Managing Research Grants and Partnerships in African Universities and Research Organizations – Impediments of Success and What Needs to be done

September 25, 2015

By Loise Ochanda (IDRC), Prof. Gonzo Manyasi (Great Lakes University, Kenya) and Mr. Hamilton Mbokureeba (Uganda Christian University)

During a training on  Research Governance and Management organized by the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), Dr. Moses Ngware, reminded the research leaders present that a grant is a ‘conditional gift’ from a funder who has identified a problem and wishes to be part of the solution to the problem. The funder who can also be termed as the granter may have the resources but lack the expertise or the time to put in the work that could lead to the desired solution and this is where the grantee or researcher comes in. The process of grant management starts with the generation of a research or project idea through a proposal writing. This can be in response to open proposal calls or by knocking on doors of potential funders. The grantee would therefore be expected to come up with a solution, whereas exercising good stewardship for the funds. The grant agreement must be consistent with project plans and should be read carefully before agreeing to it.

Financial Accountability Challenges

Grantees often get into avoidable difficulties with budgets which can affect their relationship with the funder or even challenge the working relationships between them and other collaborators and consultants working on the project. In some organizations, there is a tendency of grants mismanagement, situations that have caused funders to recall their funding. The underlying reason being the financial accountability challenges faced perennially by the grantees.

These funds are sometimes misappropriated and are channeled to “wrong-users” of the grant. Sometimes, the investigators do not receive payment due to them as per the approved budgets; some organizations may transfer payroll responsibilities on to the grant budget lines, certain divert and / or reduce these budget lines to service other organizational activities. For example funds may have been provided to pay data entry clerks at an agreed amount over the period of the project, then mid-course into the project you may find that the agreed amount was drastically reduced or in some extreme cases the data entry clerks may not receive the payment due to them.

Managing project funds from a common pot, also pose problems. Personnel costs are often provided for in the budget – this covers for the extra staff time by the investigating team, but some organizations turn this stipend into the team’s regular salary. This system of not duly paying an investigator is demoralizing, leads to delays and failure to meet deadlines. Such behavior breaches contractual obligations between the granter and the grantee and erodes donor confidence in the medium and long run. Overall, organizations must understand and abide by the terms and conditions stipulated in the contracts they sign.

The bureaucratic nature of organizations, their inconsistencies and misappropriations of budget lines cause some investigators to hold dear some of the grants they win. Therefore, the earlier our organizations adhered to the terms of contract, the better for the smooth running of the projects under their custody.

Way forward

Organizations therefore need to maintain donor confidence through total honesty in the management of their funds in order to continue attracting more funds. For instance, it would be better to have separate accounts and budget lines for grants/funded projects from the mainstream organizational budget lines. This would mean that you would have bureaucracy to go through with few signatories and probably with the electronic funds transfers being put to use. Delayed project progress reports, project completions and accountabilities would be avoided.

Communication between the granter and grantee is the clear pathway that should be utilized to make sure both parties are well informed about any changes on budgetary reallocations, need for time extensions, problem solving and any change that occur out of the schedule and plan of the research project agenda.

This blog is part of a series that were written by participants during a Research Governance and Management Training conducted by APHRC in August 2015