NOFA 2 – It Does Matter How You Say It

I listened to the NTIA/RUS workshop in Denver as these folks spelled out what makes for a good grant application, interpreted rules, etc. My ears perked up when they started on why projects got rejected. Specifically, when they explained that, for apps to get graded well in the Purpose (of the proposed network) category, “you have to be compelling, credible and clear.”

There have been some bitter and justifiable commentary about the first funding round, it’s lack of transparency in key areas and the lack of feedback throughout the process. I’ll add my 2 cents on this, but since the agencies gave some specific feedback, albeit in a general audience rather than to specific applicants, I want to jump on the key lessons.  

Months ago I wrote a column on how vital it is for you to write a really outstanding mission statement and executive summary. I believe readers thought I was loony giving them writing tips while they were trying to sort out engineering issues, 122-pages of hell and other seemingly more important issues.

Listen up folks! This is important. Today’s workshop spent significant time relating how reviewers rejected apps right off the bat – before due diligence – because of what was said, not said or how it was said. I point you later to a document with advice you probably want to heed. But first, a summary from the people who hold you future in their hands about what can kill your good, even great, idea for a network.

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Application review; Present better data.

First, your statements of purpose must be compelling.

The write up of the problem you say your proposal will resolve must be more than rhetoric if you want to survive to get to due diligence. Saying “there is a great need for broadband, blah, blah blah” is lame. The agencies want facts, data points and surveys based on solid methodology. 

The letters of support from community stakeholder has to be more than a form letter you copy and pass around (I can’t believe people actually did this). Each stakeholder has to write and spell out in some detail what the broadband need is and why your project is going to resolve it.

Second, your statements have to be credible.

You must identify the problem in depth and show a history of the problem’s existence dating back before the stimulus bill was passed. People who were rejected showed limited links between the problem and how they would solve it. What are the data and metrics around the problem(s) that justify the money your proposal requests?

You have to compare prices and speeds of what alternatives currently exist in the proposed coverage area (remember those nasty things call Incumbent Challenges?). Adoption rates for your network must be believable. How you plan to achieve those rates must be believable.  

Some people were rejected because proposals didn’t adequately show the risks involved, others because the size of the project and/or the budget did not track credibly with the capabilities of entities submitting the application.

Third, your statements must show a clear path between the proposed network and solving the problem.

You have to be clear on the struggles a community has had to try to overcome the problems being addressed and exactly how you’re going to get there from here. Proposals were rejected because the strategies and tactics for achieving their stated goals were not clear.

If the goal of your network or broadband adoption proposal is to help job seekers, show how broadband will be affordable and effective based on your plan. If your plan’s success depends on the participation of institutions, which it must of you want to be considered credible, it needs to be clearly demonstrated how stakeholders will participate. How clear is your plan for financial sustainability?

And the comments went on. I have four pages of notes from what you would think was a lecture on business writing. But here’s the reality.

I’ve been consulting and lecturing on broadband for years. I’ve interviewed probably a couple, three hundred cities, counties and stakeholders. Those who mastered the art of artful, succinct and clear communication in all areas of the planning, building, deployment and management process have succeeded. Those who didn’t have struggled and many broadband projects never even got out of the gate.

One last tip, on the house.

In that column I wrote about communicating effectively, I suggested NTIA/RUS find a couple of Twitter fiends to revise the NOFA rules because anyone who spends half their life communicating in 140-character messages will probably write a nice set of comprehensive and comprehensible rules. Using one or two tweets to answer the question, “What are we doing here?” is a good for everyone involved.

Communication is the problem to the answer. Or it smoothes the path to success. Which will it be for you?

You should read this sneak preview chapter in my book that’s coming out soon, Fighting the Next Good Fight: Bringing true broadband to your community. The chapter’s all about broadband success through effective communication.

On a side note, I feel like Brooke Shields her senior year at Princeton. No one wanted to ask her out to the senior dance because they thought anyone as famous as she already had 100 dudes knocking on the door. I recently found out people aren’t calling about NOFA 2 because they think my dance card’s filled. Peeps, it’s ok to ask me to the NOFA dance. I’m available.

5 Responses

  1. […] The executive summary of your broadband stimulus application is very important. In Denver, speakers said that some applications were rejected instantly because of poorly written executive summaries. […]

  2. I have a question about the focus, or lack of it, on healthcare. I crunched the numbers this morning and am not sure what to think. It appears that about 5% of the applicants mention some form or healthcare support in their summaries. Only one has been approved. Many rejected, and many still awaiting word. Does anyone know of applications that have some focus on healthcare that are in due diligence? My table is on googledocs at: http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0Aj8F9nVqY-ovdE1BMUtVZ3ZZeEVQX29GNjN2MTN1WUE&hl=en

    • I haven’t heard of any through the grapevine. Seems odd that so many healthcare-related apps have fallen by the wayside or into limbo.

  3. I spent quite a long time trying to find the copies of the winning grantee proposal at NTIA. No such luck, found some stuff with a lot of blacked out segments. Are they required to make those grant proposals available to the public? At least the winners since they are receiving my tax dollars.

    • Tim, I agree with you. But from the get go, there’s been an “understanding” that proprietary info would not be made public. It could be that NTIA/RUS is taking a very liberal view of proprietary. Or a very conservative view of public 🙂

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