Pre-Award Research Administration Infrastructure: Current Practices and Future Directions
Wolfe, Erica M.
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Competition for federal research funding is increasing as federal funds allotted for research lag behind the growing demand. Reducing administrative burdens on research faculty would allow more time for faculty to conduct research and seek out additional funding for new research projects. Research administration needs to be efficient in order for universities to remain competitive. The structure of an organization impacts both strategic decision making and organizational functions. However, current practices regarding organizational structure and trends in pre-award research administration are not well documented. The objective of this capstone project was to collect data on the current pre-award research administration organizational structures and functions at institutions similar to Johns Hopkins University. The data was analyzed to identify which models are most effective or lead to better outcomes in pre-award research management. A survey distributed to fifteen institutions was used to collect data for the capstone project. Six institutions completed the survey, which was a 40% response rate. Of the six institutions that completed the survey, three of the institutions reported using a hybrid structure for research administration, two institutions reported using a centralized structure for research administration, and one institution reported using a decentralized structure for research administration. The two most commonly reported metrics on the survey for evaluating pre-award research management were turnaround time and workload per staff. However, it was difficult to use these metrics to compare the efficiency of administrations at different institutions to each other. Part of the difficulty comparing different research administration infrastructures and pre-award research management outcomes is that standard measures fail to account for differences in operational procedures, complexities involved in certain types of proposals, and institutional goals. iii There were many similarities between the institutions surveyed, as expected, yet none of the pre-award research administrations functioned identically. Overall, the type of research administration structure alone did not appear to influence the function or efficiency of the different institutions. Additional literature and case studies indicated that the skilled and sufficient research administration staff has a greater impact on the efficiency of research administration than the organizational structures or processes. Improving pre-award research administrative functions often required improving communication and working relationships between research administrators and faculty. The best organizational structure for pre-award research administration depends on the needs, culture, and goals of the specific institution. However, it is not the structures themselves that determine success, rather the proper implementation and management of these structures. Based on the capstone project results, institutional efforts to improve pre-award research administration will likely lead to novel hybrid structures instead of purely centralized or decentralized organizational structures.