Setting realistic budgets at the proposal stage

October 28, 2016

Setting realistic budgets at the proposal stage is important to mitigate the risk of changes that can significantly impact a project’s implementation or require additional financial contributions. In doing so, institutions can finalize awards in a more timely manner and reduce delays during the acquisition and/or construction stages.

In addition to the involvement of the research services office, some institutions include other key units during the proposal development and award finalization stages to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the budget information. For example:

  • Procurement services:  Involving this unit for significant or higher risk purchases can help ensure all necessary costs are considered and included in the budget, and that procurement timelines including tendering are discussed to avoid any surprises. In addition, this unit may also assist the project leader in obtaining specifications or pricing information from suppliers to help determine infrastructure needs and establish reliable cost estimates. They can also ensure that practices and communications at this stage will not prevent the institutions from doing a formal competitive bid process at a later stage if the proposal is funded.
  • Facilities management: This unit can help establish the scope of the work and reliable cost estimates and timelines for projects with a construction or renovation component. Consideration is also given to space, suitability and feasibility of such projects.
  • Finance services: This unit can help review the completeness and reasonability of project cost estimates, and can provide assistance in areas of expertise (e.g. taxes, foreign exchange, valuation of in-kind contributions, price escalations, etc.).
  • Division of health, safety and environment: This unit can identify the required compliance with regulatory and institutional policies that could have an impact on a project’s budget or implementation.

Here's how one institution has implemented these practices.

McGill University

McGill University involves relevant support units in the proposal development stage. The involvement of units with the required expertise ensures that key project risks and mitigating measures are identified, and that budgets and timelines presented in the proposal are reasonable and realistic.

In addition, project leaders must complete a Research equipment and space: Needs assessment form that describes the type of equipment and space that will be required. This is reviewed by the facilities management unit who determines if the project is feasible, and if so, determines the cost of the undertaking to house the equipment included in the proposal. Additional information collected through this form (e.g. identification of research involving human subjects or animals, or involving biosafety hazards) help ensure that related risks are considered and that appropriate individuals or units are involved in the early discussions.


Nathalie Foisset
Associate director - Strategic Initiatives
Office of the Vice-Principal (Research and Innovation)
Phone: 514.398.8965
Email: nathalie.foisset [at]