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New model enhances research administration


January 23, 2009

The volume of ASU’s research has increased so significantly in recent years that the model that has been the hallmark of research administration here had to be re-invented.  

Beth Israel, associate vice president for research administration and an administrator with 35+ years experience in this area, was hired to lead the effort. 

“We charged Beth with looking for innovative ways to significantly enhance research administration at ASU,” explains Rick Shangraw, vice president for research and economic affairs. “She and her team are working closely with faculty and others to ensure greater efficiency and effectiveness in everything from grant management to compliance, and their efforts are paying off. ”

Israel and her team focused their initial attention on reinventing the Office for Research and Sponsored Projects Administration (ORSPA), an organization that had weathered providing support in a climate where ASU research expenditures increased 117 percent in just the last year.  

“In the past, when a faculty member wanted to put a proposal together, he or she went to ORSPA and asked for a sponsored project officer. That officer was responsible for creating a budget, working on a narrative and was basically tied to the proposal from beginning to end,” says Israel.

Now, with an average of ten proposals being developed each day, the system has grown into a distributed model. Following a peer review last year, Tamara Deuser, director of information management in the Office of Research & Economic Affairs, was charged with re-vamping the system. ASU’s larger research-active units have built their own research advancement teams and infrastructure to support their investigators. Following the identification of opportunities, they develop proposals and obtain required approvals. In this concentrated effort, they are able to provide significant support to their units.

“They begin looking for funding opportunities as they get familiar with their portfolios,” says Deuser. “They provide much more customized assistance to them and really are embedded as part of the team on the unit side.”

For units and departments with smaller research portfolios, Research Advancement Services (RAS) has been created as a kind of roving team that can go when and where the proposals are being generated.  In this way, the burden of grant administration is no longer on faculty – and with that kind of support, they can concentrate on growing their research. 

“What we are trying to do is create an environment for the investigators so when they are looking at bigger, better projects and multidisciplinary projects and collaborations, they’re not having to figure out multiple administrative support systems to help them along or get in their way,” says Gary Delago, assistant director, research advancement.

Since February of 2008, Research Administration has reorganized ORSPA, began the implementation of a new toolset (InfoEd software), developed a continuous improvement program, and mapped out career paths for personnel who have moved into research advancement positions. They’ve created a repository where processes and procedures reside, Single Point of Truth (spot@asu.edu) and seasoned team members can document challenging situations with different sponsors so that newer team members don’t have to reinvent the wheel. 

The overall concept is to create efficiencies and the results, thus far, have been encouraging. A seemingly endless backlog for setting up accounts has been 100 percent caught up since November. Account activations that used to take eleven days, now number seven.  Awards are distributed electronically, saving reams of paper. 

“The overall objective is to enhance the research infrastructure at ASU in order to grow $350 million in research expenditures by 2012, a goal that President Crow set out for the University,” Israel explains. “And it’s not just about expenditures. Those expenditures inspire discovery. We need to make it easier for our faculty to conduct their research and not be bogged down in administrivia.”

Shangraw says the university’s research administration system will continue to evolve in order to meet the needs of a more sophisticated research environment.