How to win funding for interpretive and critical policy analysis?

On Monday 13 February 2023, the Standing Group Theoretical Perspectives in Policy Analysis organised a workshop about: how to win funding for interpretive and critical policy analysis?. We were fortunate to have three great, experienced speakers who shared their experiences and insights:

Prof Catherine Durose – University of Liverpool

Dr. Natalie Papanastasiou – Outstanding Research Grants

Dr Sonia Bussu – University of Birmingham

We were joined by over 35 participants, both early career and more senior researchers, who asked the panel questions, including:

  • What is distinct to grant writing for interpretive policy analysts?
  • Where can you go for support with grant writing if you don’t get it in your immediate working environment?
  • How to manage relationships with co-applicants who have a different research philosophy?

Here are some of the key insights. You can watch the recording of the session here.


  1. Commitment: Securing funding for your research is a slog, it’s a hugely competitive environment, rejection is built into the system, but keep going!  
  2. Craft: Writing successful grant applications is a craft, nurturing that requires practice. Looking at examples, even on wholly different subjects can help, your university can often help with this.  
  3. Community: You don’t need to do this alone. Ask for help. Get as many eyes on your application as you can. Organise or bring it to a work-in-progress or grant development session within your Department, or ask senior or experienced colleagues to take a look. 
  4. Collaboration: There are different ways to build a trajectory of funding, but often success is grounded in prior collaboration that gives space to test and develop ideas. So invest in your networks.  
  5. Communication: Grant writing is a form of storytelling, ensuring you can communicate your research idea effectively particularly with those outside of your sub-discipline or who don’t share your perspective. 
  6. Creativity: this isn’t just about having an original take, but seeing your publications and grant applications as different parts of a creative process, and also getting creative in the funding landscape. 

So what about interpretive and critical policy analysis?

It’s not so much a question of interpretivist and critical research being more challenging to get funded, but how to communicate your ideas and the added value of your work. Don’t get into this competitive process with a feeling you’re already in a position of disadvantage.

Interpretive research can tend to position itself in a not very empathetic way with regards to existing literature based on positivist approaches. This is likely to alienate reviewers. Try to be more appreciative of what has been done and how we can build on that and extend it in a new direction.

There are increasingly calls for qualitative, creative and co-produced research with impact on pressing societal issues. So try to keep an eye on the right calls. And demonstrate that interpretivist research is very well-placed to do this kind of research. It becomes a strength rather than weakness to answer questions that haven’t been answered by working more in interaction with policy actors.

How to deal with funders and reviewers

If you’re proposing innovative ideas and methods, start with a smaller grant from perhaps a less well-known funder and then build on that with a bigger grant with a more recognised funder.

Not all funders are the same and value different things differently. E.g. Leverhulme are focused on projects focused on making a contribution to knowledge while UKRI funders are increasingly interested in impact.

Take your time to respond to reviewers and have empathy to understand where they’re coming from and how you can best address their concerns.

Interpret negative reviewer comments as an issue of miscommunication. Questions about the lack of hypotheses or variables can e.g. be interpreted as the need to reassure the reviewer that what you will produce will have a clear outcome.

How to create a solid foundation for continued grant success

Monitor and capture the performance and impact of your approach: attendance numbers, testimonials, blog reports and social media posts on key findings, policy report. Articulate a clear narrative of how you have been collaborating so far.

We work in such a competitive environment that it’s important to be patient: let your preliminary work play out before seeking a big amount of money. Having gone through the process (including publishing) can help clarify your thinking on where your previous work has left you and what your agenda is for moving forward. It also creates a reputation for your expertise and ability to do good work. This will enable you to make a better case and increase your chances of being successful.

For support with grant writing, turn to Early Career Networks, Research Offices, colleagues in your field to collaborate with or support you, research grant consultants.

When collaborating with other researchers, who may have different approaches to research, it is important to clarify the purpose of the bid and your collaboration: what’s the puzzle and shared aim?

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