If you’re still waiting to see a forecast on grants.gov for the next round of Designation Renewal System (DRS), round 8, you are not alone! There are still not any forecasts for DRS round 8. While it can be unsettling waiting for a DRS competition (an understatement!), the extra time can also be used to your advantage.

Recently, we’ve blogged about the factors that make a difference in DRS proposal development and highlighted the importance of having a strong demonstration of need. A strong demonstration of need is inextricably linked to a comprehensive, accurate, community assessment. This is why we’ve become a broken record with the question, is your program’s community assessment DRS-ready?

Our work with grantees has provided valuable information about how to maximize DRS competitiveness with a strong community assessment. If you decide your community assessment is not DRS-ready and you’re going to undertake a community assessment pre-DRS then we encourage you to think about how these two pieces of work fit together.

Let community assessment data drive DRS discussions. When our team at Foundations for Families conducts community assessments we work closely with grantees to share data and analyses throughout the process. You might consider grouping similar types of data together. As you share data with your team and reflect about what data show, tie the discussions to DRS planning. One example is related to community resources. Per the Head Start Program Performance Standards (1302.11), one of the items your community assessment must address are resources available in the community to meet the needs of eligible children and families. As you reflect on data gathered, consider what partnerships your program has in place. Could you better leverage community resources to help meet the needs of families? What new agreements could you put in place in advance of DRS to show that you understand families’ needs and are taking steps to evolve and ensure those needs are met? This approach to letting community assessment drive DRS discussions will help lead you through your DRS program design planning and ensure that your program design is justifiable with data.

Ask the hard questions. DRS can be a time of uncertainty and it might feel uncomfortable to have to compete for your program’s grant. We’ve heard from programs in DRS that some of the most productive DRS conversations have come when the program thinks of DRS as an opportunity – an opportunity to propose the best plan to meet the needs of children and families, even if that plan differs from the way the program has operated in the past. Thus, we encourage you to use community assessment data to ask the hard questions. For example, a Head Start program might find in their community assessment that the availability of high quality slots for infants and toddlers is drastically lacking in their service area. You might ask; should we consider proposing Early Head Start slots? We’ve seen these scenarios play out with grantees. Often, addressing hard questions leads to the most fruitful discussions and competitive program designs.

Embrace community assessment not only as a requirement but as an asset. We understand that grant writing is no small task, and adding a community assessment on your team’s plate might seem impossible. Yet, having an accurate and comprehensive community assessment helps to create efficiencies. You will have the data you need for your demonstration of need. And, you will have discussed many aspects of your program in the context of community assessment data. Thus, your program design will be well on its way. This will save you time and stress during the grant writing process and, above all, will enhance the competitiveness of your proposal! 

Will you be in Atlanta next month for the Region IV Annual Training Conference & Expo? We hope you’ll join Amy Augenblick, Executive Director of Foundations for Families, on February 6th as she presents Designation Renewal System and Community Assessment: An Overview and Approach for Success. We would love to meet you in person and learn about your program.

Fingers crossed that more information about the timing of DRS round 8 comes soon! In the meantime, please feel free to reach out if we can be helpful. We would be glad to discuss the needs of your program and how we can help you to successfully navigate the DRS process.

Thank you.

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