CTSA Pilot Study Grant Programs

An increasing number of CTSAs have offered funding for pilot studies through small grant programs. For example, the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI) initiated a Community Engagement Pilot Grants program that accepts proposals from either community or academic applicants. The program requires that at least half of requested grant funds go to a community partner.25 One funding track (up to $10,000) is for developing new community- academic partnerships and the other (up to $30,000) is to strengthen existing partnerships through community translational research projects.25 The initial investment of $272,742 led to over $2.8 million dollars in additional grant funding, and strengthened the capacity of community-academic partnerships and the rigor and relevance of their research.25 The Harvard CTSA provided seed funding to community partners through a CBPR initiative.26 The purpose of the initiative was to stimulate community-academic relationships necessary for improved translational research.26 The goals were to (1) engage communities and empower them to select a research problem for study; (2) facilitate community understanding of the value of evidence and how to incorporate it into programs; and (3) facilitate partnership with an academic researcher or gather preliminary evidence.26 The CAB for the Harvard CTSA Community Engagement program provided guidance for the funding program. The initiative facilitated relevant and innovative research. Some of the challenges that were encountered included variable community research readiness, insufficient project time, and difficulties identifying investigators for new partnerships.26 Thompson et al. used a community grants program to directly fund community-based organizations to plan, implement, and evaluate pilot studies.27 A request for applications (RFA) was developed and circulated widely throughout the Yakima Valley, in Washington State. The RFA sought proposals to address health disparities in cancer education, prevention, and treatment among Hispanics living in the Valley.27 Funds available were $2,500.00-$3,500.00 for a 1-year project. To help evaluate the progress of the RFA community projects according to the perspectives of the CAB, an open- ended, semistructured interview was developed and administered by a former staff member to CAB members. In 4 years, 10 small grants proposed by community members were funded. The total funds allocated were about $25,000.27 Interviews with CAB members indicated that the RFA program was perceived positively, but there were concerns about sustainability. The community grants program resulted in the implementation of several cancer prevention programs conducted by community organizations.27 Rodgers et al.28 proposed a model for building collaborative research capacity that focuses on the distribution of RFAs for pilot studies, awarding grants to community-based organizations of $15,000, and matching community-based organizations to university faculty. The model was developed by the Community Engagement Research Program of the Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute (ACTSI), which is part of NIH’s CTSA program.28 The RFA resulted in 29 applications, and four community-based organizations in Atlanta and southwest Georgia were selected for funding. Technical assistance and training were provided to community-based organization staff on community assessment, program planning, evaluation, and grant writing.28

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