Effective budgeting for research

Rachel Strohm

As part of the PhD Scholars programme at Mawazo, we're developing a training curriculum on professional development for researchers.  It covers a range of research skills which are broadly applicable across disciplines, including budgeting, academic writing, navigating the publication process, and public speaking.  The training sessions are only available for participants in the Scholars programme at present, but we are committed to making all of the training materials publicly available after the sessions.

We held our first training last month on effective budgeting and financial management for research.  I developed a set of guidelines for creating budgets which are easy to understand and update, and which can used to track expenses as well.   The guidelines drew on my previous experience managing a large portfolio of research projects and their associated budgets at Innovations for Poverty Action.  I also shared examples from a previous iteration of budgeting for my own PhD research in Ghana.

There are three major principles of budgeting which shaped the guidelines.

  • Explain your cost assumptions clearly.  Funders want to see that you've come up with reasonable cost estimates.  Documenting them clearly helps to establish the credibility of your estimates.
  • Provide lots of detail about your activities and calculations.  A budget doesn't have to simply be a list of costs.  It can also include a description of your research question, a project timeline, and information about how you carried out your calculations.  This helps funders to understand why each expense is necessary for your work.  A budget narrative can be used to provide additional detail as well.
  •   Let Excel do the work for you.  Excel has lots of features that make it easy to automatically update the values in your budget; handle complex calculations; and keep large budgets organised.  Taking advantage of them will make your budget look professional.

The training documents are below.  They are free for anyone to download, modify, and use.