Research administration workstream

The research administration functional review will define the people, processes, and technologies required to implement the new operating model for research administration services across the university. A restructured and agile, university-wide network of research administration services will ensure cost-efficient, responsive, professional, and effective resources and services.

The SET research administration stream seeks to describe effective administrative support that the university will be able to provide to the research community. It does not prescribe research leadership roles (such as the A/VDR role) nor the governance of research, but it may provide information and recommendations that help to ensure that service provision is compatible with academic leadership structures. It provides a common delivery model for all administrative support to operate "in sync" while optimizing increasingly scarce resources. It is also about providing the resources to researchers across the institution to ensure equal access to the same types of services and an equitable level of support.

Throughout administrative restructuring and transitioning, our research administration objectives, as outlined in the Vice-President (Research and Innovation (VPRI) Portfolio Strategic Plan remain:

  • Develop and foster an environment that helps researchers and innovators do their best work.
  • Enhance, integrate and align infrastructure and resources to avoid duplication and silos.
  • Optimize services and streamline processes; making it easier to access VPRI Portfolio knowledge and services.
  • Increase capacity for research, entrepreneurship, and commercialization.
VPRI's role in research operation at the university

U of A Integrated Research enterprise

  • Project scope: Research Administration (Delivered by VPRI Portfolio according to university policies and procedures, best practices and external requirements): Services in grant development support, funding sources, negotiations, fund management, technology transfer, ethics, clinical trials regulatory processes, etc.
    • Shared with Research Operations:
      • Resource sharing
      • Best practices
      • Funding
      • Efficiencies
  • Research Operations (Supported by academic units (colleges/faculties/departments) according to university administrative procedures and the logistical requirements of the work): Lab shared services, internal research administrative matters, research capacity inventory, lab space/infrastructure allocation, library, logistics, equipment, etc.
    • Shared with Research:
      • HR/financial transactions
      • Communications
      • Personnel/space resourcing
      • SOPs
  • Research (Undertaken by faculty members and the people they supervise, including trainees and staff consistent with university requirements, operating environment and scholarly standards): Discovery and inquiry, publications, presentation, scientific reporting.
    • Shared with Research Administration:
      • Policies/procedures
      • Joint reporting
      • Compliance
  • Shared by all
    • Project management support
    • ADR/VDR

The following diagram outlines the role of the research service partners. Depending on the task, they will provide advice, support the delivery and navigation of processes, resolve issues, and train research administration personnel. Along with the new help desk in VPRI, they will connect the research community with the various services provided by the VPRI Portfolio and provide support to the researchers and innovators that allow them to do their best work.

graphic showing relationship of new administrative structures within the research administration stream

Diagram explaining the research administration workstream administrative operating model:

  • Research and research operations happen at the college, faculty, or department-level, supported by the research administrative function, making up the research community.
  • A member of the U of A research community (staff, faculty, or student) makes requests to one of two service entry-points:
    • Service partners (embedded within the academic units, they are the proactive liaison officers between the VPRI portfolio and the academic units):
      • Possible roles held: Advising, Delivering, Navigating, Resolving, and Training
      • Staff and faculty make requests of service partners (embedded in colleges and faculties).
      • The service partners work with the Centres of Expertise to process the requests.
      • Then service partners communicate back to the community member with a solution/answer.
    • Help Desk (timely response to inquiries from the research community and the public):
      • Staff and faculty, or members of the public, make requests of the Help Desk.
      • The Help Desk either resolves the request immediately or works with the Centres of Expertise to process the request.
      • Then the Help Desk communicates back to the community member with a solution/answer.
    • The Centres of Expertise provide services by the VPRI portfolio to colleges/faculties/departments to support the university’s research and innovation mission. In research administration, they are made up of the following teams:
      • Researcher Development and Success
      • Research Certification and Oversight
      • Research Strategy, Training, and Skills Development
      • Research Administrative Services
      • Technology Transfer and Commercialization

Please view the VPRI Portfolio service offering here for more information on the role of the service partner for each service.


Latest updates


Research administration stream approach

The research administration stream is divided into three phases: discover, prepare, and transition. The purpose of discovery is to gather information on the research administration processes and staff activities that are currently being done at the faculty/unit level. This provides the means to identify opportunities for optimization in processes and to streamline service deliveries. 

In the prepare phase, the focus is to analyze the functional needs and identify gaps in research administration services and staff activities. Lastly, the transition phase will focus on developing and implementing transition plans to align the delivery of research administrative services with the new operating model.

Overview of research administration timeline

  • Discover Phase (February to April 2021): Information Gathering. Understand research admin processes and activities across the institution, identify opportunities for optimization and streamline service deliveries.
    • Discovery Workbook
  • Prepare Phase (April to June 2021): Impact Analysis. Synthesize the collected information, analyze the functional needs and identify gaps in research admin services, and prioritize processes to support the new organizational structure.
    • Analyze and Validate
    • Begin Plan
  • Transition Phase (June to November 2021): Transition. Develop and implement transition plans to align the delivery of research admin services with the new operating model.
    • Finish Plan mid-August

Career opportunities

To view upcoming position opportunities in research administration, please check the SET Position Opportunities Page (otherwise known as “POP”) regularly. Once a position has been finalized and the competition launched, you can apply to it on the U of A Careers page.


Membership

The research administration stream consists of the following project team members:

  • Aminah Robinson Fayek — Vice-President (Research and Innovation) — Executive Sponsor, Initiative Lead
  • Steve Patten — Interim Dean, Faculty of Arts — Executive Sponsor
  • Katharine Moore  — Chief of Staff, Initiative Lead
  • Denis Fortin — Project Manager & HR Specialist
  • Esther Yeung  — Business Analyst
  • Melanie Keizer — Organizational Designer
  • Oliver Rossier — Change Management Specialist
  • Paul Taylor — Strategic Advisor
  • Zac Ashkanasy — Strategic Advisor

Consultation and engagement events

  • May - August, 2021: Process mapping consultations sessions with VPRI staff
  • April 23, 2021: Ask SET Anything: Research Administration Edition
  • March 23 - April 21, 2021: Held focus groups, consultation and Q&A sessions with key stakeholders 
  • March 18, 2021: Presentation to VPRI portfolio staff
  • March 16 and 19, 2021: Discovery workbook support sessions
  • March 11, 2021: Discovery workbook kick off meeting
  • March 8, 2021: Discovery Q&A sessions (2 sessions)
  • March 5, 2021:  Discovery Q&A sessions (3 sessions)
  • March 3 and 4, 2021: Discovery workbook validation sessions
  • March 1, 2021: Discovery Q&A sessions (2 sessions)
  • February 26, 2021: University Research Policy Committee (URPC) presentation

Check the UAT consultation page for upcoming events.


Frequently asked questions

Operating model
Our experience shows how intricately connected HR and finance are with research administration. How can dividing work by function allow for the delivery of comprehensive advice, access, and support to researchers?

While we agree that HR and finance are important components of the support required by the research community, many HR and finance processes and practices supporting research operations are not fundamentally different from those supporting other activities on campus. The same accounting rules and the same collective agreements apply. The same experts from both HR and Finance also need to be involved. There is a gain in simplicity and responsiveness when all of these processes are handled the same way by the same group of individuals. We recognize that there may be nuances when it comes to research but our goal is to create a system where HR and finance partners are able to interface with their research counterparts to ensure seamless coordination.

[Updated April 29, 2021]

Should we expect any interruptions or delays in processing grant applications and receiving funding with the shift to the new administrative operating model?

The expectation is that there will be as little disruption as possible. These applications generate funding that is vital for our world-class research projects, so we need to facilitate, not inhibit these applications. Our goal is to make the transition as seamless as possible and it’s also important to remember that any changes to processes will not happen overnight. We will socialize changes well in advance of implementation and we will make sure that the people who are responsible for receiving those submissions are in place before we advise researchers and research administrators that there is a new process or person to whom applications are to be submitted.

[Updated April 29, 2021]

Will the administrative work of research awards remain within the faculties/departments or will it be moved to a Centre of Expertise?

Having just completed the discovery phase, we have yet to determine which roles or activities will be done where. We have to be very clear from project initiation right to final report completion who’s doing those tasks and where they belong in the new model. We certainly realize that some support is needed as close as possible to the researcher; for example, where research area-specific knowledge is needed to initiate  processes, monitor deadlines, apply for extensions, etc. The need to have people embedded in the faculties is not lost, we know it's a critical place where these kinds of activities and processes are initiated.

Ultimately, the SET model is trying to create consolidated service entities so that we can have more streamlined approaches. While we want to avoid tasks being routed multiple places before it gets to the right person, that doesn't mean we cannot have efficient methodologies for asking questions, or getting the ball rolling on a number of standard activities.

[Updated April 29, 2021]

How are you going to create one model to serve all needs in different faculties/departments/units while preventing a disconnection between researchers and administrators?

During the discovery process we heard calls to standardize and simplify processes so that researchers could spend more time on their actual research and less time navigating bureaucratic processes. At the same time, we heard that different research cultures require different kinds of support (for example Indigenous). While the core of the model should be the same everywhere, there may be variations in how the model is going to be implemented based on the academic unit and discipline. Our goal is not to "do more, with less." Difficult decisions may have to be made and some activities may need to cease. However by reviewing the overall approach to research administration, we expect to be able to maintain the support that will be meaningful and relevant to successful research.

[Updated May 6, 2021]

How will you ensure a healthy culture of communication when research partners are accountable to the Office of the VPRI but embedded within faculties/departments?

Service partners will be embedded in the areas they service and it is anticipated that their daily contacts will be within the faculties and departments. The research partners position description will clearly state these requirements and onboarding for these individuals will emphasize the relationship with the faculty and departments.

[Updated May 6, 2021]

How are you going to consolidate processes but keep decision-making as close as possible to researchers?

There is no intent to consolidate the decision-making that relates to research projects undertaken by our researchers. By consolidating or pooling services, we expect to streamline the administrative process and reduce both the cost and time required for a decision to be applied. The approach to support decision-making may change, but not the actual capacity to make decisions. The model we are exploring also includes research partners, who are intended to become the trusted strategic advisors to researchers concerning anything related to the administration of research. Housed in colleges/faculties, they are intended to be as close as possible to researchers and assist them in the decision-making.

[Updated May 6, 2021]

Positions
Can you please clarify the anticipated role of the research partner?

Research partners will provide a wide range of support covering the entire extent of research administration. During our 12 focus groups sessions, we gathered a lot of information about what the research community needs and wants. This will help inform the development of the research partner position description. While we are still defining the role, you can consult the service offering in this presentation for a better sense of where the partners are going to be involved. Also, while we know that the core of the partner role is going to be the same in all colleges, faculties, and departments, we certainly expect them to have different backgrounds and expertises whether they are assigned in Social Sciences and Humanities or Natural and Applied Sciences or Health Sciences, for obvious reasons. There are certainly some conceptual similarities between the role of partner and the role of the current research facilitators, but these are meant to be two different positions.

[Updated May 6, 2021]

Will there be Associate Deans of Research in the new model?

During our consultations with staff, we've heard what an important role the Associate Deans of Research (ADR) and Vice-Deans of Research play in a whole host of activities related to research administration. It's extremely likely that there will be positions comparable to ADRs in the new structures, however this is a discussion that is heavily tied to what will happen at the college level. What these roles will be called and where they will sit in the hierarchy has yet to be determined, but we recognize the importance of having strong academic leadership and professionalized research administration support. The solution to making sure this is effective for researchers is going to be about relationship building between the service partners at the college level and faculty level.

[Updated May 6, 2021]

Services
Will the consolidation of research administration affect the way we apply for research grants?

There should not be any major changes to the way you apply for grants. We are still working to determine what is going to happen at a particular level, for example what activities will be elevated from the departments, to the faculties, to the colleges. As that structure becomes clearer, we’ll better understand how these processes will work within the new model.

However, in terms of standard discovery or operating grants we do not foresee any major changes in the processes that are going to be followed. We are working to create better opportunities for application review as we create these new systems. The expectation is that for areas that have had less research administrative support, these new structures will provide more opportunities for early guidance and mentoring through expansion of services that are already offered in other parts of the university.

[Updated April 29, 2021]

Have there been any conversations or plans to establish self-serve resources for researchers?

We are looking at some form of well-designed and well-integrated self-serve processes for staff or students, especially for transactional activities. The intent is to keep our resources in the more strategic areas where we need people to be more interactive: this is essentially the whole SET model.

There may be instances where it's going to be valuable and beneficial for the researcher to be able to do a task themselves—if we can make it as direct and simple as possible. In other situations, it may be better for others to do the work because it is more efficient. In short, we want researchers to be able to focus on their research, not be drawn into complex administrative tasks.

We're still open to suggestions about processes that can be improved or turned into self-serve options, so if you hear of good ideas from research teams in your faculties or units, we’d be very interested in hearing them.

[Updated September 23, 2021]

What is the difference between project management, research operation, and research administration?

Research administration includes all processes, programs, and services delivered by the Vice-President (Research and Innovation) Portfolio according to university policies and procedures, best practices, and external requirements. Research operations are supported by academic units (colleges/faculties/departments) according to university administrative procedures and the logistical requirements of the work. Lastly, project management is all the specific managerial/administrative activities required by the research undertaken by a researcher.

[Updated May 6, 2021]

Will researchers rely on department administrators for help and questions regarding accounts and account set up, or will this be centralized?

The research partners are meant to become the primary contact for everything pertaining to research and assist researchers in navigating research administration. For day-to-day inquiries and support, the existing research helpdesk will continue to operate. Most of the financial transactions are currently being consolidated within Shared Services. While we don't expect the department administrators to carry out routine transactions, such as account setup, the nature of their role will keep them in the loop.  Overall, we are committed to ensuring as little disruption as possible throughout this restructuring of services. 

[Updated May 6, 2021]

With the shift towards required industry participation in many funding calls, will faculties with close ties to industry receive extra support to ensure ongoing success in securing this type of research support?

Using the results from the discovery phase as a base (including data from the workbooks as well as the nuances brought forward by the focus groups), we expect to be able to propose solutions and options that will take into consideration the needs of each academic unit and balance the resources and support appropriately.  At this stage it's too early to clearly define what that level of support is going to be, but the intent is to certainly maintain the support needed. 

[Updated May 6, 2021]

The current system creates headaches and discourages researchers from applying for larger grants. How are you going to fix this with this restructuring?

The discovery phase, which included the workbooks, focus groups, and Q&A sessions, enabled us to collect significant information that provides a snapshot of the current situation. During the focus groups, we heard similar concerns from many parts of the university. The next step will be to review our internal processes and streamline them. We are trying to simplify processes and mobilize our researchers to successfully land large grants as research funding is key to our shared future. The research partners initial role will be to assist the researchers in navigating the research administration transitions during our rebuilding process. 

Our biggest challenge is to streamline the processes while preserving the integrity of the support provided to research projects. While we cannot "do more, with less," we can still prioritize the support that is significant and meaningful for our researchers. In some cases, streamlined processes may yield better results and more reliable support.  

[Updated May 6, 2021]

Is the new model going to address the lengthy negotiation time for research agreements/contracts?

We are well aware of this difficult situation and lengthy time frame. Our approach is to complete a thorough review of the current processes and look for ways of streamlining and making agreements and contracts flow more smoothly. During the discovery phase, our team gathered information from other universities in Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia in hopes that some of the best practices from these universities may bring us some answers. 

[Updated May 6, 2021]

Service culture
What is being done to manage the expectations of the professoriate?

As part of the SET program, a shared vision of service culture will be established. Individuals and groups that offer service on behalf of the university will be expected to complete onboarding processes and ongoing professional development. As this is a shared vision of service, it is also expected the service users will need to have an understanding of their responsibilities within these processes. Also as part of SET, service level agreements will be established for many of the services which will create a common understanding of service expectations.

[Updated May 6, 2021]

How is this system going to provide mentorship for new researchers and assist them with navigating research systems?

Our plan is not to affect or replace the mentorship that already exists within faculties for  early stage researchers. However, by redirecting some resources, we expect to be able to provide more assistance to faculties by creating a more holistic approach to training and skill development. Successful programs, such as the Grant Assist Program, could be redeployed in a new and extended context with the support of research partners while the Centres of Expertise could focus on developing new tools and new approaches to support mentorship and training. 

[Updated May 6, 2021]

Equity, diversity and inclusivity (EDI)
Will SET be conducting a GBA+ activity to use multiple and intersectional lenses when developing the process used to create, move or recruit staff into new roles?

We have provided GBA+ training to all members of the SET team and are in the process of looking for more resources to increase our knowledge of EDI and build these learnings into our processes. The research administration stream has just completed the discovery phase and is about to begin working through the information collected from the workbooks and focus groups. Being this early on in the functional review, we haven’t yet conducted a specific GBA+ or EDI activity, but we anticipate doing so, and will be sure to communicate our efforts to the university community.

During discovery we specifically discussed systemic barriers that exist in our current practices which are creating some issues for early career researchers and our equity deserving faculty members. We are hoping to establish new processes that can help decrease these barriers. Our tri-council funding agencies are expecting a lot from us and we need to work in a holistic way, so we're not simply relying on the Associate Dean - Research or the research facilitators to bear the brunt of educating our faculty members and providing those supports. We also need to pay attention to our postdoctoral fellows because they are the future early career researchers and there’s an incredible opportunity for us to bring in an EDI lens with them as we look forward.

[Updated April 29, 2021]