IAQ 2000, Presentation 21:

Norman Tennent

Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN)

Stamina and persistence, the keynotes to successful grant applications for conservation science funding

Greetings! I hope the IAQ Meeting is going well. I am sorry not to be with you. It is ironic that I have to deal with some planning problems associated with the EC SILPROT Grant rather than talking in Oxford about the potential of EC Funding for Conservation. I would much rather be in Oxford!

I hope that a few thoughts from someone who has been seeking funding for conservation science for 25 years may be helpful to today's discussions. My remarks are personal ones and my perspective is by no means comprehensive but these words come from the heart. Conservation science needs greater funding and, in Britain, more coordination is necessary.

I think a little background about my own successes and failures in getting funds for conservation science research may be helpful.

In the past ten years I have obtained packages from various sources amounting to more than half a million pounds. This sum was made up of a dozen or so grants, consisting of several modest amounts and a couple of large sums.

The success rate in applications has been about 50%. That's a pretty respectable figure and I shall give an explanation for this in a moment.

The range of sources for theses funds include:

  1. Conservation-related bodies (eg Scottish Conservation Bureau and The Conservation Unit)
  2. Grant awarding bodies with categories relevant to conservation (eg British Academy)
  3. Private Trusts
  4. The Science Research Councils in the UK (eg NERC, EPSRC)
  5. The European Commission

These five categories are still relevant. But the present situation in Britain seems to me less optimistic now than for many years. Some bodies, such as the Conservation Unit, have vanished and the resources of the British science research councils are so stretched that, because it has no special umbrella council, conservation science applications will be doomed to failure as misfits. Conservation science in Britain has always been a difficult hybrid for research council funding. There was a point where the Science-Based Archaeology Committee funded several projects, but many conservation projects - especially those not concerned with archaeology - were ineligible. I well remember the meeting attended by representatives from the main funding bodies, held in London several years ago. Gerry Hedley lamented that an application of his for research on paintings has been turned down by the Science-Based Archaeology Committee because the paintings had not been excavated in an archaeological dig!! Interestingly, this work subsequently scored funding success from the Leverhulme Trust.

At present, when alpha-rated projects do not always get UK research council funding, I personally do not give serious consideration to the possibility of funding from this source. Until conservation science is recognised as a valid field of endeavour, in need of special support, I believe the competition with other, better-established branches of science will spell failure for conservation science applications.

I do not know, and it would be interesting to hear of the situation in other countries. Interestingly, in The Netherlands, research council funding from NWO has given a great boost to painting research through the MOLART project, funded to the tune of several million guilders. A second project will soon get underway. I see this as a good starting point for other European countries. NWO has already expressed interest in working with sister organisations in other countries with a view to the possibility of bilateral funding.

In Europe, however, the most obvious source of major funds for conservation research is the European Commission. Several of you have had success and will know that preparation of EC applications is a forbidding process. My estimate is that a research grant application will need at least 2 person months work to prepare. Three or more months may be a better commitment for an application to succeed. I estimated that, at the recent funding round, the applicants had spent a total of approximately 20 person years seeking the EC pot of gold. Less than ten projects were actually funded. But the pot is there, and the EC Directorate General XII category "Preserving Europe's Cultural Heritage" is specifically designed for our field.

For our small indoor pollution group, the notion of EC funding for a Network seems to be a category worthy of pursuing. Of course, EC funding is for Europe's cultural heritage and it may be that there are two problems in obtaining funding for a Network:

  1. The group already exists. (Does the EC only fund already-existing Networks?)
  2. The group is international.

Certainly it is worth seeking advice from Brussels.

This brings me to my last point. Applications for funding are most likely to achieve success when the application fits the specified priorities of the bodies, be they private trusts, national research councils or EC sources. I believe my own successes are due to the good fortune of having a portfolio of dozens of research interests. It is better to tailor the research to the funding requirements than to hope that a marginally relevant project will get funding. It won't. I know that to my cost because my first 2-month effort to secure EC funds failed - not for anything to do with quality but because the notion of an application on indoor pollution was unexpected in the mid 80's. Although the call for applications had specified the effect of air pollution on cultural heritage (and did not exclude indoor pollution) it was envisaged that applications would be concerned with outdoor pollution. There was, therefore, an unspecified restriction to the scope for funding.

All was not in vain. My application helped re-define the categories for the next round of applications and at least one indoor pollution project was funded in that round. However, it took another few years before I had the energy to make the effort again. Stamina and persistence are the most valuable qualities for funding success....but the odd bright new idea also helps!

Have a great brainstorming session - I wish I were there!


Norman Tennent
Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN)
Gabriel Metsustraat 8
1071 EA Amsterdam
The Netherlands

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