Developing Grants Management Capabilities
to Sustainably Deliver Long-Term Impact
By Ranjana Ramchandran, Greg Kowalski and Brooke E. Wanlass,
Ernst & Young, LLP

In May 2023, NGMA hosted the webinar “How Can We Develop Grants Management Capabilities to Sustainably Deliver Long-Term Impact?” presented by Greg Kowalski and Ranjana Ramchandran of Ernst & Young LLP and Shamiah Kerney, Mayor's Office of Recovery Programs (Baltimore, MD). Below is a summary of the presentation.

Missed the webinar? View the recording HERE. (Member login required)

Over the last few years, state and local governments have had the unique opportunity to implement multiple innovative programs to serve their residents. Focusing on program outcomes rather than just fiscal and reporting requirements can enhance optimization of funds, effective program design and collective achievement of agency objectives.

Entities face several key challenges in measuring and delivering value across their portfolio of programs. First, resource constraints often divert focus from outcome measurement, as daily administration of funds is prioritized over longer-term monitoring of outcomes. Next, outcomes must be measured within discrete periods of performance, which may be as short as one to three years and influenced by leadership’s strategic planning cycles. Finally, program governance often lacks integrated outcome measurement, as projects are often executed in silos.

Entities can address these challenges through the development of a grants management transformation office, incorporating the following three elements:

  1. Integrated program governance enables planning across in-flight programs and tracking of key milestones, dependencies, and outcome realization. This includes a risk management framework to triage and escalate issues while actively assessing initiative and program risk and its impact to desired outcomes. This may also include an initial assessment of program capacity to verify that entities have the infrastructure in place to implement innovative programs that may be outside the scope of their typical operations. By approaching planning and governance with the desired outcomes in mind, entities can consider factors beyond funding availability and timelines when making key decisions impacting their communities.

  2. Ask thoughtful questions to develop meaningful key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure outcomes across programs. To develop metrics, entities should begin by identifying high-level categories to understand the program impact on various stakeholders (e.g., scholar experience). This may be followed by a research question (e.g., are we initiating enough touchpoints with scholars?) and associated metrics (e.g., increase in average number of touchpoints with scholars in a program year), sourced from new or existing program reporting requirements. Often, demographic information may be collected and reported after decisions have been made, limiting entities’ ability to make changes impacting program success. To obtain a holistic view of program value, it is important that metrics include indicators of both short-and-long term progress.  In some instances, this might require working with supporting stakeholders to measure long-term value beyond the program timeline.

  3. Measure outcomes leveraging existing data and improve ongoing execution. The implementation of an “assess-improve-monitor” framework can enable entities to assess how new program requirements impact risk, develop processes for managing an evolving risk profile, and conduct ongoing monitoring activities to evaluate whether those processes are designed and effectively operating. This presents an opportunity to cross-reference existing programmatic and financial data to identify trends, identify funds at risk for non-compliance, re-allocate funds to more impactful activities, and improve program execution through technical assistance and education. Increased capacity building stemming from these activities can ultimately result in the capture and administration of additional funds driving community impact.
By integrating review of program performance into planning cycles, entities can better understand the impact of their spending, and make in-flight changes aimed at maximizing value.

Ranjana Ramchandran is Managing Director, Forensic & Integrity Services; Greg Kowalski is Senior Manager, Business & Consulting; and Brooke E. Wanlass is Senior Manager, Business & Consulting at Ernst & Young, LLP.