Promoting good practice in research contracts management

By Andrea Chiarelli

In early October, we published a blog post to announce our 2018 research contracts benchmarking exercise, building on the 2013 exercise run by our Director Rob Johnson and seeking to:

  • generate a broader set of comparators, by opening up the exercise to all research-active HEIs; and
  • help institutions respond to ongoing and new challenges in the research contracts landscape.

In preparation for the start of this project in early 2018, we contacted a number of HEIs to hear their thoughts on the key challenges and issues they feel we should address in our work. We sought feedback via a survey, a number of interviews, and a workshop, as summarised in the next few sections.

The context for a research contracts benchmarking exercise

Of the 37 UK HEIs we have engaged so far, 24 have either expressed interest in the exercise or already signed up. In addition, a number of institutions from Australia have already expressed firm interest. This indicates a clear appetite for this kind of initiative, from both research and teaching-led institutions, and we expect these numbers to grow further in the coming weeks. The feedback we received sheds light on some of the reasons why HEIs are keen to participate, including the following:

  • Continuing growth in transactions and volume of work;
  • Desire to bring more contracting work into research services;
  • The need to streamline processes and improve quality of service;
  • The difficulty of making the case for additional resource to support contracts; and
  • The significant scope for HEIs to learn from each other, and improve current practice.

What are the main topics to address?

At this early design stage, we were also keen to find out what topics we should prioritise in our benchmarking exercise. The HEIs we engaged highlighted a range of areas that affect the efficiency of research contracts functions, with the top 5 being:

  1. Organisational and management structures for research contracts management
  2. Examples of good practice/case studies for effective management of research contracts
  3. Delegated authority and sign-off arrangements for contracts
  4. Management of international agreements
  5. Interactions between the research contracts function and other professional services

The most impactful finding for our proposition was the widespread desire for the sharing of good practice. This led us to slightly reshape our plans: our project now has a clearer focus on creating a platform for HEIs to discuss their issues and share good practice, based on the quantitative results of our analysis and on case studies we will gather during the course of the project.

Our offering

The information discussed above was used to refine our proposition, which can be summarised through three key points:

  • We will produce evidence-based insights: benchmarking data and our deep sector knowledge will help HEIs recognise their strengths and opportunities for improvement.
  • We will support institutions to share good practice: we will create several opportunities for HEIs to learn from one another, including case studies, sharing of model templates, and face-to-face networking.
  • We will help institutions leverage the benchmarking results at a national or international level: our exercise is open to HEIs from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. This allows effective comparisons with any chosen peer group within these countries.

If you think our proposition could help you or your institution, I recommend that you have a look at our project webpage. There, you can find more information on the project, including an overview of the expected benefits, pricing, and a high-level timeline. Last but not least, we have developed a custom offer for small and specialist institutions, which you can find here.

We are happy to discuss the project further with you, either via telephone or via email. You can get in touch with Rob Johnson, project lead, for general information, or with Mark Hochman, Australasia expert, for details on the exercise run in this region.

As a concluding remark, note that early bird pricing is available until December 15th, so do sign up before this date to take advantage of a discounted rate.