While a lot of good work can come out of community-campus partnerships, there can be many challenges encountered along the way. Some of the most difficult ones to navigate can centre around funding.
Nicole Bedford, Project Manager and Communications Coordinator of the CFICE project, talks to us about some of the challenges CFICE has faced with respect to managing and channeling funding for the CFICE project. She highlights the usefulness of having dedicated project administrators to help resolve issues with respect to rules and policies surrounding the dispersal of funding, and she discusses a few ways CFICE has overcome some funding challenges.
Listen to our podcast or read the transcript below for more!
Community-Campus Engagement Funding: A Project Manager’s Perspective Podcast Transcript
[Music sound up]
Chelsea: This a Community First: Impacts of Community Engagement podcast.
Hello and my name is Chelsea. I’m really excited today, to introduce the 3rd segment in a series on Campus-Community Engagement funding, where we speak to people from community organizations, students and Project Administrators to get their perspectives on the ins and outs of CCE funding.
Project Administrators and Project Managers of Community-Campus Engagement partnerships can play key roles in addressing challenges that come along with project funding. Often, these folks are working hard to find solutions to the problems that come along with funding, such as spending restrictions set by the funder or the institution. It’s a job that takes both creativity and skill and we can learn a lot from their experience.
Originally, this last segment in this series was to feature Gen Harrison who is the Project Administrator with CFICE, but surprise, instead we’re sitting down with Project Manager Nicole Bedford who works closely with Gen on a day-to-day basis and has her own unique insight to offer.
[Music sound up]
Chelsea: Hi Nicole, as the Project Manager for CFICE what exactly is included in your role?
Nicole: So as the Project Manager for CFICE I have a lot of responsibilities, but the main one is to make sure that the project is functioning on its work timeline and within its budget. I rely very heavily on our Project Administrator to help with budgeting because our project is so large and then in the timeline aspect, I work with all the co-leads to build the timelines that they’re going to follow—and the co-leads being community and academic partners—so following the timelines that they’re going to work on for producing outputs or products or completing research and then I work with them to make sure that they’re meeting those timelines and that they have adequate support from our Secretariat to do that work.
Chelsea: Great. You said you rely a lot on Gen Harrison who is the Project Administrator. I’m wondering if you could tell us why is it important to set aside funding for an Administrator specifically?
Nicole: So for a project the size of CFICE, we have worked with over 60 different partners across the country and we even have some international partners that we work with. You need a Project Administrator. If I was responsible for doing all of the administration and that includes travel claims, payroll, budgeting—and our systems are complicated and difficult to use—if I had to do that all myself that would be a huge full-time job. So having a Project Administrator who knows the ins and outs of the university, who knows who to talk to, who knows what is required when, for example you’re submitting an invoice to CFICE to make sure that there is no push-back from our institution to say “Oh we can’t pay this for this reason”, it’s a huge asset to have with a project this size.
A lot of times Project Managers are responsible for both budgeting and work and timelines, but being able to share that role with a Project Administrator has meant that our research and our ability to complete research and knowledge mobilization products is that much more efficient…
…because we have a pro working on our financials and then being supported by my role—which is a project management role—in reviewing budgets and making sure we run budget committees and things like that, to support the work of administering the project.
Chelsea: In terms of kind of that more administrative and managerial work, where do the funding challenges lie for a CCE project?
Nicole: So I think the thing that makes a community-campus engagement project a little bit more complicated than your average community organization applying directly to a funder, getting directly funded by a funder, is that there are multiple stakeholders in a community-campus engagement project, all of whom have very different perspectives on what’s important to them, in terms of getting the project done.
So a community-campus engagement project from the CFICE perspective includes community organizations and leaders, academics, students, administrators —because administrators are also people who support community-campus engagement— so there’s a lot of different stakeholders and they have different desires in terms of how to spend the money. Especially when it comes to something like CFICE being funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), it means that we need to put our focus on things like research and supporting research and supporting training of research professionals (i.e students) and that spending is not always what everybody in the project, the community-campus engagement project, really wants to spend money on. So that is the first challenge when it comes to funding and using the funding for CCE projects. And then there are other challenges with respect to funding community-campus engagement work.
For example, power differentials in terms of funding and where the funding flows through. So in the SSHRC case, SSHRC puts the money into a university or an institution like a university and we’re the ones who have to channel the money into the community. We have to do that according to the rules of the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) and our institutions decide how those rules are interpreted according to the institution, to protect their liability. On top of that, we have to spend the money according to SSHRC as the granter.
So what they’re willing to spend money on, like I said before, they want to train highly qualified professionals—those are students—they want a large amount of money to be going towards a student. In community-campus engagement that is supposed to be community-first, that can look like it’s not community-first and having an academic be the end decision-maker, with respect to how that funding is allotted can also be a big barrier in terms of the power differentials for funding community-campus engagement that is community-first.
Chelsea: The CFICE project has been going on since 2012. What are some things that you’ve learned over that time, in order to address these challenges?
Nicole: So there are big challenges and there are little challenges with respect to funding. One of the things that I just talked about was the fact that power-differentials are a big deal in terms of decision making around the funding, so one of the things that CFICE has done, has been to create a budget committee and the budget committee has representatives from the community as well as academics and together they advise on the best choice in terms of how the funding is going to be spent.
Ultimately the final decision still lies with our Principal Investigator, but our Principal Investigator is invested in understanding what both community and academics want and acting on those, as long as it follows the rules that CRA puts around how to spend money and SSHRC puts around how to spend money and Carleton puts around how to spend money. So that’s one of the ways that we have addressed the power-differentials to a certain extent and then there are little ways to address difficulties around funding.
So an example is with our travel and reimbursement processes here at Carleton University—and this is an institutional thing—is that we do not provide money in advance for travel. We don’t do travel advances. So what that means is that a community organization who wants to travel to a conference or a CFICE meeting or whatever, they have to put the money out up front and then CFICE reimburses them when they submit receipts. Well that can be a huge burden for a very small NGO or community organization that is participating who does not have the financial fluidity to be able to put that money upfront and wait a month to two months to get reimbursed.
So one of the things that we did was we worked with Carleton University to give out travel bursaries. So travel bursaries allow us to grant a certain estimated amount of money—we estimate how much the travel is going to be—and then we give out that money as a bursary and the only caveat to that is now its income. It’s considered income to the community partner, which is a bit of an issue because then you have to declare it on your taxes, but it is one way we have gotten around the issue of waiting months to get reimbursed for travel when you don’t have that ability to put that on your credit card or whatever. And that goes for organizations as well as individuals because we’ve been able to give travel bursaries to individuals.
So there are a lot of different ways that you can work with your institution, to make sure that money is going to where it needs to go in your project…
…to support the research and the on the ground work in a community-first way, but it is a matter of spending time having those meetings with the right people and making sure that you’re still following the rules that are laid out by the funder and the government and things like that.
Chelsea: Thanks so much Nicole for joining us. Nicole Bedford is CFICE’s Project Manager, talking to us about her perspective on CCE funding.
[Sound up music]
This has been a CFICE podcast and the third part in a 3 part series on Community-Campus Engagement funding. My name is Chelsea Nash and thank you for listening!
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