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Data and Documents for Grant Management

Managing government and non-profit grants usually requires a combination of structured data along with documents to track all the information required for applications, review, award and post-award reporting.  One of the more important design decisions you can make in implementing grant management software is to determine the proper place for structured data and documents, that is which information is stored where.
By a structured database, I mean data that is divided into fields and records which is typically stored in a database.  Structured data lends itself to validation, such as restricting entry to defined data types, making fields required, or checking the data entered against a rule such as minimum and maximum values.

Documents are sometimes needed to capture less structured narrative such as a project description, or to print a well formatted paper document for a signature.  Online documents can have some validation rules themselves, and even some logic such as fields that are conditional based on the value in another field.  Documents do not lend themselves to reporting and aggregation as well as structured data does.  Another challenge of forms is that they may diverge from one grant program to another in the data and even labels for fields, making reporting difficult. 

You can draw the line between structured data and documents by determining which are required at various stages of the grant process.  For instance, you could reduce reliance on documents with steps such as these:
  1. Export data from the structured data to a document such as Word or Excel as a report.  This technique will give you precise control over formatting in order to produce an attractive printout which is not usually the case for web-based forms.
  2. Use file attachments for appendices and backup materials to the proposal, but include all the fields you need for reporting and aggregation in the structured database.  This data would likely include budgets and metrics which are often needed for reporting across all grants.
  3. Standardize data requirements for all programs as much as possible.  Create logic to show and hide fields on applications based on the program, such as the functions in InfoStrat's Grants Manager Plus. 
  4. Try to eliminate overlap in data tracked in structured data and documents, so you reduce the risk for inconsistencies.
  5. Add electronic signature to your application forms.   This can be through a form which affirms the signature or a full featured product such as DocuSign or Adobe Sign.
The planning and design for your grant software implementation will determine how you can enter and report on your grant data in the future.  Over-reliance on documents may make it difficult to compare across programs and update your system in the future. 

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