Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

A Conceptual Framework for the Future of Successful Research Administration

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

A Conceptual Framework for the Future of Successful Research Administration

Article excerpt

Introduction

Historically, research administrators have largely been reactive to their environment. They reviewed proposals rather than creating them. They channeled proposals through the bureaucratic process rather than championing them toward award status. Recently, research administration has seen dramatic changes that affect fundamental aspects of the research administrator's role. Research administrators have become key participants in funded research strategic planning and leaders at the department, college, and university levels in attracting and managing external research dollars. The expanding nature of the research administrator position is attributable to increases in sponsored research dollars, competitiveness for those dollars, complexity of meeting sponsor funding requirements, and accountability for managing research dollars. To achieve success in obtaining funding, research administrators must be knowledgeable in numerous areas-accounting, law, technology, academic content, clinical trials, economic trends, public and social policy, and global issues. Likewise, institutions must recognize research administrators as valuable assets, and be willing to incorporate non-academics into the top levels of institutional strategic planning.

This paper presents a conceptual framework for the future of research administration based on six cornerstones of effective management: Mission, Information, Communication, Collaboration, Transition or Transformation, and Outcomes. This model serves to assist both the seasoned research administrator and someone new to the field. The cornerstones also contain key strategies that institutional officials can adapt to their needs, level of resources, and funding goals.

Historical Context

A 1945 report to President Franklin Roosevelt by Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, defended the government's increases in scientific investment and the existence of what would become the National Science Foundation (NSF). While Bush's report was not a blueprint for research administration, it nevertheless contains clues for the establishment and success of the field.

Bush identified medical schools and universities as primarily responsible for basic research, and uniquely positioned to improve society via ideals he considered germane: 1) diffusion and flow of scientific knowledge (including the international exchange of ideas); 2) application of basic research to particular problems (applied research); 3) discovering and developing talent in youth; and thus, 4) full employment.

While not specifically mentioning research administration, Bush recognized that, to achieve these goals, a group of professionals would be needed to ensure the continued flow of scientific research.

The Conceptual Framework

The framework is based on six cornerstones essential to pre- and post-award research administration: Mission, Information, Communication, Collaboration, Transition or Transformation, and Outcomes. This framework proposes that a unit's ability to apply these cornerstones and adapt its operations appropriately will help it determine its level of success in achieving goals. A unit may be defined as broadly as a central office or as narrowly as a department.

Mission

A Mission is central to the function of any entity, and may consist of single or multiple components. Institutions of higher education (IHEs) have multi-tiered missions because their purposes are so complex. The challenge for IHEs is to transition from a more traditional mission to one that addresses the changing nature of society and the communities they serve. Society expects IHEs not only to educate and develop future leaders, but to lead in critical research areas and technological development (as evidenced by the increasing numbers of university-industry partnerships). Further, IHEs are increasingly expected to practice civic responsibility, both locally and globally. …

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