Sponsored research is booming, but it’s not without challenges, especially for research administrators. These challenges can lead to frustrated employees and high turnover, which in turn affect the quality and speed of research. So how can your organization overcome hurdles to ensure positive outcomes for both your employees and the project?
We’ll explore solutions to improve the employee experience by addressing the obstacles they face along the way.
Market changes influencing research administration
In the past decade, funding for sponsored research has seen massive growth. Even before the pandemic, many research organizations sought new ways to optimize processes that would enable them to scale their research portfolios. The pandemic provided a powerful impetus, prompting administrators to accelerate innovation, challenge the status quo, and create new opportunities.
To gain a clearer perspective on the current state of research administration, Cayuse conducted a global industry benchmark report. Now in its second year, the report reveals a picture of recovery and growth supported by innovative solutions and processes.
In 2021, half of the survey respondents were bracing for an increase in workload. This prediction proved correct in 2022, with 84% of those surveyed noting an increase in workload over the past year, 57% of whom classified that increase as significant.
In the midst of navigating growth and opportunity, survey participants also noted their anticipated barriers within the next 12-18 months. The most common anticipated barriers participants noted included staffing constraints, inefficient processes, limited budget, and time constraints.
With the right technology solution, research administration teams can overcome these challenges and optimize the entire research lifecycle within their organization.
Emerging challenges in research administration
With a rapidly growing research industry, we’ve already seen new challenges introduced and existing issues exacerbated. Researchers face numerous complex challenges related to funding, compliance, institutional demands, and administrative needs.
As noted in the 2022 benchmark report, research administration professionals report they simply do not have enough time to do everything required of them. According to a 2018 Federal Demonstration Partnership survey, “PIs reported that almost half of their available research time for federal projects had to be allocated to fulfilling requirements instead of focusing on the content of their research projects.”
This problem is caused by an intersection of different challenges in research, including:
- Administrative burden. The Ex Libris Research Advisory Council found that researchers spent nearly 45% of their time on administrative tasks. This administrative burden pulls them from more important tasks and makes other challenges even more difficult to surmount.
- Cross-team collaboration. Collaboration across teams can be a struggle, particularly if manual tasks and reporting slow processes down and build tension between departments.
- Funding. Finding and submitting funding requests comprises a massive component of any research department’s output every year.
- Data. Research teams report that one of their top challenges is successfully demonstrating impact with data. Data is often manually reviewed or difficult to mine for insights, and reporting can be slow.
- Legacy systems. Many research organizations are still operating with legacy technology that may not be able to keep pace with the workloads teams currently face.
These challenges can lead to higher burnout and turnover, crippling our ability to work at the level needed for growth.
How technology supports improved employee satisfaction and overall experience
Each of these challenges can be resolved to some degree with better technology solutions. Automation, cloud-based infrastructure, and next-generation data and analytics reduce administrative burden and optimize the research process, end to end.
For example, electronic research administration (eRA) technology can:
- Improve transparency in your program. Software solutions provide visibility into your data so you can see which protocols need review and the status of any project. You can easily collect documents, assign tasks, and monitor progress.
- Automate repetitive tasks. Manual data entry, photocopies, and spreadsheets can be labor-intensive and time-consuming to manage. Digital workflows, checklists, and databases streamline the process of tracking, monitoring, and reporting.
- Improve collaboration and communication. With new communication technologies, research teams can seamlessly connect and collaborate on projects, eliminating bottlenecks from manual approvals.
- Enable greater focus on strategic priorities. When research teams aren’t burdened by daily administrative tasks, they can focus on more creative and strategic priorities.
Denver Health leveraged the Cayuse platform to resolve challenges exactly like those listed above. They reduced proposal errors, increased the speed of proposal preparation and submission, and eliminated back-and-forth time spent by staff on communication. “Before Cayuse, it would take me three weeks to pull data from each individual file [for reporting],” says Amanda Breeden, Director of Sponsored Programs and Research. Now, Amanda has real-time access to data, error checking, and powerful analytics right at her fingertips.
Another example of the boost technology gives to processes and employee satisfaction comes from Chapman University. Researchers at Chapman were stuck using spreadsheets and printing out PDFs and couldn’t maintain their processes with the amount of growth they were facing. Facing a three-year research and development increase of 164%, they needed to streamline processes. After adopting the Cayuse platform, Jill Borland, Director of Sponsored Projects Services, reported, “Cayuse is cutting our proposal preparation time in half.” The Cayuse platform also reduced the time needed to file a conflict of interest (COI) disclosure from 20+ minutes to 1-2 minutes, increased transparency, and improved faculty satisfaction.