Standard 1: Effective planning for quality project design.
Establish a robust proposal development team and a realistic timeline that follows standard CRS guidance for project design and ensures partner collaboration and support in the design process.
Form a qualified and experienced team to design the project and develop the proposal.
When programming and/or operations components of a project are not well designed and aligned, project management challenges are inevitable. One of the most important factors determining the quality of project design is the capacity and experience of the team designing the project.
- Primary responsible: Country representative (CR) or head of programming (HoP)
- For external funding opportunities: The CR is responsible for forming a qualified and experienced team to lead the project design and proposal development.
- For discretionary-funded projects: The HoP leads formation of a project design team.
- Others involved: HoP; head of operations (HoOps); country program business development staff (as applicable); regional business development staff; deputy regional directors (DRDs)
- For external funding opportunities:
- The HoP and HoOps work with the CR to identify which staff from the country program can fill proposal team roles and where outside support is needed.
- Regional business development staff and DRDs support the country program team, as needed, to identify other proposal team members.
- For external funding opportunities:
- For external funding opportunities: Before or as part of making the “go” decision. The availability of capable proposal team members is a key consideration in “go/no-go” decision-makingA “go/no-go decision” is the decision of whether to pursue a specific funding opportunity. Go/no‑go decisions may be made at multiple points; a preliminary go/no-go decision may be made based on a draft solicitation or intelligence such as information in a forecast of upcoming funding opportunities. The go/no-go decision is often revisited after the formal release of a solicitation.
- For competitive funding opportunities that CRS has been tracking, identify the team before the solicitationA solicitation is a formal document issued by a funder to request applications, proposals, offers, or quotations. The exact term used will differ by donor and funding mechanism (assistance or acquisition), but all of the following would fall under the umbrella of “solicitation”: Request for Applications (RFA); Request for Proposals (RFP); Grant Application Request; and Annual Program Statements (APS). is released.
- For unexpected opportunities, form the team as soon as possible after solicitation release.
- For discretionary funded projects: When the decision is made to develop a new project.
Follow these steps to ensure a qualified and experienced team is in place in time to develop a quality project design and strong proposal.
For projects supported with discretionary funds:
- The HoP leads the formation of a project design team. It is typically much smaller than for external funding opportunities, due to the nature of the proposal to be developed. When forming the team, keep in mind that:
- Project design teams for discretionary funded projects still require a proposal coordinator, technical lead, MEAL lead, and proposal writer, at a minimum (an individual may fill more than one role, depending on qualifications and availability).
- The project design team must engage senior management, finance, and other operations staff to ensure adequate project budgeting, staffing and operations planning (e.g., procurement, recruitment, etc.).
- Level of effort (LOE) and analysis of availability considerations for project design team members may vary depending on the timeframe for the project design process, and complexity of the project design.
- Participation in a formal project design team and design process for a discretionary funded project can be good preparation for less experienced staff who would like to take on roles in future competitive funding opportunities.
- Though there may be fewer staff and a lower LOE required to develop a discretionary-funded project, it’s still necessary to confirm the support of project design team members’ supervisors. It’s also good practice to formally document the composition of the project design team and review individual roles, responsibilities, and expectations at the beginning of the process.
For external funding opportunities:
- The CR, HoP, and HoOps, and any business development staff (if part of country program staffing) regularly review the status of any funding opportunities on the horizon (tracked in Gateway).
- Once donor intelligence (e.g., grants.gov forecast; information from IDEA staff; local intel) indicates the likelihood of a funding opportunity that CRS has determined is potentially a good fit (see “Other Resources”), the CR leads the process of forming the proposal team, starting with a review of the list of Proposal Development Team Roles/Responsibilities and Qualifications (updated list in development; in the interim, refer to the Proposal Team Roles and Responsibilities table from CRS' Technical Application Guidance, making sure to identify a proposal transition managerThe proposal transition manager is the individual responsible for ensuring that proposal documents, supporting documentation, and relevant background information are captured, compiled, and handed over to the project start-up/implementation team. and incorporate a MEAL lead and human resources lead as part of the team).
- The country program team revises the list of proposal development team roles as needed based on the expected requirements and nature of the solicitation or call for proposalsA call for proposals is a formal document issued by a funder to request applications, proposals, offers, or quotations. The exact term used will differ by donor and funding mechanism (assistance or acquisition), but all of the following fall under the umbrella of a “call for proposals”: Request for Applications (RFA), Request for Proposals (RFP), Grant Application Request, Annual Program Statement (APS). In some cases, the donor may also initially issue a call for Concept Notes (CN) or Expressions of Interest (EOI). . Revisions may include adding some or all of the following roles:
- Supply chain management lead for a project with commodities or large quantities of other goods for distribution.
- ICT4D lead for projects with significant ICT4D components.
- “Sub-recipient liaison” role for projects with many complex sub-recipient arrangements.
- Programming, operations, and/or donor subject-matter expert advisors [e.g., award management or other donor specialist; Program Impact and Quality Assurance department (PIQA) or regional technical advisor; ICT specialist, etc.], who may contribute to certain aspects of the design process and participate in proposal reviews.
Proposal development teams for multi-country opportunities: When a proposal includes multiple countries, it’s even more important to think through program and operations roles. Consider identifying a point person in each country for certain proposal team responsibilities (e.g., proposal process coordination; recruitment; budget development), but be clear on who is the overall lead on programming and operations, and define who will have decision-making responsibility and authority for issues affecting more than one country program.
- The country program team identifies appropriate country program staff with the necessary skills and experience to fill the proposal team roles per the revised List of Proposal Development Team Roles/Responsibilities and Qualifications (Note that some roles are not full-time and the same individual may fill more than one role, if suitably qualified). The team also discusses whether the identified staff can devote the required level of effort (LOE) to the proposal development process, keeping in mind that LOE may vary by phase (e.g., capture planningCapture planning is the process of identifying particular funding opportunities, assessing the environment, and implementing strategies for increasing the chances of winning a specific opportunity. Capture planning occurs before solicitation release. or proposal development).
- When considering staff ability to dedicate the required LOE, pay special attention to major upcoming project events (e.g., a project evaluation, a high-level donor visit), as well as staff leave schedules.
- If the solicitation timeline is uncertain, good practice is to develop contingency plans (i.e., if the solicitation comes out by date X, staff A will fill the role; if the solicitation is released between dates Y and Z, staff B will fill the role).
- When identifying an appropriate team member for the proposal transition managerThe proposal transition manager is the individual responsible for ensuring that proposal documents, supporting documentation, and relevant background information are captured, compiled, and handed over to the project start-up/implementation team. (PTM) role, review the PTM responsibilities and remember that this role includes responsibilities after proposal submission.
Knowledge of the country program context is key: Proposal team members, particularly the technical lead, should be familiar with the country program context and project partners, to develop a realistic, manageable project design. For multi-country proposals, ensure the technical lead is familiar with the programming context for all countries (as needed, organize a field visit during capture planning or early in the proposal development process). Build this into the capture plan and/or the proposal development timeline. For program areas where CRS has especially strong technical experience, perspectives, and/or unique methodologies, aim to fill the technical writer role with an experienced CRS staff rather than a consultant.
- For staff they do not supervise directly, the HoP and HoOps discuss the proposed role and required LOE with the suggested proposal development team member’s supervisor. The HoP and HoOps confirm the supervisor’s support, provided CRS arranges for appropriate coverage for the staff member’s ongoing responsibilities (see Standard 1, key action 3 for guidance on developing staffing coverage plans).
- The CR, with support from the proposal coordinator (if identified) or HoP, prepares and shares the draft table listing proposal development team roles and responsibilities and the individuals identified to fill those roles, with regional business development staff. The CR highlights any gaps in the proposal development team and requests regional staff support in identifying and experienced individuals who can fill those roles.
- If requesting temporary duty assignment (TDY) or consultant support, the CR ensures the country program team develops a clear scope of work.
- The regional business development staff work with the DRD for program quality (PQ) to help fill the proposal team gaps.
- The DRD for management quality (MQ) provides input as requested for any operations-related gaps.
- Regional business development staff or the DRD/PQ engage IDEA as needed to line up headquarters, other staff, or consultant support.
- Once all proposal team members are confirmed:
- The proposal coordinator or senior management team member formally documents the list of team members, roles and responsibilities (for proposals for external funding, list the team in the Gateway Opportunity Record).
- The proposal coordinator incorporates names into a (preliminary) proposal development timeline and checklist.
- The proposal decision-makerThe proposal decision-maker is a senior staff (typically the country representative) with responsibility for making strategic decisions related to CRS’ response to a specific funding opportunity. This includes partnership/consortium-related negotiations and agreements; recruitment and selection of key personnel; definition of preliminary budget parameters (including any CRS cost-share); other critical budget decisions; and review and approval of final versions of proposal documents (including budgets). This is a critical, though not full-time, proposal development team role. convenes a formal meeting of the full proposal team (during capture planning or as early as possible in the proposal development process) to review individual roles, responsibilities, and expected LOE.
- Team members and supervisors work with country program senior management to develop bridge staffing plans, to ensure coverage of ongoing responsibilities during project design and proposal development.
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- Include partner staff in the project design team at a level appropriate to the partner’s role in the project and its capacity to engage constructively.
- Partner participation in project design and proposal development may range from informed to consulted to actively engaged. If actively engaged, CRS and partner senior managers must review the expected time commitment for the partner staff participating in the process. If the project involves multiple partners, each can select representatives to participate in the project design. See ProPack I Table 2a, Checklist for partner collaboration and support in project design.
- Obtain partners’ commitment to participate from start to finish. For external funding opportunities, CRS and the partner may choose to formalize this commitment in a teaming agreementA teaming agreement is an agreement between two or more entities to increase competitiveness by pooling resources to obtain and perform an award. This term is used frequently in consortia-based proposal development. — see Standard 1, Key Action 2.
- Some roles in the List of Proposal Development Team Roles/Responsibilities and Qualifications may not be applicable depending on CRS’ scope and the prime’s approach to proposal development; however, CRS must fill core roles such as decision-maker, proposal coordinator, technical lead, and budget lead for nearly all proposal processes, even as a sub-recipient.
- The CR should designate a PTM for sub-recipient opportunities as well as opportunities where CRS is the prime; in sub-recipient situations, the PTM role is extremely important for maintaining clear documentation of decisions by the prime that impact CRS’ scope and budget.
- When forming the proposal team, contact Humanitarian Response Department (HRD) leadership to identify relevant experts to participate in the process (as a member of the team; as subject matter advisors; and/or to review the proposal).
Tools and templates
Checklist for Partner Collaboration and Support in Project Design (from CRS' ProPack I)
Proposal Team Roles and Responsibilities (from CRS' Technical Application Guidance)
- For external funding opportunities: Before or as part of making the “go” decision. The availability of capable proposal team members is a key consideration in “go/no-go” decision-makingA “go/no-go decision” is the decision of whether to pursue a specific funding opportunity. Go/no‑go decisions may be made at multiple points; a preliminary go/no-go decision may be made based on a draft solicitation or intelligence such as information in a forecast of upcoming funding opportunities. The go/no-go decision is often revisited after the formal release of a solicitation. .
- Primary responsible: Country representative (CR) or head of programming (HoP)