ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN NSF & UNIVERSITY RESEARCH ADMINISTRATION OFFICES FOR R & D DATA COLLECTION
Nemerous federal agencies are preparing for expanded electronic communications with universities. This article describes an attempt on the part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to assess one aspect of that information exchange, i.e., ways to improve the speed and accuracy of data collection by federal agencies from universities. Although only Phase I of the project was completed because of funding problems, the issues surrounding electronic data collection have important implications for university research administrators.
The National Science Foundation is a major user of information collected from colleges and universities. It plays an important role in support of science and engineering research and education in the United States and is responsible for collecting accurate information for several major purposes, two of which are reporting to Congress and to the citizens of the United States on issues related to science and engineering and analyzing issues of importance to those responsible for the establishment of U.S. science and engineering policy.
Over the past several years, there have been discussions about the quality of university data collected by the NSF. For example, department in a university on the NSF list of the top 100 institutions in total federal obligations reported research and development (R&D) expenditure figures of $1.0 million on one survey and $3.0 million on another survey for the same fiscal year. It should be noted that even though these surveys were requesting the same information, they were doing so for different purposes and the data were being collected by different organizations. This type of R&D expenditure reporting by universities raises serious questions at NSF and elsewhere regarding the reliability of R&D data reported by universities. It has been posited that NSF has not always acquired the kind of quality information it desired because the wrong office and/or individual was asked to provide the information and the questions required that data be provided in forms different from those in which they were collected.
The Proposed Study
In late 1987, the NSF funded a project through Consad, Inc. to J. Rodman and Associates to develop and demonstrate a system for electronic data collection between NSF and university research administration offices. Of particular concern were the following issues: (1) Are the questions that are currently being asked the correct ones; (2) are the most proper organizational entities being questioned; (3) are there better ways to collect information from universities; (4) is on-line data collection from universities feasible with today's computing technology; and (5) is it possible to collect data requested by NSF from one single source within a university? As originally designed, the major purposes of the project were to develop a set of appropriate R&D questions (with NSF's assistance), to select an electronic communication system, and to demonstrate the system's effectiveness by on-line response to several questions each month. With regard to the third purpose, it was anticipated that the questions generated by the project team and NSF would be issued electronically and responded to at a rate of from five to ten questions per month until the questions were exhausted.
An ideal, long-term accomplishment of this project would be the development of a system to collect accurate and consistent data from universities on an annually scheduled basis. The research administrator would be the instutional official interfacing with the NSF for such an effort and would maintain the responsibility for directing the data gathering effort. Research administration has matured over the past 35 years and taken on important institutional cross-cutting responsibility which may now be useful to the NSF. …