Group of Eight Australia
Australia's Leading Universities
     Modules     Organiser  

Module 8: Project Closeout

2.3 Reporting obligations

Reporting obligations must be met in full for both the financial and the research aspects of the project. Some clients/sponsors require separate financial and technical final reports.

It is extremely important that all reporting is done on time, both throughout the project and at the end of the project. Sometimes unforeseen circumstances may lead to a deadline not being met. However,it is vital that the client/sponsor/granting agency is notified and a request for a later submission of the final report be made well before the deadline is due. As a guide, if an extension of the final report deadline is sought two days prior to the deadline, the extension requested should not be for more than two days. It is not reasonable to ask for a two months extension two days before the deadline. It should have been obvious to the chief investigator several weeks before the deadline that two months more time were needed. If this happens it is a sign of poor research management.

2.3.1 The final report

Generally, the deadline for submission of the final report is set in the funding agreement, but is usually not earlier than six months after the end of the project. Chief investigators must plan sufficient time for the analysis of data and evaluation of the project information. This time should be built into the project plan, even though there might not be a high cost attached to this part of the project. It is not appropriate to hand in a final report where most of the data evaluation is incomplete or missing. The funding agency or the client/sponsor may interpret this as an important obligation that has not been met and, on this basis, can request return of funds due to lack of progress. Alternatively, a final instalment of funds may be withheld.

The final report that deals with the technical achievements of the project needs to be of a high standard and comply with the client/sponsor’s formatting requirements. It should not be overly wordy and should use language that allows a non-expert, as well as an expert in the field, to understand the results. It is dangerous to assume that the report reader will know anything about the project, and in fact, it should be assumed that the report will be read by someone with no knowledge of the project.

The sponsor is usually not concerned if the results of the research project are negative or positive in themselves. Both are equally valuable, and if the research disproved or proved a hypothesis, this should be reported in a factual and objective style. The important thing is that the report reflects that the research was conducted in a thorough and reproducible way according to the aims, objectives and methods outlined in the funding application and the funding agreement.

If, however, the project has made less than desirable progress and the aims have not been achieved due to poor project management (such as delays in starting the research or not meeting milestones as promised), excuses for the chief investigator’s lack of control over the project should not be made in the final report. It is especially important not to assign blame for lack of achievement of results to the sponsor/client and in doing so give the impression that the lack of achievement was a result of the funding agency not providing, for example, sufficient funding. Everything required to do the project, including finances, should have been negotiated prior to the start of the project and a reduced project scope accepted (or rejected) with the funding agency if the chief investigator felt there were insufficient resources to carry out the project. Similarly, other investigators in collaborative organisations should not be blamed or slandered in the final report.

The chief investigator also has to be aware that some funding agencies have clauses in their funding agreements that entitle them to publish the final report, or publish components of the final report. It is advisable to liaise with the specific university department responsible for IP issues regarding what the implications might for the ability to commercialise the project IP prior to the final report being submitted so this can be managed sensitively.

There are differences in the approach of agencies concerned with fundamental research such as the ARC to those with a more commercial focus, such as Rural Industry Research Corporations. Each funding organisation will have a different strategic focus and therefore the tone and focus of the final report needs to reflect the need of the stakeholder to extract value from the final report. It is advisable for the chief investigator to become familiar with the strategic outlook of the funding agency or client that funds the research. An industry funding agency will look for high quality research, but they will additionally focus on the potential impact of the research and how the results might be implemented in reality. These differences in strategic direction should be kept in mind when writing the final report.

< Previous Next >