Arts Council England is preparing to “make changes to Grantium where we can”, including an improved user interface, but the upgrade is currently on hold due to Coronavirus pressures.
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Improvements to Arts Council England’s (ACE) dysfunctional grant application system, Grantium, have been put on hold due to the Covid-19 crisis: a new version of the software was planned for later this year. But the delay means the experiences of applicants for ACE’s emergency funds can now be taken into account in future development of the platform. An ACE spokesperson told AP: “We have provided Grantium’s owners with the feedback we’ve received on the system so that they can look at that as part of the new version.”
That feedback has been explosive, with applicants venting their frustration on Twitter as very heavy demand for ACE’s Covid-19 emergency funding put extra pressure on the already discredited portal.
13,688 applications were submitted over a three-week period – the greatest number of applications ever held on the system at one time. On average, 14,000 applications are submitted in a whole year for both National Lottery Project Grants and individual grants to the Developing Your Creative Practice scheme.
Despite ACE encouraging applicants to submit well before the last minute, around 20-25% made their online submissions in the final two hours before the funds closed.
In its Data Report on the distribution of its emergency funding ACE said: “We’re glad that the system managed the volume of applications, but also understand that there are aspects of Grantium that can make it difficult to use.”
“The best system”
The aim is for Son of Grantium to be more intuitive, with an improved user interface. Although previous upgrades have never succeeded in resolving the system’s accessibility, rather than change suppliers ACE says it will “make changes to Grantium where we can” and hopes to be able to confirm a launch date soon.
A spokesperson said the decision to continue with current platform was because “there are only a handful of grant management system suppliers” and ACE believes Grantium is the best system because “it allows us to launch programmes in a short amount of time.”
They told AP that Grantium compares favourably with ACE’s previous grant system, Arena, which was launched in 2006, and said with the old system it “would take at least three months for us to launch a new funding scheme”. Grantium, however, meant ACE was able “very quickly to launch the emergency response funds”. But they admitted “we do realise that this is of little comfort to applicants who found the process stressful and we are taking their comments very seriously.”
ACE started using Grantium in 2016, but despite continual complaints from users ever since, has always refused to abandon it, saying a formal evaluation of the platform would only lead to improvements in the portal.
But attempts to improve it have yet to succeed, and following a 2019 consultation on its 10-year strategy, ACE conceded that its funding portal is seen within the sector as a failure.
Such have been the scale and nature of the portal’s failings that ACE's customer support lines have been overwhelmed and it has had to produce various work-arounds, including guidance documents to walk users through the application process. Would-be applicants to the three Coronavirus emergency funds were also pointed to a video on how to use Grantium and given MS Word templates of the application form to enable them to work offline at their own pace before moving onto Grantium itself.