The Universal Grant App: A Fantasy

Grant agencies want to give their money away to the scientists most positioned to use it effectively.

Scientists want to get money with the least amount of work.

This is just a basic sorting problem.

It seems to me that more and more philanthropic organizations are giving their money away, and nowadays, as a first year faculty member I could, if I had time, write 20 applications to 20 different agencies. I don’t have time, and that means that many agencies lose out on potential awesome matches for their money. They are forced to settle for the much smaller subset who were willing to write the application. This kinda makes sense for single-disease organizations (although I would argue, not really), but less so for general organizations like, say, the Sloan Fellows.

I want to just write a single universal application, submit that to a database, and have any agencies poke around and if they are interested, offer me money. (Actually, they should have salaried brokers who match up applications with agencies, saving both of us time and energy.)

In a game theoretic sense, this is optimal for all parties, unless there are some other costs I am not thinking of.

Sure there is some amount of ‘spin’, where I can pretend the same application is about addicition or OCD, or whatever. But if that’s important to the monied organizations, I could write a 500-word top-sheet spinning my application for various agencies, depending on their specific priorities.

There’s no reason the government shouldn’t be involved in this business too. In fact, the government already has a thriving successful business in grant-reviewing. Perhaps they could contract their services out to the agencies. This wouldn’t create any more work for the reviewers – the study section would just forward their scores to the agency for their use. The agency could then save time and money in reviewing, and pay the study section in the form of, I don’t know, ice cream sundae parties? (I’ve never been inside a study section, so I dont know what they lack, but presumably money could make the chore more enjoyable somehow).

Think of how much time would be saved!

Yes the dog was Marilyn Monroe for Halloween

4 thoughts on “The Universal Grant App: A Fantasy

  1. isn’t this basically in use in some places — like, say, the UC System’s admissions?

    • Yes, and there’s a common app for colleges. The same logic can be extended to grant applications!

  2. Or better yet there could be professional grant reviewers. I would happily slog through reviews and lend my fancy pants PhD to assess the merit of an application for non-scientist run charity organizations. If I could con someone into paying me a salary for that I’d be thrilled.