June 2013, Volume 63, Issue 6

Learning Research

Presenting budget in a research grant application

Junaid Ahmed Bhatti  ( Public Health Solutions Pakistan, Lahore, Department of Emergency Medicine, The Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan, McGill University, Douglas Hospital Research Centre, Montreal, Canada. )
Umbreen Akhtar  ( Federal Government Poly Clinic, Islamabad, Pakistan. )
Bilal Arshed Butt  ( Fatima Memorial Hospital, Lahore, Pakistan. )
Naveed Zafar Janjua  ( British Columbia Center for Disease Control, Vancouver, Canada, University of British Columbia, School of Population and Public Health, Vancouver, Canada. )

An innovative research idea does not mean a successful grant application.1,2 Convincing details about the feasibility and the team are important grant winning combinations in a competitive grant review.3 Once reviewers have understood the research project, they turn their attention to the proposed budget.1 A well-justified budget plan aligned with the research needs, feasibility, team, and institutional infrastructure is the tipping point in favour of an application.4 What reviewers are looking for is to be convinced that their approval is giving the best bang for the buck.1,3-5 The aim of this short communication is to provide new investigators the essentials of presenting the budget in a research grant application with a fictive example.
Planning for the Budget
Budget preparation starts with the conception of research question that include study population, measurements, and timeframe for the study. Research question/objectives drive sample size (study participants, SP) required to achieve the objectives. Thus, sample size estimation is an essential starting for budget preparation followed by laying out study operations and time required to recruit the given number of participants. Most of the time there is maximum allowable budget and you have to play with your sample size and measurement procedures to bring your budget within limits. Selection of measurement procedure for outcomes is an important part of study and budgeting. Many times more objective (sensitive and specific) procedures are expensive or invasive. So you have to play a trade-off between measurement procedure quality and cost of procedure/laboratory test e.g., self-reported clinical diagnosis of using influenza like illness is very cheap but not very specific while Polymerase Chain Reaction (or PCR) testing is very specific but is expensive.
What Constitutes a Study Budget
Research grant applications forms vary among funding agencies yet their budget sections are quite similar. Taking the examples of research programmes of the three major public sector health research funding agencies in Pakistan,6-8 namely, Pakistan Medical Research Council, Pakistan Science Foundation and the Higher Education Commission, it is evident that the budget sections in their application forms are almost always divided in following five subsections: 1) Personnel, 2) materials, 3) travel expenses, 4) equipment, and 5) indirect costs (Table-1).

A brief description of the mentioned subsections is provided below.
Personnel
A research project always needs personnel to achieve proposed aims.2 For example, for a research project as part of training programme such as residency, often hospital interns and residents self-constitute the human resource to accomplish their research goals.2,3 For larger and long term projects, dedicated personnel consisting of research managers, coordinator, associates and/or assistants are needed depending upon the research scope and methods.2 Their salaries and allowances are budgeted in this subsection.4 Sometimes a provision exists in this subsection to budget salary support for investigators, trainees or other staff employed by the institution where the proposed research is expected to be completed.2,4 Usually, a column is provided to mention the time spent on the proposed research project for each of the investigator or trainee so the support is proportional to their time investments in the project.6 Number of personnel and percent effort or days on project comes from the sample size and time required to complete data collection from study participants (SP).
Materials
This is a broad category. It may include expendables, services, and all other expenses directly related to research processes.4,6,8 Expendables are necessary physical objects consumed in the research process e.g. laboratory tests, electrodes, printed questionnaires etc.5,6 Services include technical support required for research processes but personnel performing these are not part of the research team as such e.g. translation of questionnaires, laboratory services, informatics support, printing services etc.5 Other expenses could be the participant compensations as well as arrangement of food or medical cover for the SP.2,4
Travelling
Two major types of travelling are involved in health research. The first one is related to research process itself, e.g. for field work or providing transport to SP.2,4,7 Secondly, research dissemination requires travelling which is an important priority for all funding agencies.5,6 Therefore, expenses to present intermediate or final research findings at different forums or conferences are budgeted in this subsection. It may be possible that both of these costs are defined separately as "local travel" and "travel related to dissemination" in which case they need to be mentioned in the manner as prescribed in the grant application forms.
Equipment
Most funding agencies recognize that innovative research project require equipment including machines with the state of the art software that are budgeted in this subsection.6,8 Similarly, some grants allow to budget the construction or laboratory renovation expenses related to specific research projects which are included in this subsection.6
Indirect Costs
More often than not, a separate subsection is provided to include indirect costs, which are expenses that cannot be itemized and are shared resource and hence charged at fix percent. This cover office space, power, water, internet at office and printing, rentals or unbudgeted purchases etc.4 For instance, indirect institutional expenses, usually known as overheads,9 are included in this subsection.4
Budget Summary, Justification, and Research Plan
Most applications include a budget summary and a justification for different expenses as well as a year-wise research plan.6,7 The budget summary allows funding agency to screen the expenses according to major expenses categories (subsections)8 whereas the budget justification allows the review committee to judge whether proposed expenses are judicious based on their previous research experiences.5 Budget justification has to be concise and should concur with the proposed budget.2 A year-wise research plan is a complimentary yet an important piece of information for funding agencies as most of them receive funds from government or other sources in an year-wise cycle (e.g. national budget).6 The plan helps these funding agencies to foresee transfer of funds to researcher or their institutions.5 This is also a built-in evaluation regarding the progress of the project as transfer of funds is often coupled with submission of progress reports of the projects.5,6,8
Budget Restrictions and Cuts
Every grant application budget section comes with restrictions.3,5,9 The most notable is the total funding available per successful application. Often research methods are needed to be adapted to available funds. Furthermore, some institutions may restrict funding as per different categories. For instance, Pakistan Science Foundation restricts the amount to be paid to principal investigator at Pakistani Rupee (PKR) 50 000 per year.8 Similarly, some agencies specify that overhead expenses should not be over 10% of the proposed budget.6 Similarly, Pakistan Science Foundation and the Higher Education Commission allow a certain % or amount for independent auditing and accounting of project expenses to maintain transparency.6,8 It is important to highlight here some restrictions may be imposed even if the grant application is approved. For instance, the federal Canadian health research agencies impose an 11-22% budget cut across the board for all applications after approval.10 Therefore, investigators have to be careful to read all instructions before applying and accepting research funding to have a clear plan for delivering the goods required at the end of the project.1,2
Additional Funding Mechanisms
A successful grant application often attracts other financial support.1,2 For instance, investigators may be interested to add some additional diagnostic dimensions requiring financial support in an ongoing project.2 If their objectives are in line with the mandate of the same or another funding agency, there are better chances of success for additional funding if project base funding is already established.3 Therefore, when signing contracts with the funding agencies, the investigators should take account whether they are allowed to obtain additional funding in case they wish to extend the scope of their research project in the near-future.6
Orientations of Funding Agencies
Research funding agencies have their own policies and mandates as well.1,3 Some agencies are more likely to fund proposals from basic sciences whereas others are interested in funding clinical research projects.7,8 Similarly, funding agencies can be interested in allocating necessary funds for research disseminations through conferences and meetings with the potential stakeholders or users to ensure uptake of research.6 Some agencies are interested in capacity building through engaging research trainees. When filing an application, it is important to align budgeting costs with these mandates (e.g. capacity building and dissemination) to make your application appealing to a particular funding agency.5
Illustrative Example
Let us demonstrate budgeting a study using an example from our previous "Learning Research" short communication.11 Consider that investigators have chosen to compare the clinical effects of a new Drug "B" with the drug "A" in patients with disease "D". Supposing 60 SP with disease "D" are recruited in a randomized controlled study with two arms "A" and "B" (30 per arm). Assuming that diseases "D" is a non-communicable chronic health problem and our study requires only two visits, a recruitment and a final visit separated by three months of treatment. SP are required to file in questionnaires, blood and urine examinations on both visits. Based on investigators\\\' experiences, they assume that approximately 30 SP can be recruited per year so they propose a research plan for 2 years. A fictitious budget is presented in Table-2.


Budget Justification Related to Our Example
The proposed budget is divided in five subsections (please read this with Table-2). Personnel: The categories of this subsection "1a=PKR 200 000" and "1b=PKR 100 000" describe the proportion of time spent by investigators multiplied by their two-year salary, the duration of the proposed project. Their time represents project supervision, data analyses and report writing. Two dedicated research personnel i.e. a research coordinator (RC) and a research assistant (RA) are included in this research process, budgeted as "1c=PKR 500 000" and "1d=PKR 200 000". RC oversees recruitment, blinding, and other overall coordination whereas RA is involved in data collection and entry. No trainee stipend is budgeted in this study. Materials: Research processes require drug "A" and "B" treatment for three months budgeted as "2a=PKR 900 000" and "2b=PKR 900 000". Similarly, methods require blood and urine tests for 60 SP at recruitment and at final visit budgeted as "2c=PKR 12 000" and "2d=PKR 12 000". In order to avoid any ethical and legal consequences, health insurance is obtained for all 60 SP budgeted as "2e=PKR 120 000". The compensation for participation is budgeted as "2f=PKR 60 000". Travelling: SP are provided taxis to research institution at recruitment and final visits budgeted as "3a=PKR 24 000". Two conference presentations are planned as "3b=PKR 40 000" in year 2. Equipment: Necessary equipment required for the data entry (Laptop) and secure data (desktop) budgeted at "4a=PKR 50 000" and "4b=PKR50 000". Blood pressure instrument is budgeted as "4c=PKR 2 000". All the equipment costs are budgeted in year 1. Indirect costs: Institutional overhead costs are budgeted as "5a=PKR 347 000" which are 10% of all budgeted expenses from "1a" to "4c". In RCT, usually drug treatments are provided from pharmaceutical companies. Therefore, treatment costs (O=PKR 1 800 000) were subtracted from total cost (T=PKR 3 819 200), resulting in budget requested (R) at slightly over 2 million PKR; PKR 1 044 800 in year 1 and PKR 974 400 in year 2.

Conclusion

Budget is an important part of any grant application.2 Budget subsections are similarly structured in grant applications of different agencies.6,8 Careful attention is required to understand the allowed expenses, restrictions and conditions of expenses. Some institutions have dedicated research offices to review grant budgets and therefore investigators should seek help from these resources to increase clarity of their proposed budgets.6 In case these services are not accessible then it is recommended to verify with the managers and coordinators involved in research in order not to miss any important research needs.2,5 Lastly, please do not hesitate to contact funding agencies if you have queries regarding budget details.12

References

1. Kraicer J. The art of grantsmanship. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1997. (Online) (Cited 2012 December 26). Available from URL: http://med.ubc.ca/files/2012/02/The-Art-of-Grantsmanship.pdf.
2. Wells N, Hurley AC. Idea to application: you are in charge. Alzheimer disease and associated disorders 1999;13 Suppl 1: S111-6.
3. Koppelman GH, Holloway JW. Successful grant writing. Paediatric respiratory reviews 2012; 13: 63-6.
4. Kundel HL, Walsh C. Preparing a research grant application budget. Investigative Radiology 1993; 28 Suppl 2: S13-6.
5. Brock H. CIHR grant comments 2004. Ottawa: Canadian Institutes of Health Research, 2004. (Online) (Cited 2012 December 26). Available from URL: http://med.ubc.ca/files/2012/02/How_To_Write_a_ CIHR_Operating_Grant.pdf.
6. Higher Education Commission. National Research Program for Universities. Islamabad: Higher Education Commission, 2009. (Online) (Cited 2012 December 26). Available from URL: http://www.hec.gov.pk/insidehec/divisions/rnd/researchgrants/nrpu/pages/NRPU.aspx.
7. Pakistan Medical Research Council. Application for Routine Research Grants. Islamabad: Pakistan Medical Research Council, 2012. (Online) (Cited 2012 December 28). Available from URL: http://pmrc.org.pk/downloads.htm.
8. Pakistan Science Foundation. Proforma for submission of Research Project (PSF-1) Islamabad: Pakistan Science Foundation, 2012. (Online) (Cited 2012 December 26). Available from URL: http://www.psf.gov.pk/downloads.php.
9. Emanuel EJ, Schnipper LE, Kamin DY, Levinson J, Lichter AS. The costs of conducting clinical research. Journal of clinical oncology : official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2003; 21: 4145-50.
10. Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). CIHR Open Operating Grant Program Competitions - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) - 2012 - Question 10a. Ottawa: CIHR, 2012. (Online) (Cited 2012 December 26). Available from URL: http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/44787.html.
11. Bhatti JA, Akhtar U, Raza SA, Ejaz K. Selecting a research topic. JPMA. J Pak Med Assoc 2012; 62: 184-6.
12. Wells N, Hurley AC. Structure and process of federal funding for AD research. Alzheimer Dis Associated Disorders 1999; 13 Suppl 1: S117-9.

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