Communication with applicants
Categories of personnel communicating with applicants are:
- SP&C section
- Theme Leaders
- AAD staff involved in discussing proposals with applicants
- non-AAD panel members involved in assessment.
Who can communicate with prospective applicants on applications?
The SP&C section will address all applicant enquiries with regard to the application form and grant process. Other AAD staff can discuss other aspects of applicants’ applications, but only if they follow the probity plan. Generally, staff involved in the formal assessment processes should avoid or minimise assisting applicants with applications.
Staff who are unfamiliar with these guidelines should refer all applicant enquiries to SP&C in the first instance. The preferred communication pathway would be:
- the applicant contacts SP&C
- if required, they will be forwarded to the Theme Leader
- if required, they will be forwarded to a relevant staff member, who will subsequently advise SP&C of the nature of the discussion.
If staff engage in discussions directly with applicants on their project applications, they should keep a record of the nature of the discussion. If in doubt at any time, contact SP&C for advice.
The AAD will not formally partner or support any application until after the assessment process is complete.
General rules for AAD staff communicating with applicants on the AASP
Before funding decisions are made by the Minister (or delegate), staff should not provide a judgement or an opinion on a project that gives the prospective applicant the impression that they have a competitive advantage or an expectation of success.
During the call for applications, it is permissible to provide feedback when discussing a particular proposal if it is clear that it would be ineligible. It is wasteful of resources, both of potential applicants and the Australian Government, not to warn that an application would be ineligible. In doing this, it is acceptable to point out in what ways the proposal being discussed does not meet the eligibility criteria or requirements.
Discussions with applicants are confidential, and particular care should be taken not to disclose individual applicant’s approaches to competing applicants.
Routine business meetings and social activities continue as usual, but staff must exercise caution, and must not discuss the assessment or contents of any submission. If pressed to do so, staff should indicate that it is not appropriate to discuss such matters. Such incidents, if considered significant, should be reported to SP&C and a file note should be prepared detailing the conversation.
Providing additional information to applicants
AAD staff should not provide to applicants copies of documents that are not publicly available.
Additional information disclosed to applicants during discussions, which staff consider needs to be disclosed to all applicants, will be approved by SP&C and communicated through a questions and answer page on the AAD website and/or through the GrantConnect website.
It is recognised that in seeking information on specific AAD needs, an applicant may ask questions that may reflect the applicant’s proposed bid, and it may not be appropriate, in a competitive grants process, to communicate the answer to all applicants. All logged discussions will be examined by SP&C to determine whether knowledge imparted in discussions should be made publicly available. If making such material available, consideration will be given to whether the applicant needs to be contacted to confirm that no proprietary information will be at risk.
Should a staff member believe that the information provided in discussions with an applicant is relevant to all applicants and could be perceived as providing an unfair advantage they should advise SP&C immediately.
Encouraging collaboration with other parties
The Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines provide that the development of effective working relationships with stakeholders can help identify, overcome and even avoid fragmentation and unnecessary overlaps in granting activity.
Applicants can be encouraged, in a general way, to form partnerships in the development of their proposals. It is permissible to make suggestions as to the kind of other groups or organisations that may be worth talking to in developing their proposal. It should be noted that a priority of the AASP is to encourage collaboration but care should be taken not to favour one organisation over other similar organisations.
Guidelines for other staff discussing business as usual with prospective applicants
Once the application and assessment process has begun, it is important that AAD staff follow the probity plan. Staff who are unfamiliar with the probity plan should refer all applicant enquiries to SP&C in the first instance.
If researchers or possible applicants request information on the AAD’s research needs that may be related to them preparing an AASP application, staff should ascertain why they are making this enquiry. If it is related to the AASP and if the staff member is not familiar with the requirements of the probity plan, they should refer them to SP&C.
Routine business meetings and social activities continue as usual, but AAD staff must adhere to the probity plan in discussing issues that may be relevant to the AASP.
Personnel involved in assessment processes
The terms of reference of expert assessment panel members will reflect the requirements of the probity plan. Communication related to AASP between applicants and members of this panel will be minimised wherever possible, and where it does occur, it will be dealt with during the assessment process using the conflict of interest provisions of the probity plan.