Megan Columbus: Welcome to All About Grants. This is Megan Columbus. I’m here today with Sheri Cummins. We’re both from the NIH Office of Extramural Research. Sheri has been my partner in crime and working on application submission for the last 10 years. Today we’re here to talk about, and walk you through, some of those various options for submitting a grant application. Sheri, over the years the number of ways that people are able to submit has grown tremendously. Can you talk to us about the various options and tell us what those are?
Sheri Cummins: Sure. So the one I think most people are familiar with is downloadable forms. And that’s the Grants.gov option. It’s been around actually for the last 10 years since we’ve been working with Grants.gov. And that’s when an applicant goes out to Grants.gov after finding an opportunity, either in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts or through the Grants.gov search. They find their opportunity, go to find the package, download the package to their local machine and fill out the forms then give it to somebody authorized to submit who submits them back to Grants.gov. So you’re really only online when you download the forms and then when you upload the forms for submission. So that’s been around for a long time. It’s tried and true. It’s not the most elegant solution but it’s certainly worked well for us for the past 10 years. We also have something called System-to-System and that’s when the applicant organization, either through billing in-house or working with a commercial service provider, creates their own user interface that collects the same data as you would with the download forms, but does it in a way that integrates with their own databases of other systems, to reduce the data entry and to allow the application information to be also propagated into their own systems. So it’s just a different user interface for the same data collection. So they don’t use the downloadable forms themselves but the same actual data. They’ve been behind the scenes, created data stream to Grants.gov and then the process is the same which it would be for downloadable forms. So that’s a little bit more technical. A lot of our larger institutions would use that type of a submission method. Then more recently we introduced something called “ASSIST.” And ASSITS is the only option that is actually NIH managed. It was originally created for a multi-project, large project and center grants but in 2015 was actually opened up for single projects as well. We’re pretty excited about this option. It is a completely online system so it allows a lot of neat features we can talk about in a minute. But it is the ability to create, again, a different front end, a different user interface for the same data collection. We can do that in a way that allows us to leverage some of the data that they’ve already provided to NIH through our profiles and so forth. And then Grants.gov is actually also working on a solution that allows for online data entry and that’s called “Workspace.” So right now it’s their first step. They actually are still relying on downloadable forms. You just create a little folder with within the Grants.gov environment and then their users can actually work on one form at a time, put all the individual forms, once they’re completed, into the folder and then upload them as a single package to get sent to the agency. So there’s….
Megan Columbus: So it helps with collaboration…
Sheri Cummins: Absolutely.
Megan Columbus: So I heard four options, right? I heard downloadable forms. I heard System-to-System. I heard ASSIST and Grants.gov’s Workspace.
Sheri Cummins: Yes.
Megan Columbus: So NIH doesn’t have a preference for which one is used. And, in fact, NIH can’t really tell except if we peek under the covers. So when we look at an application here we can’t actually tell how it came and they all look exactly the same when they get to us.
Sheri Cummins: That’s absolutely correct. So regardless of the option that you choose you’re going to have the same requirements for registrations. You’re going to have the same data collection. You’re going to have the same business rules enforced for your application. We’re going to create an application image for review that looks exactly the same. As you said, the reviewers can’t even tell the difference. And it really is subject to all of the same requirements regardless of method.
Megan Columbus: Can you talk then about, if I’m trying to choose between one system and another how do I know? Where do I start?
Sheri Cummins: Well, I always recommend starting with your Office of Sponsored Research because they are the folks that actually have the authority to submit your application. And they would be able to provide some direction as far as what the options are for your particular organization. Now, if you’re in the Office of Sponsored Research and you’re trying to make that determination yourself, there’s certainly advantages to each of the different options. For System-to-System, as I mentioned, a lot of times those services will integrate with different databases that you have on your site. It can be a costly option to implement so if you’re doing one or two applications a year it may not be the best option for you. If you’re using downloadable forms that is something that some Offices of Sponsored Research choose to do because it’s going to be consistent for different agencies. What we would actually recommend if you’re typically a downloadable user is trying ASSIST. ASSIST is going to allow you to take advantage of some things that you don’t have in downloadable forms, like the ability to pre-populate from your eRA Commons profiles to do pre-submission validations. That’s basically checking the same business rules we would check after you submit but you can get your list before submit and actually correct them. And also it allows you to do things like look at the image before it goes to submission so that you can make any adjustments to that assembled application the way a reviewer would see it before you actually submit. So there’s lots of nice little feature with ASSIST. We also just introduced something called a Copy Feature that allows you to take your application data from one Funding Opportunity Announcement and transfer it to another. A lot of our applicants as we’ve been updating forms have been taking advantage of that feature. And that’s something that’s not available with some of the other options.
Megan Columbus: And in terms of Grants.gov Workspace, I guess the advantage of that is it allows for/facilitates that collaboration that we spoke of before.
Sheri Cummins: That’s correct. So if they’re really a Workspace or a downloadable forms user you might want to try ASSIST because Workspace is, that’s their first step in working towards online forms but ASSIST is a little bit more mature and down that path a little bit further that allows you to do… If you’re really just an NIH application, it’s going to allow you to take advantage of some of those features that aren’t yet available in either downloadable forms or Workspace.
Megan Columbus: Do you have any other advice for applicants on this topic?
Sheri Cummins: Really just work with your Office of Sponsored Research. Remember that the forms that you’re going to fill out are associated with the Funding Opportunity Announcement that you’re going to apply to so you’re not going to just go on the NIH website and find the forms. You have to find your opportunity first. Both our NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts and Grants.gov have very robust search engines that allow you to find that opportunity. And you’re going to find the forms attached to that opportunity. However you get to them is going to depend on your option. Downloadable forms, you’re just going to download them as a package. Most of the other options, you’re going to choose your opportunity in the forms presented to you. But really just working with that Office of Sponsored Research and getting the best fit for your situation.
Megan Columbus: And I guess the thing that we should never forget is remembering that no matter what method you use we always recommend applying early, not by minutes, not by hours, preferably by days, to give yourselves time to address any unexpected issues. Because, even if you’re getting and your checking the validations in ASSIST and you think that you’ve got an error free application, you never know what could happen.
Sheri Cummins: Absolutely. Best advice.
Megan Columbus: Thanks you for joining us today. For NIH and OER, this is Megan Columbus.
Announcer: As we just learned there are several available options to prepare and submit your application please visitGrants.NIH.Gov and search for choosing a submission option once again that’s G-R-A-N-T-S. NIH.G.O.V