Successes and next steps for KU research award management

From: Jessica Johnson Webb, Associate Director, Award Management; and Alicia Reed, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research
Sent: Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, 11:04 a.m.
To: KU Lawrence faculty and staff

KU research community,
It’s hard to believe it’s been nine months since KU’s Award Management Services unit went live. We would like to take this opportunity to review how far we’ve come and look at where we’re headed next.
The transformation process met a tight timeline and asked a lot of the future award management staff and key interested parties. They delivered with flying colors and continue to perform exceptionally. We appreciate the input and feedback you provided along the way. AMS and the Office of Research are committed to continued growth and open dialogue.
The transformation project was driven by two main goals. Below are successes related to each goal and next steps for continuous improvement.

Improving service, reducing burden

Goal 1: To improve service to campus partners and reduce administrative burden for principal investigators.

  • Met:
    • PIs and campus partners have reported a smooth transition into the new AMS model, coupled with good communication.
      • From an investigator: “My grants coordinator is far better integrated. Day-to-day things are happening faster.”
      • From research center staff: “Individual AMS representatives’ willingness to work with our research center on award management [is successful]. Prompt response from representatives to questions.”
      • From SSC/Office of Research non-award management staff: “My experience is that AMS staff have immediately started making contact and have not been shy about asking questions.”
    • Efficiencies gained:
      • One AMS contact assigned to each PI.
      • One AMS staff works directly with the PI and the sponsor, eliminating multiple levels of communication.
      • Standardization with flexibility: Continuing to work with departments to align processes, documents and procedures wherever possible, allowing for consistency, transparency and ability for AMS staff to back each other up.
      • Building expertise, including a more thorough understanding of effects of individual actions, allowing for proactive responses.
      • Increased visibility, tools and resources for AMS staff, providing them with a broader support system to more effectively support PIs.
  • Areas of continued focus:
    • Learning portfolios, sponsors, centers, PIs: AMS is dedicated to learning, growing and improving. Our staff continue to internalize their new roles and will learn and grow as they complete a full year of their new duties, and then full grant cycles within their portfolio. Research administration is always changing, and our team strives to stay on top of the latest developments to best support campus.
    • Project close out: AMS is working to close out projects in a timely manner and, in conjunction with other Office of Research teams, helping to address historical challenges and prevent new ones.  
    • Continued standardization to clarify processes and allow for more consistency.
    • Automating processes: We are working on an automated workflow to manage and complete all tasks associated with closing a project.
    • Enhancing communication with stakeholders, including SSCs, research center administrative staff, and other Office of Research units.

Supporting staff autonomy, satisfaction

Goal 2: To create organizational structure to support staffs’ autonomous work and satisfaction.

  • Met:
    • Opportunities for advancement: The AMS model includes grant coordinator and grant officer positions on each team, allowing for more opportunities for staff to advance their career within the unit.
    • Pay increase: All staff moving from either the SSC Research teams or the Office of Research Post-Award team received a pay increase coming into AMS.
    • Standardization:  Continued standardization between PIs and units allows for AMS staff to help each other with questions and back each other up when someone is out of the office.
    • Increased autonomy: AMS staff now work with both PIs and sponsors, allowing them to complete more tasks themselves instead of handing them off to someone else.
    • Increased visibility: AMS staff have more access to systems, allowing them to identify discrepancies and potential issues earlier.
    • Better understanding of processes and impacts allows for proactive mitigation.
  • Areas of continued focus:
    • Continued training: As AMS staff continue to learn their roles, they need ongoing training, including sponsor-specific sessions.
    • Achieving full staffing: AMS has one current vacancy. Throughout the stabilization period, many staff have covered for their colleagues. Full staffing will allow everyone to focus on their assigned portfolios and roles.
    • Better information management: AMS has a wealth of resources, but they are stored in several different places. More intentional management will help staff find and use this information efficiently.
    • Continued workload assessments: AMS is committed to creating an environment that supports work-life balance. Regular workload measurement and assessment will help ensure appropriate portfolio assignments for staff.

As AMS staff continue to gain expertise and update additional processes, the KU research community will see additional efficiencies in award management.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the transformation project and supplied valuable feedback about how it went. You will have an opportunity to provide additional feedback this fall through a survey of interested parties. In the meantime, please contact either of us at any time if you have questions, concerns, recommendations or praise to share with the AMS team.
Jessica and Alicia
Jessica Johnson Webb
Associate Director, Award Management
Alicia Reed
Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research