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Application FAQs

These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) have been updated as of November 7.

SUBMITTING AN APPLICATION


Q: Where is the application form located?
A: The application form is accessible once you log in to Fluid Review at the site aspen.fluidreview.com. It should be visible as the first main item on the page where you see all of the different tasks required. It should be called “full application form scaling” if you're filling out a scaling award or “full application seeding” if you're filling out a seeding award. Note that it might be marked with a green “complete” button because we've carried it over from the letter of interest phase and just renamed it and added more questions to allow you to build on your earlier answers.  If you see this button, you should click edit and keep working on the form because several new questions have been added. This is an online application form, it's not a Word document.

Q: Can documents be submitted in languages other than English?
A: No. All documents and application answers must be completed in English.
Q: Are past funded projects are listed somewhere online?
A: Yes, see http://www.stevensinitiative.org/projects/.
 
Q: How do you ensure that the review committee is not biased?
A: Review committee members are required to agree to a conflict of interest statement and may not be involved if they are working with any organization that is applying for an award. Committee members pledge to score applications fairly and use a scoring rubric in order to apply consistent standards to all applications.

Q: Does the total number of participants (e.g. 750 for the seeding grant) include the teachers and facilitators, or does that number specifically refer to youth participants?
A: The count of participants in the U.S. state table and the Middle East and North Africa country table should include only the youth participants who will participate in the program. Note that 750 is the maximum number of youth participants for a Seeding award, not a required target for all Seeding awardees.
 
Q: For previous and/or current Stevens Initiative awardees, are there any specific considerations of the outputs and/or accomplishments of their current award that will be factored into the selection process for this new grants cycle? If so, what are these main considerations of their current project's performance that may be considered?
A: Applicants’ track record is a factor that the review committee is instructed to consider as part of several scoring criteria, such as feasibility, capacity, and others. This is true of past or current awardees as well as other applicants. There are several places in the application where an applicant can share information about their accomplishments, including in response to many short-answer questions, in optional attached materials (e.g. a recent program report or a curriculum), and in the Survey of the Field form that was submitted by some applicants during the Letter of Interest phase.
 
Q: Does the Stevens Initiative have a preference for lower versus higher cost per participant?  Will higher cost per participant be a negative factor in the assessment of proposal?
A: Cost-effectiveness is one of our selection criteria and cost per participant is a part of cost-effectiveness, yes. We prefer programs that have a lower cost per participant but we also know that reasonable costs may vary depending on the unique circumstances of each proposed program. Evidence that cost will decrease as the program grows is also favorable.
 
Q: Does an institution’s status as a minority-serving institution have a bearing on this call for proposals?
A: Strictly speaking, this status doesn’t have a direct bearing on the review of an application, though reaching diverse participants is a priority and a selection criterion for this competition, so if an organization is well-positioned to reach diverse participants, that might be something that the applicant would want to reflect in their proposal.

Q: Might the list of eligible countries change?
A: No, the list of eligible countries – the United States and the countries in the Middle East and North Africa, as defined by the Department of State Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs – are the only eligible countries for Stevens Initiative participation through this award competition. No countries will be added or removed from this list in this competition.


Support for Applicants

Q: How can applicants ask questions?
A: All questions should be submitted by email to stevensinitiative@aspeninst.org.

Q: How can applicants view the competition webinars?
A: The full application phase webinar is posted on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izL5S0zK7Do. The Letter of Interest webinars are posted at https://youtu.be/GogLEEbd5Hs and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lXF7UNpSsI.

Q: Can I see feedback for past applicants?
A: The Initiative shared an overview of common feedback to unsucessful Letters of Interest from the 2016/2017 competition on the Initiative website. The guidelines and priorities of this competition differ from those for past competitions. We hope this information is helpful as you refine your virtual exchange programs and plans, and we encourage you to carefully review the guidelines and priorities for this competition rather than relying on the feedback to past Letters of Interest.


Attachments and Templates

Q: Which of the attachments are required?
A: The budget, budget narrative, domestic or foreign subrecipient questionnaire (referring to the prime applicant, domestic for U.S. organizations and foreign for non-U.S. organizations), timeline, and partnership table are all required and templates are provided for all of them. Several optional attachments may be relevant to an applicant (e.g. proof of a NICRA) or may provide helpful supporting information (e.g. a curriculum) and we encourage uploading them if appropriate to your situation.
 
Q: Could you please provide any additional templates that might be useful to our application, but which are not contained on the Fluid Review site?
A: We provide templates for the budget, budget narrative, domestic or foreign subrecipient questionnaire, timeline, and partnership list; all of these are required. We do not provide template for the optional attachments. Please contact us directly if you seek guidance on a particular attachment.

Q: I'm working on 2018 application on Fluid Review. My organization applied to (and was awarded) a grant in 2017, and the documents from that round are still showing under the budget, budget narrative, timeline, etc. attachment fields. Would you like me to delete those that are no longer relevant and upload our new budget, timeline, curriculum, etc. information instead?
A: Yes, please download and save a copy of each file, delete the old copy from Fluid Review, and upload the new version.
 
Q: Who should be providing letters of support and what should the letters include?
A: The letters of support or endorsement can be from current partners or partners who would work on the proposed project. Letters of support or endorsement are not required. We do not have a template for you to use. The content of a letter of support and depends on who you are asking to write the letter and the nature of your relationship with that organization.

Q: Are the categories in the timeline template meant to overlap?
A: Tasks or work areas should be listed just once in the timeline rather than repeated identically under different categories. Choose the category that is the closest fit and list the task or work area under that category.

Q: Who is the intended audience for impact sharing, as referenced in the “Category 4: Communications and Impact Sharing” section of the timeline?
A: The main intended audiences for the Stevens Initiative are education leaders, young people, policy makers, and alumni of Initiative-supported programs. The Initiative will work with awardees to determine the specific audience for the impact story about their particular program.

Q: In what format should curriculum be submitted?
A: Any format is acceptable.

Q: Is the optional Recent Program Evaluation Attachment intended for those competing for the evaluation supplement?
A: Any applicant may attach a recent evaluation document; it is optional for all applicants.

Q: What should the recent program evaluation uploads include? Is this referring to any specific type of document?
A: We welcome anything that you think meets this standard of being a document about your program evaluation. The more rigorous or thorough, the better. Any kind of internal or independently conducted evaluation report or document is welcome. It is an optional rather than required attachment.

Q: For the recent program evaluation optional attachment, if we have data about beneficiary satisfaction to date, is that something we should submit? Or would you only like external evaluations looking at our impact?
A: you can submit any document you think gives the review committee a deeper understanding of your evaluation approach and the effectiveness of your program. We ask that you keep any uploaded materials as brief as possible.

Q: We have not issued an annual report to date. What document could we provide instead of an annual report?
A: You may provide any document that shares the results or stories from your international exchange activities. This is optional.


Moving from the Letter of Interest to Full Application Stages

Q: You said that each applicant will be receiving feedback from the review committee to help inform the full application. Could you please confirm this and if so, when we should expect this?
A: Each organization should have received written feedback from the review committee (via the Stevens Initiative) on November 1. Please email us if you did not receive this email.

Q: Can we revise text in the Letter of Interest at this stage of the application process, for example if the proposed program plan has changed?
A: We expect that as your plan evolves you will refine your answers to those existing questions from the Letter of Interest phase to make sure that everything that you have in your portfolio when you click submit on December 4th is accurate and up-to-date and the best plan that you can put forward. We don’t expect applicants to make wholesale changes to their proposal because we’ve invited you to continue in this process based on the proposal you put forward. The proposal should very closely resemble what you put forward at the Letter of Interest stage .  But any refinements or iterations based on your own thinking, based on feedback from partners are welcome.
 
Q: Would you like applicants to also provide direct responses to each of the review committee comments received by email from the Stevens Initiative, perhaps as a separate document attached to the application?
A: We suggest trying to incorporate the feedback into your design and writing of the full application. There is no specific place we suggest putting responses to the feedback; it should be reflected wherever relevant in your application form answers and/or attached materials (budget, timeline, etc.). There is no need for a separate attachment responding to the questions/feedback.
 
Q: Has application form added length to questions that were answered previously at the Letter of Interest stage?
A: Yes, some questions from the Letter of Interest stage have been carried over and given higher word limits. Word limits are stated in the text of the full application questions.


PROGRAM

Q: Is there an age limit for the educators or facilitators involved in the program?
A: No, there is no age limit for the educators or facilitators involved in the program. The age limit applies to the youth participants in the program, the people whom the educators or facilitators are supporting.

Q: The application mentions sustained communication. How long should programs run?
A: There is no strict minimum or maximum program duration or number of contact hours. The Stevens Initiative wants to see young people engaging in a way in which they get to know each other, work together, and build relationships and a sense of trust over time.

Q: To what extent should everything be in place before we apply for funding?
A: Organizations should formulate plans to the greatest extent possible before applying. The more information that can be provided in the application, the better.

Q: Can an organization’s programming include students from countries outside of the MENA region in addition to students from the United States and MENA region?
A: Young people from outside the United States or the MENA region cannot be supported through a Stevens Initiative award.

Q: Is it allowable to have implementing staff in multiple countries?
A: Yes.

Q: Is the Initiative prioritizing programs that have more significant spread across different countries in the Middle East or regions of the United States?
A: Awards support both bilateral (the United States and one other country) and multilateral programs (the United States and more than one other country) and do not prioritize one arrangement over the other. Proposals should be feasible; working in a wide array of places or harder to reach places may be challenging.

Q: Is program participation restricted to students currently enrolled in academic programs? What about recent graduates?
A: Programs do not need to be restricted to people enrolled in education. The program does not need to be administered through an education institution.

Q: Can proposals include an in-person exchange component?
A: Yes, in-person exchange components can be included in proposals to the extent that they complement the participants’ virtual exchange experience.

Q: Can virtual exchange activities begin in summer 2019 (rather than fall 2019, as stated in the competition guidelines)?
A: From past experience, we feel it is important that programs have adequate time to prepare for virtual exchange activities, including starting their partnerships with their international partners, setting up their monitoring and evaluation system, training their educators, designing their curriculum, testing their technology, and so on. While we are open to considering any unique cases, we strongly urge applicants to plan to begin their virtual exchange activities in fall of 2019.

Q: What kind of supervision is expected in programs supported by the Stevens Initiative? Does every part or session of virtual exchange need to be supervised?
A: The Stevens Initiative expects adults to observe virtual exchange activities to ensure that communication is appropriate and that participants have a safe and constructive environment for discussion and collaboration. While not every synchronous or asynchronous activity needs to be directly observed in all cases, applicants should demonstrate that they plan for educators or other trained facilitators to participate in and observe an adequate number of the activities to be highly confident that communication is appropriate. The extent and style of supervision and facilitation is likely dependent on the age of participants and other factors unique to the program design and the participants involved.

Q: Do the number of students involved in the grant need to be equal between our university and the partner university re. virtual exchange, i.e. do all online exchange activities (synchronous and asynchronous) need to be structured on a 1:1 student basis?
A: The ratio of youth participants does not need to be strictly 1:1, though we do recommend that participation be approximately balanced between the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. Some programs provide good justification for having slightly more participants from one place or another.
 
Q: Could some of the virtual exchanges be classroom-to-classroom based?
A: Yes, some of the virtual exchange activities can be group activities connecting classrooms.

Q: Is it acceptable to enroll new cohort of students for the 2020 - 2021 academic year?
A: Yes, is expected that awardees will reach several cohorts or rounds of participants over the 27 months of the period of performance.  There are at least five academic terms covered by the period of performance: Fall 2019, Winter/Spring 2020, Summer 2020, Fall 2020, and Winter/Spring 2021. New groups of participants should be joining the program and getting started with virtual exchange throughout that time. The program should just be reaching just one group of participants over the course of the two years. It's up to each applicant to decide how long the program should be for any one cohort or group of participants, but it's common for proposals to suggest work that the virtual exchange runs for several weeks up to maybe a semester or more.

Q: What are some examples of alumni engagement that could be included in the timeline?
A: Alumni engagement should vary depending on the circumstances, such as the age, location, needs, and interests of the program participants. Applicants might consider the following general types of alumni engagement, as well as any others with which they are familiar: opportunities for further developing global competencies, opportunities to build community with fellow alumni, and opportunities to share stories from their virtual exchange experience and to advocate for virtual exchange. Alumni engagement opportunities can range from virtual participant reunions and virtual learning courses or webinars to in-person exchange for a limited number of alumni. Visit the Department of State’s International Exchange Alumni website to see reports of alumni engagement for otherprograms: https://alumni.state.gov/alumni-news.
 
Q: For the required photos and videos, is that something that our staff and/or partners will need to do? Or do we need to provide opportunities for the Stevens Initiative to gather the promotional materials?
A: The prime organization is responsible for submitting photos (minimum 40 high-resolution photos) and raw video footage as part of their communication deliverables. The Stevens Initiative may capture additional photos during scheduled visits, but the overall communications deliverables are provided by the prime organization.
 
Q: Could you please clarify your preferences on best practices regarding facilitators and their training? 
A: We are not in a position to recommend a specific way to train facilitators, particularly because a variety of approaches can be effective. It is important for virtual exchange programs to ensure that the adults responsible for supervising and facilitating virtual exchange are adequately prepared for their role and feel supported, and in many cases, training by experts is an important step at the beginning of a project and throughout the project, as new facilitators are trained. In many programs, facilitators are educators (teachers or professors), though in other programs, facilitators are staff members of a civil society organization or education institution. Sometimes the facilitator is a “near peer;” for example a recent university graduate who participated in virtual exchange serving as a facilitator for a high school or undergraduate virtual exchange. Effective facilitation involves familiarity with cross-cultural dialogue, using communication technology, the subject matter specific to the exchange program, and many other related topics, skills, and experiences. Effective facilitation also ensures that all participants in the program are experiencing a meaningful intercultural exchange. There are an increasing number of organizations – including many past Stevens Initiative awardees, listed on the Stevens Initiative website – who have experience conducting training programs for virtual exchange facilitators at various education or age levels.
 
Q: Should current geopolitical issues be taken into account when designing a proposal?
A:  The priorities we listed in the call for proposals – the interest in reaching young people in certain countries in the Middle East and North Africa that are particularly challenging to reach through other means of international engagement – remain priorities for us. We expect organizations to put forward plausible, appropriate, safe plans to connect young Americans and young people in these countries.  We recognize that these could take additional effort, that additional safeguards need to be made to make sure that participants in any country, especially these countries, need to be supported as well as possible.


Partnerships
This section covers several aspects of partnership formation and formalization for different kinds of partner relationships

Q: Can the Stevens Initiative help with finding international partners?
A: The Stevens Initiative is not able to help find international partners during the open competition phase. Once awardees have been announced, the Initiative will try to include organizations, schools, and universities – including those that submitted unsuccessful applications – in awardee programs where feasible.

Q: Is it okay for a U.S. organization or university to partner with more than one educational institution in the Middle East or North Africa?
A: Yes, it is permissible to partner with more than one institution, though the technical and logistical complexity of working with several partners can make larger programs challenging.

Q: Is it possible to include partnerships in another region (assuming the program also includes U.S. and MENA region participants)?
A: Stevens Initiative funding may only be used to support activities in the Middle East and North Africa and in the United States. Any other countries that might be involved in an organization's program cannot be covered through any Stevens Initiative funding.

Q: Is it expected that a project is conducted with a partner organization? And what are the expectations about engaging partners?
A: Given the international nature of this work, nearly all past proposals have involved a certain degree of international partnership. Strong virtual exchange programs are often rooted in longstanding prior collaboration between the partnering institutions. While an organization that has very deep roots and high capacity both in the United States as well as in the Middle East and North Africa might be able to put together a feasible proposal that shows adequate capacity in all countries, or a proposal could seek to use staff and effort solely in one country and then remotely connect with participants in another country, these would be outlier cases and we would encourage the organization to make sure that they have adequate capacity, whether their own or through a partnership, in all of the places where they propose to reach young people.

Q: We are planning to expand our partnerships with high schools to include a diverse population of students including those from title 1 schools. It will take time to identify the eligible and qualified partner schools. Will it be sufficient to provide a list of current partner schools (~75% of the total expected partner schools) and secure new partnerships in early 2019 (if awarded)?
A: At the current full application stage (i.e. by the December 4 deadline), we expect to receive the list of actual implementing schools or institutions that the applicant proposes to involve in the program. There may be an opportunity to propose additional partners at a later date (during an award, if an award is given), however keep in mind that the strength of the partnerships plan can only be recognized if actual partners are presented at this stage. And these should not be hypothetical partnerships; these should be institutions that have agreed to participate in the program if an award is made.

Q: Should our partners on the ground in the Middle East and North Africa be classified as sub-recipients vs. contractors? If we're working with non-profits who will be referring beneficiaries to us and hiring staff to ensure adequate supervision and mentoring of youth participants, how should these organizations be classified?
A: The relationship with the other entity will determine the type of legal agreement needed to document that relationship. If the partnership is formalized and is a deemed a subrecipient to the prime applicant, then a lower-tiered subrecipient agreement must be used that contains most of the terms and conditions listed in the prime subrecipient agreement. Generally, a subrecipient is providing substantive, programmatic work while a contractor is providing a good or service.
 
We suggest you use the contractor vs. subaward determination checklist below to help guide you.

















 

Q: Do we only have to use lower tiered subaward agreements with subawardees, rather than with individual schools or other participating groups?
A: The type of legal relationship between the prime applicant and the schools or participating groups depends on the nature of the work that the school will conducting, the service they will be providing, or the way the participating group will be engaging with your program. Generally, a subrecipient is providing substantive, programmatic work while a contractor is providing a good or service. We suggest you use the contractor vs. subaward determination checklist in the FAQs to help guide you.
 
Q: Could you please provide a sample of the lower tiered sub award agreement based on the prime award agreement?  We would like to make sure that all of our agreements are consistent with your expectations.
A: The lower-tiered subaward agreement must be approved by the Aspen Institute prior to execution. The Stevens Initiative has a memo that can be shared with the subrecipient on the terms and conditions that should flow down, but that will not be provided until the negotiation phase (after full applications have been submitted and reviewed).
 
Q: You explained that if a partnership is more formalized, you forsee a MOU being appropriate rather than a letter describing the partnership. Is this left to the discretion of applicants? Meaning, can we provide letters confirming our partnership that are not formal MOUs? 
A: The relationship with the other entity will determine the type of legal agreement needed to document that relationship. If the partnership is formalized and is deemed a subrecipient to the prime applicant, then a lower-tiered subrecipient agreement – which contains most of the terms and conditions listed in the prime subrecipient agreement – must be used. At the full application phase, partnerships are not fully formalized or defined and an MOU or letter can be provided as part of the application. A letter of commitment makes sense if you are in a preliminary phase of establishing a partnership; MOUs are more formal; and a contract or lower-tiered subrecipient agreement should be used once the relationship is fully defined.
 
Q: We are partnering with educational institutions and/or organizations in the United States and in the Middle East and North Africa. If no financial award is offered to these schools, do they need to complete the Domestic Subrecipient Profile Questionnaires? What type of documentation is expected from these partner schools (MOU, other)?
A: To be clear, the domestic subrecipient profile questionnaire or the foreign subrecipient profile questionnaire only needs to be completed by the prime applying organization, and it should be completed about their own organization. As a subrecipient to the Stevens Initiative, you are required to flow-down monitoring and oversight procedures to your partners. Some organizations find it useful to also have their partners complete the domestic or foreign subrecipient profile questionnaire because they know that it's part of their responsibility as a subrecipient to the Aspen Institute to also flow down monitoring and due diligence techniques. We encourage you to consider taking this step, though we don't require it.
The questionnaire is an assessment and not a contractual agreement. Subrecipients of the prime applicant must receive a lower-tiered subrecipient agreement that contain most of the terms and conditions listed on the prime subrecipient agreement (the agreement between Aspen Institute and prime applicant). The lower-tiered subrecipient agreement must be reviewed and approved by the Aspen Institute prior to being executed. If payment is not provided, then technically a lower-tiered subrecipient agreement is not required, but there should still be a legal document that governs the relationship. If there are no legal or other barriers preventing payment, we recommend financial payment be given to implementing partners to help ensure their engagement and overall commitment to the project.

Q: Does an organization count as a subawardee if we are strictly reimbursing them for program-related expenses and there is no additional payment to them to carry out programming or provide services?
A: The relationship with the other entity will determine the type of legal agreement needed to document that relationship. If the partnership is formalized and is a deemed a subrecipient to the prime applicant, then a lower-tiered subrecipient agreement must be used that contains most of the terms and conditions listed in the prime subrecipient agreement. Generally, a subrecipient is providing substantive, programmatic work while a contractor is providing a good or service. We suggest you use the contractor vs. subaward determination checklist in the FAQs to help guide you.
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Q: Is the commitment letter from the individual working with the project or is it from the institution they are working for?
A: Letters of support or commitment should be from the person or office responsible for the proposed work at the partnership institution. Such a letter represents institutional commitment, though as stated in response to other questions in these FAQs, a letter of commitment is not the same thing as a contractual or subrecipient agreement.


Participants and Participant Information

Q: The guidelines say that the Stevens Initiative will collect information about youth participants in the programs it supports. How will that information be used?
A: The Stevens Initiative will collect contact information for each participant in the programs supported through these awards. The information will be used to invite alumni to opt in to the Department of State's alumni community and deidentified information will be used to assess the reach of the Stevens Initiative. Information will be kept securely.

Q: Can participants in Stevens Initiative programs receive academic credit?
A: Yes, participants can receive academic credit if it is offered by the institution through which they are participating.

Q; Are youth participants themselves eligible to travel through a Stevens Initiative award, or is it virtual-only programming for young people?
A: Travel, or in-person exchange, is allowable for students (and educators) in Stevens Initiative program. Travelers must be at least 15 years old at the time of the trip, and there are significantly more strict requirements for in-person travel for minors.

Q: Can someone on an international exchange in one of the eligible countries participate in a Stevens Initiative virtual exchange?
A: The Stevens Initiative welcomes linkages with other U.S. Department of State and other international exchange programs to make the best possible use of the insights and opportunities that those programs afford to young Americans as well as young people from other countries. Young people from the United States who are on an exchange program in the Middle East and North Africa may be involved in the program; young people from the Middle East and North Africa may be involved in the program if they are in the United States. Keep in mind that the primary purpose of the program is to connect young people who haven't already had an international exchange experience. So these in-person exchange participants should not be the primary beneficiary of the virtual exchange; rather, they might be helping facilitate a program that benefits the participants who haven't had the opportunity to travel themselves.

Q: Should teachers or facilitators be counted as participants?
A: It depends on the context. Teachers and facilitators should be counted as participants for the sake of budgeting and compliance matters and travel. We don't typically count teachers and facilitators as the youth participants when we count youth participants to be served by the proposed program. There are several parts of the application where we ask you to list the number of youth participants to be included. Unless teachers or preservice teachers are part of the youth participants group – which could be the case in some programs – you shouldn't be counting them in those tables.

Q: Would pre-service teachers be considered youth participants?
A: Pre-service teachers could be considered youth participants in virtual exchange if they meet the parameters in the competition guidelines (i.e. are undergraduates, graduate students, or young professionals under 35).

Q: Can younger students, such as 10- or 11-year-olds, be included in a proposal?
A: The Stevens Initiative is open to seeing proposals to conduct virtual exchange reaching young people in the 10- to 11-year-old age range, assuming the other conditions of the competition are met.

Q: Does the Stevens Initiative’s definition of refugee include asylum seekers and those with humanitarian protected status?
A: Applicants are encouraged to discuss this with the Stevens Initiative on a case by case basis.

Q: I am proposing to include refugees located in the United States. Does this meet the Stevens Initiative’s priority to include refugees?
A: Refugees located in the United States are welcome to participate in Stevens Initiative programs, but this in itself would not constitute an eligible virtual exchange program unless there are also participants from the Middle East and North Africa who are located outside the United States. The intention is to connect young people in the United States with young people in the Middle East and North Africa, or refugees from the Middle East or North Africa who are located outside the United States.


Monitoring and Evaluation

(See further below for more information about the Impact Evaluation Supplement if your organization was invited to submit that supplement)

Q: Do we need to follow a uniform process for ethical research review, for which there may also be costs associated?
A: We look to each organization to determine the research standards that their community and their institution require of them. For several, that might be an IRB, for others it might be different. And we look to you to explain to us what those requirements are and we will work with you and with our independent evaluators to make sure that the research methods meet our standards as well.
 
Q: Is an IRB (institutional review board) required for an evaluation to meet the project requirements?
A: No, it is not required, though some of our awardees have gone through the IRB process. We encourage awardees to meet the standards of their field and their institution. Awardees work closely with our evaluation experts to make sure they meet common standards of evaluation, as well.

Q: The proposal focuses on an experimental design based on quantitative data. To what extent would a combination of a quantitative and qualitative study be welcomed?
A: We do expect the experimental or quasi-experimental design to be focused primarily on the more quantitative survey-based approach but other more qualitative angles are welcome, too.


FINANCIAL/GRANT

Q: Are there templates for the budget and budget narrative required attachments, and how do we find them?
A: These templates are available to download in the full application section in Fluid Review.
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Q: Can you share past budgets as examples? 
A: We do not provide examples of completed budgets because budgets vary depending on program design. Please use the budget template that is included as part of the full application to guide your preparation. As mentioned in the webinar, all line item costs must be included and fall under one of the already provided budget categories. Your program design will be the primary factor in developing your budget.
 
Below is a list of allowable costs. Note this is not a comprehensive list:
Salary and fringe benefits
Travel
Stipends for U.S. and International teachers directly involved in the program
Curriculum development/integration
Interpretation
Monitoring and evaluation
Internet based fees on limited basis
Communications support including website development, outreach materials, videography, and photography
Educational materials
Software or supplies such as digital cameras, webcams, laptops, etc. to support online project work
Indirect Costs

Q: Are awardees expected to propose cost share?
A: Cost share is permitted but not required.

Q: Can the requested budget amount change between the Letter of Interest round and the full application round, if the organization is invited to submit the full application?
A: Yes, though any change should be explained and justified in the full application. The budget template submitted as part of the full application asks for a detailed justification for all expenses.

Q: The application indicates that applicants cannot request more than 80% of the 2017 annual operating budget of the applying organization. If the applying organization has partners in the project with larger budgets, can the budget request be up to 80% of the partners’ budgets?
A: No. The budget request may be no more than 80% of the 2017 annual operating budget of the applying organization.

Q: For applicants outside of the United States, can the Stevens Initiative disburse funds to U.S. partners in order to avoid wire transfer fees?
A: No. Funds to organizations based outside of the United States will be disbursed only to the primary applicant.

Q: Can funds can be shared with international partner institutions?
A: Yes.

Q: To whom do awardees report over the course of the award?
A: Awardees report to the Stevens Initiative team at the Aspen Institute, which relays information to other partners (such as the U.S. Department of State) as appropriate.

Q: Do in-kind contributions or cost share count toward the calculation of cost per participant?
A: No, the cost per participant for the purpose of the application process is the amount of funding requested divided by the number of youth participants. More information about cost share will be shared at the full application stage of the award competition.

Q: Do all applicants need to conduct work for the full 27 months of the period of performance window?
A: Applicants are expected to work throughout the 27-month period. Applicants with extenuating circumstances or questions should contact the Stevens Initiative.

Q: Is it possible to include stipends for youth or educator (teacher) participants in workshops?
A: While stipends are permitted for educators or other facilitators, youth participants are not eligible to receive stipends.
Q: What is “subaward” vs. “contracts” in the budget template?
A: Generally, a subrecipient or subawardee is providing substantive, programmatic work while a contractor is providing a good or service. A subrecipient is generally an entity that carries out a portion of the program but is not considered an individual or a beneficiary of the program. If a contract is going to be greater than $150,000, you need to make sure that it is competitively bid. You should plan for the time and effort of a competitive bidding process as you're working on your general work plan, if applicable.

Q: Are there any specific restrictions on what the supplemental budget for impact evaluation is allowed and not allowed to cover?
A: Applicants should email the Stevens Initiative team to discuss any specific spending items.
 
Q: Can the funding include costs for dissemination of the outcome of the impact evaluation?
A: Limited funding and effort can be included in the plan for the impact evaluation. Keep in mind that the Stevens Initiative and its partners will lead a broader dissemination effort and will invite awardees to contribute as appropriate, so the awardee need not propose to lead a large-scale dissemination effort.
 
Q: Will the research team be allowed to use part of the funding to charge staff costs for our work?
A: Staff time and costs are permissible for the overall budget and for the impact evaluation supplement.
 
Q: If a research team is based in Europe, can funding be spent on travelling from locations in Europe to the locations of the participating schools?
A: Yes, if the research team is based in Europe, then this is an allowable cost. Regardless of the point of origin or destination, travel should be done only as necessary and should be explained and justified in the application.
 
Q: Will we be allowed to spend part of the funding on purchasing software for our study?
A: yes, the purchase of software is allowable per the grant but if any software is greater than $5,000 in unit cost, that will require our prior approval. If you are thinking of developing your own software, that is an entirely different conversation, and we generally do not feel favorable to that type of spending.
 
Q: What should recently-founded organizations do if they have fewer than three years of  financial statements? Would it be acceptable to also submit financial data to date for 2018? 
A: In these circumstances, this is acceptable. You should also submit your audited financial statements for 2016 and 2017 and provide any additional details/documentation you think might be relevant for the Stevens Initiative to assess your internal controls and financial processes.
 
Q: How will the allocated fund be distributed over the 27 months of the project duration?
A: The funds will be distributed over the project duration based on your program design. Costs should be entered under the year, within the budget detail section, in which you expect to expend those funds.  We have noticed that funding is utilized at a greater rate during periods of virtual exchange implementation because both the prime applicant and the implementing partners are incurring costs.
 
The subrecipient will be reimbursed on other a quarterly or monthly basis. The pace of payment will be determined before an agreement is signed between the subrecipient and the Aspen Institute. Advance payments are considered on a case by case basis, and if approved, the subrecipient will be expected to submit monthly financial reports to validate their spending.
 
Q: Could you please share the process to apply to Aspen for an indirect rate? 
A: Organizations seeking an indirect cost rate other than the NICRA (if the organization has a NICRA) or the 10% de minimis rate (which can be used without justification) should submit the last three years of their audited financial statements and notate the indirect cost rate they used. The following should be explained and provided: 1) requested indirect cost rate and 2) documentation supporting the requested rate and the indirect cost base used for the last three years. This information can be submitted to stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org for review.stevensinitiative@aspeninstitute.org for review.
 
Q: Can we add expense types or categories on top of 1-5 on expense detail?
A: You may add additional rows to the budget detail section, but you cannot add budget categories to the budget. If you are adding additional rows, make sure the formulas are calculating correctly in each added row and that the budget summary section includes the newly added rows.
 
Q: Can we apply indirect to either participant support or to subawards?
A: Indirect costs should be applied based on your negotiated indirect cost rate agreement (NICRA). If you do not have a NICRA, you can elect the 10% de minimis rate, which uses a Modified Total Direct Cost base (MTDC). The MTDC base means that you cannot collect indirect costs on participant support costs and only up to the first $25,000 of each subaward.
 
Q: What is the full definition of participant support?
A: Participant support costs are defined here in the Uniform Guidance. The definition is: Participant support costs means direct costs for items such as stipends or subsistence allowances, travel allowances, and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with conferences, or training projects.
 
Q: When asking for the total cost/student, should this be calculated based on the budget requested from Stevens or the total budget of the program?
A: For the purpose of the full application stage, the cost per participant should be calculated as the budget requested divided by the number of youth participants proposed.
 
Q: Relating specifically to personnel cost, are there restrictions or recommendations on how much of the overall budget should be in this budget category?
A: There are no specific restrictions on how much should be allocated to staff of the prime awardee organization. Considerations however must be made to the implementing organizations as well; personnel charges being charged to the implementing organization of the prime organization should be an appropriate representation of the work they will conduct. Charges needs to be an accurate reflection of the work that will be completed by the prime awardee.
 
Q: What does it mean that software development is not encouraged? Does this include personnel costs to work technically to integrate existing applications?
A: The Initiative does not encourage applicants or awardees to create or pay for the creation of new software or platforms for virtual exchange because there are many platforms that meet the needs of virtual exchange or can be adapted to meet a program’s need at far lower expense. Free software and pay-for-use software are both used widely by virtual exchange programs for synchronous and asynchronous communication. Limited personnel or contractor costs to integrate or adapt existing software or applications for use in a program may be appropriate and will be reviewed on a case by case basis.


THE AWARD

Q: Does the initiative offer the possibility of grant renewal for successful grantees?
A: Awardees are eligible to request new funds through future competitions. The Initiative encourages awardees to plan for other funding sources and strategies to sustain and grow the program beyond the period of Stevens Initiative support.

Q: When will applicants be notified that they are receiving a Stevens Initiative award?
A: Organizations will first be offered the opportunity to discuss and negotiate before reaching an agreement on an award with the Stevens Initiative. That process should commence late in 2018, recognizing that the process can take several weeks or in some cases months given all of the vetting and due diligence that may be involved. Organizations should know well in advance of the April 1st period of performance start date that they are on track and being considered for an award.
 
Q: How long is the maximum period of performance?
A: The maximum period of performance is 27 months, April 1, 2019, to June 30, 2021.
 
Q: As a recipient of Stevens Initiative funds, will we be required to report to Stevens Initiative on a quarterly basis or at some other times?
A: You may be required to file financial reports on an official basis on a monthly and/or quarterly basis, determined by the Stevens Initiative on a case by case basis. The progressing reporting, unless you are notified otherwise will always be on a quarterly basis. Monitoring and evaluation data will be due as attachments to quarterly progress reports at the end of any quarter when a round of virtual exchange activities ended (for example, if virtual exchange activities ended in late November, monitoring and evaluation data would be due with the Q4 report in January). The Initiative will also be in contact for frequent check-ins with awardees and expects awardees to proactively communicate with the Initiative about any issues or with any notable updates on an ongoing basis.
Q: Are the funds for this award 100 percent from the federal government?
A: Yes, 100 percent of the funds for awardees will be from the U.S. federal government.


Impact Evaluation Supplement

Q: For the impact evaluation supplement, does this need to be co-designed with the Stevens Initiative external evaluator, or by the implementer?
A: Any applicant submitting the supplement will get feedback and further prompts from the Stevens Initiative and its independent evaluator and that will be an opportunity to essentially work towards a practical plan. The applying organization should be putting forward its best ideas; if an award application and supplement are moving towards being accepted, the Stevens Initiative and its partners would provide ample input and the Initiative's independent evaluators would be substantially involved in overseeing and conducting the impact evaluation in which we would expect the awardees to take a substantial role.

Q: For applicants submitting an impact evaluation supplement, do participants in the control group count towards the total number of youth participants?
A: No, the comparison/control group members do not count toward your number of youth participants.


Questions for the Letter of Interest Phase

Q: Can an applicant participate in more than one proposal, e.g. be an applicant on one proposal and be a partner on another proposal?
A: Yes, if the proposed programs are distinct.

Q: Is the Stevens Initiative award competition open to applications from organizations that do not currently run virtual exchange?
A: Yes. Organizations that have not run virtual exchange programs may apply for a Seeding award.

Q: Can an organization submit both a seeding and a scaling proposal?
A: Yes, an organization may submit more than one Letter of Interest and they may be seeding and a scaling proposal (or both seeding or both scaling). Any set of proposals must be completely distinct from each other, and if the organization receives both awards, the organization must actually be able to conduct both sets of work.

Q: Can the Letter of Interest submission deadline be extended?
A: No. The Letter of Interest submission deadline is September 13 at 11:59 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time and cannot be extended.

Q: What if my organization wants to request a budget/number of participants/cost per participant that falls in neither the “seeding” or “scaling” categories?
A: The Stevens Initiative is only accepting Letters of Interest that fall within the budget range, the number of participant range, and the cost per participant range for either the Scaling or the Seeding awards. If you have any questions about these rules, please contact the Stevens Initiative at stevensinitiative@aspeninst.org.

Q: What is the anticipated timeline for notifying applicants of the outcome of the Letter of Interest phase?
A: The Stevens Initiative will notify applicants in October (date to be determined) of the outcome of the Letter of Interest phase.

Q: Can an organization submit more than one application?
A: Yes, if the programs are distinct, with different staff, content, budgets, participants, etc., an organization can submit more than one application.

Q: Approximately how long will those asked to submit a full proposal have to prepare the full proposal?
A: The full proposal is the second stage of the application process, which we expect it to open sometime this fall, likely in October. We expect those invited to submit a full proposal to have somewhere around five to six weeks, although that's still being finalized.

Q: Can letters of support be submitted during the Letter of Interest phase?
A: Letters of support are not expected at the Letter of Interest phase but may be attached to proposals at the full application stage.

Q: Can a student group apply for an award?
A: Student groups that are part of a college or university should approach the office on campus that handles external funding and/or student activities. The application must be from the college or university or from an eligible non-profit organization. 

Q: My small organization has been conducting virtual exchange for a year or more, but it is a small program with a low budget. Are we expected to apply for a Scaling award due to our track record?
A: Seeding awards may be more suitable for small organizations, even if those organizations have some experience conducting virtual exchange. Seeding awards are intended to help prepare virtual exchange programs to grow and improve.