Grants from FIPSE enabled institutions to make significant changes in the way they operated. To bring this change about, it was essential that both FIPSE and the grantee recognize that the grant project was not a service to the government, but was for the benefit of the institution and the learner. In selecting proposals to fund, FIPSE considered the project director's commitment to undertake the project. In addition, FIPSE took great care to emphasize, through the following means, that ownership of the project rested fully with the grantee.
- The choice of grants over contracts. FIPSE's change strategy expressed itself in the selection of tools for dispersing funds. Rather than relying on contracts with detailed deliverables, FIPSE chose instead to make grants. From FIPSE's perspective, contracts implied that ultimate ownership and accountability remained with the government, particularly since contracts usually specify outcomes and do not allow midcourse corrections without governmental approval. Under those conditions, the project director becomes an instrument rather than a fully empowered leader.
On the contrary, FIPSE was committed to finding people who were willing to think-and rethink-what their institution needed. FIPSE staff sought interactive relationships with people who were willing to say, "Here's what makes sense for our institution and this is what we're committed to doing." FIPSE sought grant proposals with clear statements of purpose rather than detailed specifications of outcomes. This was a critical choice. FIPSE staff understood that if the proposed projects genuinely were to create change, then adjustments would be needed as learning continued during implementation.
FIPSE staff found it surprisingly difficult to find applicants who would take FIPSE's approach-a commitment to a wide range of possible reform rather than to a specific set of outcomes-at face value. Many applicants were inclined to think that FIPSE had an undisclosed agenda that they had to guess in order to qualify for support. Many as much as said, "Tell us what you want and we will do it to get the grant." This mindset may have been nurtured by their previous experience with the grant competitions of other government agencies, some of which are believed to be wired to favor particular strategies as frequently used in narrow categorical programs. Nothing plays so strongly into the pattern of "prostitution in grant seeking" as the categorical program.
- Insistence on some form of institutional contribution. FIPSE decided on a policy of providing no overhead for institutional grant administration. Grants and contracts from other governmental agencies usually added substantial overhead for indirect costs. If the service was provided to the government or another entity outside the institution, then overhead payments by the grantor seemed reasonable. On the other hand, if the benefit of the project would flow directly to the institution and the learners it served, then the institution should be willing to contribute to its implementation.
Typically, FIPSE sought some additional contribution from applicants as well. This policy created discomfort for many prospective project directors, who were put in the position of having to make the case to members of their administration for institutional support. In FIPSE's view, if applicants were unable to make that case successfully, that provided a good indicator that the host institution did not value the project sufficiently, a lack of support that would eventually become evident in other ways.
- Balancing government vs. field priorities. To be sure, FIPSE did have priorities that it stated in its guidelines, and those priorities did exclude certain kinds of initiatives which may well have been considered worthy by others. However, FIPSE did not micromanage the implementation of its priorities. In an era that preceded the "New Federalism," FIPSE set broad guidelines, then invited people at the local level to propose initiatives that were consistent with those directives.
- Collaborative relationships between staff and project directors. As change agents themselves, FIPSE staff strove to avoid behaving like typical bureaucrats. Although they were part of the system, they were attracted to FIPSE in part as a vehicle for changing it, and they considered themselves to be modeling a new kind of governmental approach. In many cases, FIPSE staff members identified with the goals of the project directors, and they sought to provide support and cover for making change possible. There was a sense of colluding with project directors to make common cause against institutional barriers on both sides: resistance to change in local institutions, and resistance to flexibility in the government. As Immerwahr documents in his conversations with early grant recipients, "Staff members were perceived as colleagues and partners rather than as bureaucratic project directors." To be sure, FIPSE staff members could not fully shed their role as monitors. Ultimately, they had to ensure that each project met its broad objectives, that appropriate reports were filed, and that proper fiscal procedures were followed. Also, staff members were gatekeepers to potential future funding. Despite these constraints on their role, FIPSE staff members consciously sought to build supportive, collaborative relationships.
Several procedural elements contributed to this. The sense of partnership began in the process of screening and selecting projects. Staff members were responsible for advocating on behalf of projects that they felt merited support. This led to working with the applicants to clarify and strengthen the case for funding. Also, grants were structured to minimize the role of program staff as overseer. Typically, projects were funded for multiple years in order to minimize uncertainty about the projects' future and to alleviate diversion of energy into activities designed merely to justify continuation of the grant. This enabled project directors and FIPSE staff to develop longer-term relationships, and heightened the sense of partnership between them. In this phase, FIPSE staff members took on the roles of consultants, advisers, and coaches, helping to link project directors to other resources. They saw their role as providing encouragement and support, and helping project directors anticipate barriers and identify areas where they needed to build their own skills. Of course, site visits inevitably had the purpose of checking to see if the project was on target, and making sure that expenditures bore some relationship to the grant document and supporting budget. Moreover, while the basic expectations about the extent of future funding were established at the outset, there was an annual process for budget negotiation. Nonetheless, the basic orientation had a strong element of "partner" rather than "monitor." And FIPSE leaned toward flexibility rather than rigidity. A philosophy of attending to the spirit rather than the letter of the formal agreement led them to be willing to approve shifts of funds at least within categories if this would assist in reaching the overall purpose of the grant.