prison. Several episodes end with putting the villain of the week in one of the cells and closing the cell door.

They never, despite many conversations about how to convert the particle accelerator into a prison, discuss the care and feeding of the prisoners. They certainly didn’t hire anyone to take care of the prisoners. And although we never see a shot of an entire cell, I am fairly certain there are neither sinks, nor toilets in any of them.

I don’t want to speculate as to why this issue was not addressed on the show, but every time they closed in one of the prisoners, I thought, “Aren’t you going to feed them?” And for a few moments, I was pulled out of the story that the show was trying to tell.

I’ll give you a second to process that. What really bothers me about a show about a man who can run faster than sound is I don’t know if or when the man who could turn himself into poison gas got fed.

That, at the risk of sounding like a commercial, is the power of logistics. Simply put, logistics are the things that must be done to plan and organize a complicated activity or event that involves many people. The keyword is “must.” When those “musts” are not part of a planning process, two things usually happen:

  • At some point during the activity or event, you don’t have something you desperately need.
  • The activity or event fails.

Since by writing a grant proposal you are asking for money for a complicated activity or event, you need to prove you’ve thought it all through.

Just some of the questions you need to answer to prove that to a funder are:

  • What research questions are going to be answered?
  • What methodology was chosen for the work? Why that methodology?
  • Who will perform the work and why were they selected to do it?
  • Who will resolve disputes between the team members?
  • How much discretion does each team member have to alter methods to get the desired outcomes?
  • What tasks will be performed?
  • What is the timeline for each task? The entire project?
  • Where will the work take place and why is that a logical choice?
  • What equipment/materials does this place have that the project needs? What materials/equipment does the project team to get before work can begin?
  • How often and by what means will each team member be expected to report progress?
  • What, if any, new materials will be developed? What are they? If none, what current materials are going to be used?
  • How will the project be assessed?
  • What results do you expect to get?
  • What happens if the team does not get the results they expect? What other results might occur?
  • How will the program be funded once the grant funding has ended?
  • Who is the audience for the results of your research? How will you get those results out to that audience?

I realize there are a lot of questions in that list. But, while it takes some work to get the answers, there is a fairly comprehensive way to do it.

You just need to mentally do the project.

Sit down in a comfortable space where you are unlikely to get distracted for a while and work yourself through the project. Pretend you got the funding, the cost center is set up, and now it is time for you to get to work. What do you have to do first? What materials/ information do you need to do that? Who do you need to help you? How long will it take? How will you know it was successful? Mentally walk through each step, pausing to take notes. This should take some time to work through, but when you are done, you will have most of the answers to the long list of questions above, and what answers you don’t have specifically, you’ll get fairly easily. Both your grant proposal and the project will benefit from the time you spent planning.

Take the time to think it through before you start writing, and you’ll be using the power of logistics to develop a stronger proposal.

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