Standard 2: Evidence-based, participatory design for project success.
Employ evidence-based, participatory processes to design a project that can deliver high-quality results on time, on scope and on budget.
Solicit feedback and guidance on the feasibility and consistency of technical design, staffing and management plans, supply chain plans, and budget.
Experienced subject matter expert reviewers can help identify aspects of project programming and operations plans (e.g. activities schedule, staffing plan, supply chain management plan) which seem unrealistic or otherwise unlikely to achieve the intended project impact. They can also provide insight on proven approaches and lessons learned from other projects or countries and valuable recommendations to strengthen project design. In addition to subject-matter expert feedback and guidance on technical programming and operations issues, given the many staff and moving pieces involved in developing a proposal, a review of the project proposal from the perspective of overall clarity and consistency can help the team identify gaps and strengthen alignment. Comprehensive, holistic review of the draft project design and proposal:
- Helps prevent future project management problems resulting from inappropriate technical approaches and/or disconnects among project components.
- Helps CRS design a coherent project that can realistically deliver meaningful benefits for the people we serve.
- Enhances CRS’ reputation for quality project design and sound project management.
- Primary responsible: Proposal coordinator
- The proposal coordinator oversees the review process, serving as the liaison between reviewers and the proposal development team.
- Others involved: Designated reviewers (program, finance, and other operations) from the country program, region, and global/HQ where relevant; proposal development team members
- Designated reviewersSee MPP 1.2: MEAL advisors review key MEAL documentation prior to submission to donor as a means to improve quality practices. provide constructive feedback according to instructions and timelines provided
- Proposal development team members work with the proposal coordinator to review and address feedback.
- At all review stages,Note that not all reviewers will necessarily participate in both concept note and full proposal review. See “Managing multiple reviews and reviewers” in the “How” section below. including concept note and full proposal
This key action contributes to the following ProPack I “standards of quality”:
- Project strategy choices are based on evidence, tailored to the local context and informed by donor guidelines.
- All elements of the proposal — technical narrative, results framework, Proframe, activities schedule, budget and budget notes — “tell the same story” in a logical and concise manner.
Follow these steps to ensure an evidence-based final project design and a coherent project proposal:
- When preparing the proposal development timeline, the proposal coordinator establishes clear periods for CRS and partner staff to review key project design and proposal documents: technical/program narrative, MEAL plan and narrative,Refer to MPP 1.2: MEAL advisors review key MEAL documentation prior to submission to donor as a means to improve quality practices. detailed supply chain plan (as applicable),Projects that do not include goods for distribution may have only basic procurement activities, which should be discussed and planned with inputs from procurement staff but will not require a full review by a supply chain subject-matter expert. staffing and management plans, and budget.
- When scheduling review periods, keep in mind that while reviewers may bring specific subject-matter expertise to the proposal, they will need sufficient time to review the full set of documents available at that stage of the review, to ensure they have the appropriate context to provide feedback on their respective area(s) of expertise.
- After developing the timeline, the proposal coordinator summarizes the review dates and works with 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. and regional staff to identify internal and regional subject-matter expert reviewers.
- The concept note/early design review stage is an especially critical point for obtaining feedback and guidance on the relevance, appropriateness and feasibility of the early project design and the preliminary elements of operations plans. Identify reviewers who can assess whether, based on evidence and experience, the proposed project design is the best approach to deliver high-quality results.
- At full proposal review stage, reviewers should include an individual tasked with an overall quality review,At country program level, this “overall quality reviewer” could be the head of programming, country representative, and/or head of operations.
At regional or HQ level, this could be the deputy regional director for program quality and/or management quality, regional business development staff, or IDEA donor engagement staff. particularly for consistency among the different components of the proposal.
Managing multiple reviews and reviewers: For complex, multi-sector and/or multi-country proposals, there may be many potential reviewers. In such cases, it can be challenging for the proposal development team to manage and address feedback. The proposal coordinator and decision-maker should discuss with the region (and headquarters if needed) how best to streamline the review process. This is particularly important for proposal development processes with short timeframes from 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). release to proposal submission. Consider a wider group of reviewers, especially technical programming experts, for the concept note, and a subset of those reviewers for the full proposal. A pre-review call with reviewers to clarify expectations about how review comments should be presented may be helpful.
- The proposal development team uses the ProPack I Concept Note Review Checklist (Table 6b, page 86) and Proposal Internal Review Checklist (Table 10a, pages 136-137) and associated guidance to ensure a thorough internal review prior to sharing with next-level reviewers. These comprehensive checklists help the team review for feasibility, consistency and alignment of proposal sections as well as other project design quality standards.
- During the internal review, ensure both programming and operations staff (including finance) review the final draft proposal. This should include the supply chain manager and other senior supply chain staffThe project design/proposal development team for projects with goods for distribution should include a supply chain management lead (see Standard 1, key action 1). He or she should review the draft supply chain section of the proposal. In addition, another senior supply chain staff should review the wider proposal including the supply chain section. for proposals including goods for distribution.
- When sharing the concept note and proposal (including budget and budget notes) for regional review (and headquarters review, as applicable), the proposal coordinator provides reviewers with detailed instructions on expectations for the review as well as the deadline (date and time) for submitting feedback.
- Review instructions may include highlighting proposal components that may need special attention.
- For the overall quality/consistency review of the full proposal, the proposal coordinator may wish to highlight questions from the Proposal Internal Review ChecklistFor example, question 5 under the “Project strategy” category; questions 3 and 4 under “Implementation plan and activities schedule”; question 3 under “Management, staffing plan, and organizational capacity”; and question 1 under “Budget and budget notes”. that facilitate a review of feasibility and consistency.
Some regions use standardized feedback forms to facilitate the consolidation of comments and incorporation of changes into the proposal documents. For example, see EMECA's PREPARE! Proposal Review Template (Annex 11).
- The proposal coordinator consolidates feedback received (if not already consolidated by reviewers) and shares it with the proposal development team for review, discussion, and decision-making.
- Organize a meeting of the proposal development team to review and decide on how to address reviewers’ feedback. Keep in mind that changes in one component of the project may affect other aspects of the project design or project resource plans, and note any threshold issues that have implications for partners’ activities and resource plans (see “Partnership” section below).
- Consider organizing a call with technical reviewers after receiving their feedback, to discuss and clarify major review comments, particularly threshold issues.
- Engage the proposal decision-maker to resolve any significant inconsistencies among reviewer comments or disagreements between the proposal team and reviewers.
- After discussing and agreeing on changes, the proposal development team identifies all sections of the proposal that need to be updated to reflect the changes and assigns responsibility for making these changes.
- The proposal coordinator ensures members of the proposal development team address all reviewer threshold issues and revise the sections of the proposal narrative, budget, and any attachments identified in step 5.
- Ensure a careful final review of the revised documents to ensure consistency and coherence of the technical project design and resource plans.
- The proposal coordinator shares the proposal development team’s response with reviewers, highlighting how the team addressed any reviewer threshold issues.
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- The project design submitted for review should reflect the inputs of partners, who should be engaged in making key decisions throughout the project design process.
- As feasible given time constraints, involve partners in the review process and subsequent discussions of changes to make in response to review feedback. As noted under Standard 2, key action 2, if review feedback implies a significant change in the partner scope of work or budget, senior-level CRS and partner staff (e.g. country representative and partner director) should discuss, ideally in person.
- For proposals developed for external funding opportunities, follow any agreements reached when negotiating (pre) teaming agreementA teaming agreement is an agreement between two or more entities intended to increase competitiveness by pooling resources to obtain and perform an award. This term is used frequently in consortia-based proposal development. Organizations sign pre-teaming agreements to commit to work together to prepare for an anticipated funding opportunity, and to formalize the organizations’ intent to jointly pursue the opportunity when released. regarding review of proposal drafts.
- See Standard 2, key action 2 for additional guidance on engaging partners in key project design decision-making.
- Follow the same process for reviews of proposal inputs and the budget which CRS is submitting to the prime.
- When negotiating the (pre) teaming agreementA teaming agreement is an agreement between two or more entities intended to increase competitiveness by pooling resources to obtain and perform an award. This term is used frequently in consortia-based proposal development. Organizations sign pre-teaming agreements to commit to work together to prepare for an anticipated funding opportunity, and to formalize the organizations’ intent to jointly pursue the opportunity when released. with the prime, ensure CRS has the opportunity to review the final draft of sections of the proposal that concern CRS’ scope of work. Also request an opportunity for CRS to review relevant portions of the proposal which explain the overall project approach, and how CRS’ scope fits into it. Emphasize CRS internal review requirements, and request as much information as reasonable regarding the project technical application.
- Provide reviewers the necessary background information to assess the feasibility and appropriateness of CRS’ components of the project in light of the overall project design. Note that this can be challenging unless CRS has negotiated the opportunity to review additional portions of the proposal that explain the overall approach (see previous point).
- CRS’ Humanitarian Response Department (HRD) reviews all emergency proposals developed for an external donor, private donors or for emergency restricted funding – including disaster risk reduction (DRR), cash-based disaster programs and market based/cash programming elements of development programs (e.g. Title II programs).
- While emergency proposal reviewers should also review for appropriateness, feasibility and consistency, keep in mind that in general for emergency proposals, less detail is expected, and flexibility should be built-in.
- See ProPack I, Chapter VI pages 83-84 and Chapter X, page 138, “How is this different in an emergency response?” for additional guidance.
Tools and templates
Policies and procedures
ProPack I: Chapters VI (Concept Note) and X (Proposal Development)
Regional proposal development and approval process guidance
- Primary responsible: Proposal coordinator