3.4. Build the proposal
This chapter looks at the need from the point of view of proposal writing. You should also check Chapter 1 for broader thinking on the needs of your target group.
Define the need
To best express a need, it is necessary to contextualise it by taking stock of the situation. This need must have been expressed by the actors in the field and address a gap. It is therefore necessary to sound out the key actors linked to this problem in order to understand and frame their need as a whole: its emergency, its challenges, its obstacles, the stakeholders, the core issues, etc. You must pay attention that some needs are hidden and more difficult to identify directly. The support needs of individuals can be complex and varied.
It is important to be clear and specific about the needs that you are bringing forward:
- Need: What is the cause you are defending/supporting? In what field of action do you want to act?
- Target audience: By whom is this need met? Who are the people affected by this issue?
- Context: Explain the context in which this need arises: historical, socio-political, demographic, etc.
- Geographic scope: What is the geographic scope where this need is most apparent?
- Gap: What is currently lacking that you need aims to address?
- Stakeholders: What other actors can be involved? How are they impacted?
Evidence the need
It is important to demonstrate why your project is needed through concrete evidence. To objectify the need, there are two main ways to highlight it: literary resources on the subject and qualitative and quantitative data. Reliable and recognised resources and/or data are key to support your proposal and demonstrate where and what is the gap that your proposal aims to fill-in.
As for literary resources, it is a matter of finding relevant studies to support the need that you have previously defined and expressed. The literature can be found in country strategy papers and relevant development policy documents produced by European institutions (European Commission, European Parliament, Council of the EU) and their research centres, EU agencies (e.g. Eurofound, EU-OSHA, etc.), the United Nations and its specialised agencies, OECD, etc. Developing contacts with universities, academics and researchers in your field can also help you to find the right studies and objectify your needs.
In addition, you can consult projects already carried out on the subject to understand what has failed, where action is needed or how to complement or fill the gap with actions already implemented.
As a complement, you can also carry out field surveys to quantify your need. The type of survey to be conducted is varied and multiple, it is up to you to determine what is most relevant to your organisation. Researchers can also help you in that regard, to identify the kind of data, to frame your survey methodologically or possibly to conduct the survey for their own research:
- For qualitative content, you can conduct interviews (individual or collective) and collect testimonials.
- For quantitative content, it is relevant to conduct surveys / polls in order to reach a larger number of people and quantify the need.
Be aware of the biases related to the representativeness of your sample and express these biases when objectifying your need.
Demonstrate the expertise
Next, you will need to demonstrate that your organisation is best suited to meet this need and is being asked to do so. This can be done by gathering qualitative evidence: engagement with your community, letters of support, track record, use of your partners. You should also highlight similar projects that you have done in the past that have given you the experience to meet this need. You should find this information in your reports of activity or those of your partners, but also in your other publications that could demonstrate your expertise and/or interest.Your expertise first relies on your people, whether staff or partners, that may have the knowledge, skills and experience pertaining to address the need and implement your project proposal.
Need -> demand -> solution
Finally, after demonstrating the need and demand, it is time to explain how you meet that need and why your organisation is best placed to do so.
This means explaining your project step by step, by defining and explaining the overall and specific objectives, the achievements and related activities, as well as the mobilised resources and costs for each group of activities (or work package).
You should here be explaining how your plan is relevant to meet the need that you have defined. It is important to provide evidence of how your proposal is useful, how it addresses a priority and how it differs from projects that have already taken place.
The project description: demonstrate the solutions offered by your project
The logical framework
A clear and consistent description of your project proposal should aim to demonstrate how the project’s solutions contribute to need as previously identified.
The logical framework (or logframe) matrix is a tool that can help you to consistently formulate your project proposal, by defining:
- the project’s objectives and their hierarchy,
- the monitoring and evaluation of the project’s achievements; and,
- the key external factors that could impact your project’s success.
This logical framework matrix also provides a basis to determine resources requirements and costs or budget of activities. Once completed, this matrix should provide a summary of the project design.
To go beyond the introduction that will be hereby provided, you will further methodological details in Aid delivery methods – Project cycle management guidelines.
Explain the “What”
Failing to fully describe a project is one of the most common mistakes. When describing your project proposal, you must assume the assessor knows nothing about your organisation, your national or regional context, your activities, etc.
Here is the “what & why” method that you can follow:
- What are you planning to do? Why?
- How is this activity specific to the project?
- Is it a pilot, or does it result from a pilot? Support your explanation.
- How does it tie to an identified need or gap?
- How are the questions phrased? – Do you need to tie in with a strategic fit, or the funder’s aims?
- How does it break down into strands of work? By audience/ timescale/ funder aim/ activity type?
- Who will deliver the work:
- Lead organisation (describe organisation, organisation track record, why is this organisation best to deliver this project)?
- Are there delivery partners? How do they fit in?
- Contractors/ provided services?
- Strategic partners (project oversight)?
- Organisational chart (chart or diagram to show how the organisations link together)?
- How does your audience/ beneficiaries fit into the picture? Who do they interact with?
Constructing a project objective using S.M.A.R.T.
Writing a project objective correctly using the S.M.A.R.T. criteria involves creating objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Here’s a guide to help you craft an effective S.M.A.R.T. objective:
Define the Objective Clearly: The objective should be clear and specific to ensure everyone understands what is expected. It should answer the W questions: What needs to be accomplished? Who will be involved? Where will it take place?
Quantify the Objective: Include measurable elements to track progress and know when the objective is achieved. Define the indicators of success – these could be numerical targets or specific milestones.
Ensure Feasibility: The objective should be realistic and attainable within the scope of your resources and constraints. It should stretch your abilities but remain possible.
Align with ESF+ Goals: Make sure your objective is relevant to the aims of the ESF+, such as promoting social inclusion, improving education and training, or enhancing employment opportunities.
Set a Deadline: Your objective should have a clear timeline specifying when the result(s) can be achieved. This helps to create a sense of urgency and prompts action.
Targets, Outputs, Outcomes
European funds have several key documents defining priorities and expected results. Make sure that your project meets the requirements of the specifications. Indeed, your project will not be funded if it does not meet the objectives requested in the call. To ensure value for money, you must understand how these objectives are evaluated.
Outputs & outcomes
Establish baselines to evaluate the project’s overall benefit:
- identify your baseline,
- identify where you are now,
- your own or published statistics / diagrams / reports,
- first survey or interview of users/beneficiaries.
What does success look like?
When deciding upon your outputs and outcomes for the project:
- Some funders prefer outputs to outcomes and vice versa (e.g. economic versus social).
- Be realistic about what your organisation can do.
- Under-promise and over-deliver (numbers as well as time).
- Balance with value for money.
- Identify any assumptions and risks which could hinder delivery.
- Think about the practicalities of measuring results.
- Ensure you understand the definition of the output.
Informs how you will measure the success of your project – tools to measure outputs:
- collation of records – Events Schedules – Diaries/Calendars – Attendance/Engagement – Production Figures – Activity Levels,
- build in time to monitor,
- identify best source,
- appropriate intervals.
Sustainability & Exit Strategy
Sustainability is the ability of a project’s results to be maintained after the grant funding ends. You should be able to explain how you will ensure this sustainability within the project and offer concrete examples, such as:
- dissemination of results – plan a strategy for this,
- transferability of results to others – describe how
- continuation of activities – develop an implementation plan.
For whom (beneficiaries)
The target group of your project will benefit from the actions you plan to take. This group must be definable and measurable.
Then you need to assess what direct and indirect benefits this target group will receive. It is important to ensure that your audiences/client groups benefit from all aspects of the project or that they are differentiated.
It is necessary to clearly define who is in charge of which tasks. When allocating staff, be clear about who is going to be working with whom. Are you using staff time as matching funds? Paid staff or volunteers?
Here are three categories of persons working on the project:
- Project Management Team: people who will take the lead on the project and ensure that the overall objectives are met.
- Project Implementation Team: group that will be responsible for implementing the decisions. They will implement the project (recruitment, procurement, etc.) and close the project (final claims, liquidation, legacy, evaluation).
- Project partners: organisations that will accompany you in the implementation of your project. It is important to define these partners early on so that their involvement is maximised from the beginning of the project. This will also allow you to have their opinions and advice throughout the project.
The location of the project must be defined according to the location of the project activity and the project beneficiaries. It is important to be clear about this location and its distance. Do not hesitate to include maps in your application if necessary.
Regarding the duration of the whole project, you must be careful to define the start and end dates as realistically as possible. Make sure you allow enough time to complete your project.
All project activities must have start and end dates. Determine if the various project activities occur simultaneously or if they are dependent on each other.
Project added value
To best demonstrate the utility of the project, you should identify organisations offering the same or similar activity and explain how the proposed project adds value or is transformative. Clearly explain how your project does not duplicate or displace an existing activity. Finally, highlight your reasons for working in a particular way and with particular partners.