Web Conferencing Helps Applicants Navigate Federal Grant Process Finding the Money Stock art

numerous complaints about the complicated federal grant process.

"There are just so many steps you have to take, and there are all these deadlines. Like any good government agency, the site offers tons and tons of verbiage explaining everything," Fischer said, adding that the text often reads like a legislative bill.

Fischer said no good tool previously existed for learning remotely the ropes of Grants.gov.

"Before the WebEx tool, if I had contacted Grants.gov, the best I probably would have gotten would have been a conference call. The conference call would be somewhat limited in that there would be no visuals," she said. " You could do a 'follow along' over the phone, but you wouldn't really know if you were in the right place because the teacher wouldn't be able to see where the person who was lost was looking. Web conferencing adds a visual element to training from a distance."

Opportunity Revealed

Government Technology contacted Sacramento County, Calif., offices for insight on why their Grants.gov users hadn't scheduled Web conferences. Karen Olson, health program coordinator for the county, said she was currently struggling with Grants.gov.

"I'm finding it a little bit challenging to know exactly what forms to fill out. I'm not familiar with all of the numbers and information they're asking for on the forms," Olson said, adding that she also had trouble finding grants on the site's search function, even when she entered the grant identification numbers.

Olson hadn't heard of the WebEx feature but was eager to schedule a meeting after learning about it.

"I will definitely look into it," Olson said. " I do think it sounds helpful."

She had attended a few of the preorganized occasional webcasts open to all Grants.gov users that explain fresh news.

"Those are useful if there is a question-and-answer session," Olson said.

However, the less known private request Web conference gives users the meeting to themselves. The entire conference is devoted to that user's issues, and he or she doesn't have to sit through inapplicable questions.

Potential Improvements

Pellegrino begins the Web conferences with a PowerPoint presentation. Then he goes live into the Web site, shows attendees where to find important information and answers questions. Fischer said she discussed with Pelligrino the possibility of expanding the Web conference to enable breakout discussions for various topics. Users would click into whichever discussion group topic interested them, and Pellegrino would move among groups and aid the discussions. Grants.gov hasn't announced plans to make those changes, but it's a possibility.

Fischer is a trainer herself and prefers in-person training.

"It's still a bit of a sterile environment, but for crying out loud, for an hour, you get the information you need, and to get on with life, it's fine," Fischer said. "I wouldn't do a daylong training program in that sterile environment. I would rather hammer my toes."

"I think this is just the beginning. Pretty soon we're going to have Michael coming in holographic form teaching classes," Fischer joked. "Let's keep supporting the technology because it's going to get there and it will make us virtual people in essence."

Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.