On honesty and grants

Recently, Crowdfight has obtained an ACX grant. I wrote application to this grant, and I’m extremely surprised about how it makes me feel.

As with other grants I have obtained in the past, I’m thrilled, grateful, and motivated to do my best. Unlike with other grants, I’m also motivated to be honest and straightforward with the funder.

With other grants, I feel compelled to oversell my project when applying for the grant, and to oversell my results when writing the final report. It feels that I need to conform with strict expectations that I don’t fully understand and that feel unachievable (Can I really predict the equipment I will be buying 5 years from now?).

This case felt different: I wrote the application in a very straightforward way, highlighting the good parts of the project (of course), but without fear of “saying something wrong”, which I often feel when writing other grants, and which makes me less honest when applying for other grants. And, most surprisingly, right now I feel I will be completely honest when reporting our results. If we fail, I think I will admit that we did. Furthermore, if we fail because I’m useless and didn’t get our organization to achieve even our basic aims, I think I will admit that too. There are two key questions: Whether this is good, and why it happens.

Is this good? I think it is. One might think that I feel less pressure to work hard, but I feel the opposite. I feel the trust that comes with the grant, and I want to honor it. It also happens that I’m super enthusiastic about this project, so I don’t think I need any more motivation or pressure. And it’s obviously good to have people reporting their aims and results truthfully, as asymmetric information is one of the biggest sources of inefficiencies in our world.

Why does it happen? I’m not sure, but I can identify several factors that may contribute to it:

  • Broad topic: The grant was not oriented to a particular discipline, so I didn’t feel the need to bend reality to make it look like my project was perfectly aligned with the aims of the call.
  • Informality/closeness: The grant call was quite informal, written by a person (with a person’s “voice”) rather than by an institution.
  • Flexibility and common sense: The call clearly acknowledged the possibility of failure. We were asked to estimate our chances of success, making it clear that low success probability was acceptable. Also, when asking for the budget, we were allowed to set a range rather than an exact-and-amazingly-well-justified number. This flexibility makes it clear that there are no unreasonable expectations. If the funder knows how things work, then I can have an honest conversation with them.

This was a very special call, and I understand that its methodology cannot be scaled to other situations. But I think there are lessons to be learned, because at least the first and third points could be partially applied in other types of grants.

To be completely honest, there is probably one last point that affects my psychology here: I’m not doing this for myself, and it’s not my main job. If it turns out that Crowdfight is not viable, I want to be the first to realize and stop investing my time into it. So if we fail, I will not want to get another grant after this one.

However, I don’t think this last point is as relevant as it seems. I won’t want another grant for Crowdfight, but I will want another grant for my next idea, so I’m still afraid of looking bad. And if I think about traditional grants, my biggest fear is not to look bad, but to disappoint some humanless, heartless system, by breaking the promise I made of spending 7056.34 € in a microscope.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: