Why Grant Management is Important in Australian Local Councils (and can AI help?)

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Local councils are the backbone of Australian communities, and securing grants is essential for their financial health. Effective grant management is therefore not just a necessity but a lifeline.

In this article, we’ll dive into the challenges faced by local councils in managing grants, explore strategies for success, and discuss the future of grant management, including the game-changing role of AI.

Challenges faced by local councils in grant management

We know Local Government Authorities (LGA) across Australia heavily rely on grants, with an average of 17% of their revenue stemming from this source.

This figure, however, is deceiving because rural LGAs can see dependency rates of up to 60%. The main hurdle? A lack of centralised resources for grant management.

The ongoing struggle faced by councils due to the decentralisation of information, with data scattered across multiple systems and individuals, creates a lack of awareness within the organisation of what grants they’ve applied for and where it’s going.

This can lead to unintentional pitfalls, such as councils unknowingly submitting multiple applications for the same grant, putting their chances of success in jeopardy (a true story from a NSW council we spoke to).

What are the main challenges preventing councils from effective grant management?

  1. Complex & Inconsistent Requirements:
    • To apply for grants, applicants have to navigate different rules and reporting requirements that can be overwhelming for council staff, especially if grant administration is not their core responsibility. The lack of consistency between what each funding body wants in an application means work is not easily duplicated, and applying for grants becomes a daunting task for under-resourced councils.
  2. Interdepartmental Communication:
    • Poor communication between departments can result in inconsistent grant handling and missed opportunities.
  3. Limited Resources:
    • Councils may lack the necessary staff, processes or expertise to manage large sums of incoming funding efficiently, leading to visibility gaps.
  4. Key Person Risk:
    • Grant funding knowledge and processes often live inside the heads of certain council employees. Without diligent documentation or systematisation through grant management software, that knowledge is immediately lost when the employee leaves.
  5. Technological Constraints:
    • Outdated systems, tech skills and internal ownership can impede the grant application process and the tracking of funds.

What does it take to be successful in grant management?

Addressing these challenges head-on is crucial, especially given the ongoing recovery efforts post-COVID and various natural disasters.

In speaking to our CEO, Dan Pritchard, about what’s stopping councils from doing a better job at grant management, he highlights the need to move beyond short-term thinking, particularly in disaster recovery and major infrastructure projects.

Councils such as Edward River Council saw value in using grant management software like SurePact to help track, analyse, and report back on the $11 mil of funding they received in their flood recovery projects after the southern New South Wales floods in 2022. In doing so, they’ve streamlined the reporting process while maintaining accountability and visibility that the funding is spent responsibly.

The importance of adopting a long-term view, like Edward River Council has, and the option to secure guaranteed ongoing funding is crucial for sustainable development.

The future of grant management: Where does AI come in?

Since we’re a company that makes software, the notion of integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) into grant management is an obvious step to take in the coming years.

Dan’s opinion of how AI, specifically AI GPT’s, can help grant applicants is in streamlining the grant application process by finding and centralising sources of grant funding.

The search for appropriate grants to apply for is a time-consuming and very manual task; so it’s an obvious one we should be able to automate with AI. By training GPT’s on an organisation’s strategy and funding parameters, we should be able to simplify the identification of suitable opportunities for poorly resourced organisations who rely heavily on grant funding.

While AI’s ability to identify potential funding sources can be a game-changer, it also raises questions about the level of human interaction in the application process.

“When you consider that a lot of those grant applications will then actually be assessed by AI, you could quite easily end up with a situation with AI-generated responses being assessed by AI before they ever get to a human being, which is I think kind of inevitable,” Dan remarks.

“I think a decision needs to be made as to how much human interaction there needs to be in the grant application process.

“Where I do think AI is going to play a really strong role is in bringing new tools into grant portfolios for organisations. So we will be able to use AI to do natural language processing and analysis to identify areas of improvement.”

One of the newest features we’ve introduced within SurePact is our ‘Ask SurePact’ natural language processing and data analysis search. By typing in a straightforward phrase of what you want to see, SurePact can now surface any available data as a table or graph.

Where to from here?

In conclusion, grant management is not just a bureaucratic necessity; it’s a lifeline for local councils striving to build resilient communities. The challenges highlighted here demand thoughtful consideration and proactive steps.

Does your council also struggle with a broken grant management process?

At SurePact, we’re passionate about being a strategic ally for councils who want to better navigate the complexities of managing the millions they receive through grant funding each year responsibly, while also providing the necessary tools and training to set them up for success.

Curious about whether our grant management software is suitable for your council? Connect with our team today to see how it works

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