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The seven habits of a highly effective office of sponsored research

How smart organizations can streamline the grant management process
University Business, August 2015

Typically, an Office of Sponsored Research operates with limited staff while being taxed with an overwhelming workload of grant management activities. A handful of staff is often responsible for pre- and post-award administration, effort certification, detailed budget tracking, documenting encumbrances and expenditures, reporting and meeting federal mandates.

To address these challenges, smart organizations streamline the grant management process. Offered here are seven specific habits typically put into place by an effective Office of Sponsored Research.

Habit 1) Understand grant management best practices.

Instead of being mired in duplicate data entry, manual handling of files and documentation, silos of spreadsheets and other fragmented systems, an effective office staff regularly seeks out waste in their processes. They look at how the team handles documents, such as the original proposal, the notice of award, funding authority notifications, budget forms, routing sheets, agency progress forms and financial reports. They benefit from automating the handling and storage of documents for each grant.

Habit 2) Stay current with compliance requirements.

Research institutions must keep up with changing regulatory requirements. For example, the nation’s largest Federal grant-making agencies ask organizations to adhere to the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards. An effective research office applies the time and needed resources to understand current policy and ongoing changes set by Federal grant-making agencies.

Habit 3) Keep active with professional organizations.

The research office is wise to affiliate with professional organizations. As an example, the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) provides training, conferences and education, to directly improve research office processes. An effective office keeps apprised of regulations, policies and procedures, which impact the success of their research programs.

Habit 4) Avoid spreadsheets.

Spreadsheets are widely used by administrators of academic research institutes to keep up with the overall grant funding of their organization. While spreadsheets are easy to set up, they tend to quickly break down when managing large numbers of grants. Effective organizations avoid an over-reliance on spreadsheets because of limitations such as lack of simultaneous data entry capability, challenges of maintaining multiple versions for specialized reporting requirements, difficulties in managing or comparing information spanning multiple years, and other limitations.

Habit 5) Accurately track time and effort.

A condition to receiving federal funding is accurately tracking the percentage of time (effort) that employees devote to federally sponsored projects. Effective research offices put into place a system of internal controls, which provide reasonable assurance that charges are accurate, allowable, and properly allocated. The team can then easily track cost sharing between projects and personnel. Habit 6) Facilitate communication and collaboration. Whether it’s the development office, grant office or research staff, it can be hard to manage approval sign-offs and other activities across many stakeholders. Complicating this issue further, many institution-wide general ledger systems are fiscal-year-based, making reporting associated with grant activity difficult and cumbersome. Once again, the effective research office understands how to leverage automated systems and document management to help streamline communications and collaboration.

Habit 7) Embrace change.

Very often, a Department Research Administrator supervises individuals that have been in the department many years. There can be a prevailing attitude that things “have always been done that way.” We note that effective research offices actively pursue change management strategies. This includes fully assessing any issues needing improvement, whether it’s a complete process or a one-time task.

Effective Grants Management – Final Thoughts

When grant management best practices are used effectively, teams are better able to organize and access essential information for day-to-day management, and institution-wide reporting. They can also better meet requirements placed by funding agencies.

Jim Wrenn is president and CEO of IT Works

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