Running a research administration team can sometimes feel like an uphill battle, especially if you struggle with outmoded processes, convoluted organizational structures and a lack of engagement from the research community. Fortunately, conducting a comprehensive process review stands to drastically improve all three of those situations.
That said, while running a process review can be hugely beneficial, it’s no walk in the park. In order to come through not just unscathed, but stronger for it, you want to know what you’re walking into. Below, we’ve outlined some time-honored strategies that will prepare you to leap boldly into the fray.
Circle The Wagons: Internal Roundtables
Responsible Parties: Entire Research Administration Staff (ideally pre- and post-award)
Your first responsibility is to muster your troops. Before you can make any decisions about how best to change things, you need to have a good understanding of how they stand. Call your team together for a series of roundtables. You want to give everyone the opportunity to explain what their responsibilities are and how they fit into the overall research administration picture.
Using these discussions, work on building a comprehensive workflow map for your office. Detail the path your proposals take, tracking them starting the moment they come through the front door. Having each step of your workflow visually represented makes it easy to identify gaps, eliminate redundant effort, and substantially improve the communication within your research administration team.
Plan Your Attack: Strategy Meetings
Responsible Parties: Process Review Task Force
If your first step was gathering intel, your next is to pare it down to what’s actionable. Assemble a small team of people who will be spearheading the process review, and start going through your data. What gaps or redundancies did your roundtables reveal? What parts of your process are the least efficient? What changes—big and small—need to be made in order to resolve these issues?
The answers to those questions will give you your priorities for the process review. But just as important as articulating your goals is articulating the timeframe by which you hope to achieve them, as well as the metrics by which you will be measuring your progress. As with most of these steps, your strategy meetings should be ongoing—regular check-ins with your leadership team will help to keep things on track.
Conduct Focused Reconnaissance: Pilot Program(s)
Responsible Parties: One Carefully Chosen Department
Once you’ve set down a clear strategy for your process changes, it’s time to start field-testing. The key to running a good pilot program is finding the right test group. Identify a guinea pig department that is small, well-organized and active in the research community. When reaching out, be as up front as possible about your timeline and your expectations.
To get things rolling, you want to sit down with the key people in the department and walk them through the changes they’ll be testing out. Stress that the purpose of the pilot program is to collect feedback that will be used guide the broader roll out. Do everything you can to create an atmosphere where the participants feel comfortable giving criticism—the more information you can get at this stage, the more smoothly the changeover will go.
Launch a Full-Scale Campaign: Education & Outreach
Responsible Parties: Research Community as a Whole
With plans finalized and people in place, you’re ready to implement your changes. At this stage, getting the community to adopt your changes will come down, in the end, to winning hearts and minds. To earn their buy in, you need to get in front of the research community as much as possible while you’re introducing your changes.
Promote your services across your organization with lunch & learns and hands-on workshops. Use the workflow map you created early on to clear up any confusion about what your office does, and how exactly you do it. Orchestrate concentrated marketing efforts that educate the community about the various ways you’re there to help. Remember that this is an opportunity to not only announce changes but also remind people of any little-used resources that are available to them.
Celebrate Your Victories: Goals & Growth
Responsible Parties: Research Administration Staff
Though the first few months may be rough, once you’re through the worst of it, you’ll find some time to regroup and start tracking your progress. Since you’ll be using the metrics you set up in your strategy meetings, you’ll be able to tell when you start to meet your milestones. Make sure you share those triumphs with your entire research administration team, so everyone knows that their sacrifices have not been in vain.
Of course, process reviews are never complete, not really. Research administration processes are constantly in flux, at the mercy of needs and preferences, shifting priorities and changing policies. But if you start off your next process review with these tactics in hand, you’ll find you’ve already won half the battle.
Special thanks to Harmony Van Valkenberg and Mandy Norman at Spectrum Health for sharing their experiences with their office’s recent process review as a basis for this post. If you’ve ever undertaken a process review in your organization, we’d love to hear any advice you have! Please share in the comments section below.