To read the full "Primer for Best Practices," click here.
The following article is an excerpt adapted from the research report "Benchmarking Study of Best Practices in Grant Management Software for State Arts Agencies," conducted on behalf of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts in 2014.
By Sally Cao, Lauren Harrison, Graciela Kahn, Signe Lindberg, Lillian Mo, Kimmy Nguyen, Ana Vazquez-Trejo, and Ying Zhu, Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University.
As data becomes increasingly necessary for art agency reporting requirements, great pressure exists among staff members to collect as much as possible, and as soon as possible. But collecting data without a clear purpose places a burden on the applicants that have to gather it and grant managers who need to interpret it.
A report by the Cultural Data Project, New Data Directions for the Cultural Landscape: Toward a Better-Informed, Stronger Sector, explains, “Cultural data collection often skips over the process of articulating research questions—a step which usually comes first and helps guide data collection and analysis in other civic, policy, and commercial realms….And because the data often comes first, the field is less adept at identifying and framing good questions around which data could help move the field forward.” Arts agencies should define the data that will help them with their research and reporting requirements before designing an application form.
Furthermore, it is not always necessary to require immediate submission of all data from applicants. Project Streamline recommends assessing the possibility of collecting it at different stages of the grant lifecycle: “Carefully consider every question asked in your application or report to ensure that (a) the information is critical to your decision making and (b) you’re asking for it at the appropriate time. For example, you might only need detailed financial information from grant seekers you are seriously considering funding.”
Then, test it. All application forms should be tested before being made available to the general public. The software company Adobe gives a few tips to do so: “If you’ve added skip logic, you might want to take the form for a few extra test spins, and vary your responses each time. After you’ve submitted a few test forms… see what your results look like as data. Check your spreadsheet to make sure you’ll be able to measure and report your results the way you want.” Testing application forms before distribution is the best way to identify gaps and address them before they pose difficult challenges. Above all, consider the quality, not quantity, of data requested from applicants.