Consumer review

To ensure that the programs you fund meet the needs of consumers, you should involve consumers in reviewing grant applications. Consumers, after all, are the people who are ultimately intended to benefit from your grants program. Their needs should not be confused with someone else's perception of those needs. Consumer review can also improve transparency and accountability and lead to more effective policy and program design and implementation.

What is it?

Increasingly, grantmakers require that grantseekers' proposals are reviewed by the people whom a grant is intended to benefit. There are various ways this can happen. It can mean consumer representatives sit on the grantmaking committees that decide which proposals are funded, for example. It can also mean grantseekers consult with consumers when preparing funding applications.

Formal consumer involvement in the grantmaking process is most common in the field of medical research. However, the potential benefits are equally applicable and valuable in other areas, such as education and environment.

Why should you consider it?

  • To ensure that the concerns of end users are reflected in the programs you fund (e.g. to ensure that cancer patients' concerns are reflected in cancer research programs).
  • To satisfy the moral and democratic right of consumers to be involved in decisions that affect them.
  • To improve transparency and community accountability of decision making processes.
  • To improve policy and program design and implementation by:
    • identifying consumer issues that need to be addressed;
    • improving the design and targeting of strategies;
    • influencing the content of education and training programs;
    • influencing reporting requirements to ensure a consumer perspective is considered as part of government decision making;
    • influencing the content of key government policies;
    • contributing to a cultural shift regarding consumer participation in policy and program development;
    • changing rhetoric and terminology to reflect consumer experience.

Most of these benefits were identified by a 2010 study by the Consumers Health Forum of Australia: An Analysis of the Contribution of Health Consumer Representatives to Medical Decisions and Outcomes.

How do you implement it?

  • You can stipulate consumer review conditions on your grant application forms.
  • Consumer review has its costs; it is necessary to adopt formal procedures as well as changing your forms.
  • You might choose to write consumer review criteria to guide consumers' contribution to your assessment process.
  • You may then find it necessary to produce guidelines to assist with the use of the criteria.
  • Training will probably be required, particularly where people have little or no experience in assessing grants.
  • It is essential to get the right people on board: failing to do so would undermine the whole point of the exercise.