Research administration is an academic support function that facilitates research activity through the administration of grant applications for internal and external resources. As such, the mission of the responsible unit must closely align with the strategic plan of the university. By linking the activities of the Office of Research Administration with the larger mission of the university, research administrators can successfully negotiate for a larger fraction of university resources. Likewise, by explicitly distinguishing the relative importance of funded research, the university can more successfully recognize and celebrate faculty accomplishments.
Successful strategic planning centers on establishing realistic goals and developing workable strategies for attaining those goals. By focusing on its core competencies and central mission, the unit can readily establish a short list of major goals. Creating a limited list of strategies for each goal then sets work priorities for the unit.
Assessing success at attaining goals is essential not only for annual evaluation but also for reforming and evolving the strategic plan. By fostering a process of continual assessment and planning, the university can create a culture of strategic thinking and strategic management within the office of research administration. Such a cultural change is of great benefit in the face of increasing competition for internal and external resources.
Creating a Strategic Plan for Research Administration
A vast literature on the process and pitfalls of strategic planning exists (e.g., Besanko, Dranove, & Shanley, 2003; Bryson & Alston, 1995; Dudik, 2000; Fogg, 1994; Kaplan & Norton, 1996, 2000; Kotter, 1996; Napier, Sanaghan, Sidle, & Saraghan, 1997; Wootton & Horne, 2002), and any basic reference can prove helpful when undertaking strategic planning for research administration. In the fall of 2000, Purdue University undertook a comprehensive, systemwide, strategic planning initiative. As part of that process, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) developed a campus-wide strategic plan that the Trustees of Purdue University approved in November of 2001 (IPFW, 2003a). A significant outcome of the plan was the creation of the Office of Research and External Support (ORES). Previously, research support services had been a somewhat neglected function of the Office of Academic Affairs. Creation of a new research administration organization demanded undertaking a comprehensive strategic planning effort. A completed plan would then serve as an operational foundation for this newly created unit, as well as a guide for future growth of the organization. Presented below is an outline of the strategic planning process ORES used to create a strategic plan closely paralleling the IPFW strategic plan. Throughout the discussion, examples are presented from the ORES plan. While the sequence of steps presented below worked at IPFW, alternative processes might be equally successful. Success is determined by how open the planning process is and how extensively the completed plan links to performance review and budget planning.
One of the keys to successful strategic planning is establishing a solid foundation for the process (e.g., Napier et al., 1997; Wootton & Horne, 2002). This initial step consists of several related tasks, the first of which is creating an organizational profile. Developing a clear understanding of how the process of research administration is organized, who has responsibility for specific tasks, as well as the relationships between the organization, its faculty clients, and its administrative supervisors combine to establish a complete snapshot of the current organization. From this information, the reasons for undertaking strategic planning are addressed by summarizing specific issues or challenges as well as identifying the data required to guide the planning process. …