Transforming research award support at KU

We are working together to create a single, centralized service unit — housed in the Office of Research — that provides award management support for the KU-Lawrence campus.

The new unit will combine grant support staff from KU’s Shared Service Centers and KU Research’s Post-Award Services unit with the ultimate goal of better supporting researchers by leveraging improved processes and technology and providing seamless, consistent service while reducing administrative burden.

Timeline from June through December 2021 for award management transformation, including process improvements, testing, training, and new unit stabilization.
Processes and timing may be modified. Timeline will be updated as needed.

Monthly project updates

Prioritizing relationships in KU's award management transformation

We want to thank you for working with the Office of Research and Shared Service Centers as we transition grant management staff from Post-Award Services and SSC Research into a single Award Management Services (AMS) team. The next step in the project is assigning AMS staff their portfolios, which are composed of specific PIs for whom they will serve as a single point of contact for award management.

Portfolio assignments have been announced to our AMS teams. We want to share those assignments with you today and provide some insight into our methodology. These new assignments will take effect on Nov. 1 when the AMS unit begins operations. Until then, please continue working with your current point(s) of contact.

Read the complete August update

An official name + next steps for award management transformation

Leadership for the Transforming Research Award Support project has officially determined a name for the new unit that will merge the SSC Research and Office of Research Post-Award Grant Management teams. We will be known as Award Management Services (AMS).

Our work groups are deep in the process of designing new workflows. We have excellent staff with great ideas, and we are excited to see their suggestions for improvements. We are also revisiting ideas from the campus listening sessions and survey to incorporate changes wherever possible.

As we test changing processes, we will identify training needs and slate some processes for implementation by our go-live date and others for a later phase if they require additional stakeholder involvement and potential system changes. Once new workflows are finalized, we plan to make relevant high-level process maps available to campus, along with details about changes that might impact PIs, departments and others.

We are also working to make staff assignments based on data, input on current project and sponsor complexity, and a survey of staff time commitments. We will share the initial assignment information with campus by Aug. 30. Training will occur in October, and our new unit will launch Nov. 1.

To optimize success, we will assess new processes and staff assignments throughout our stabilization period in November and December. We expect to make adjustments to ensure that processes are effective and staff assignments are reasonable.

We will continue to provide monthly updates throughout the duration of the transformation. If you have questions along the way, please let us know.

Flow chart showing organizational structure of KU's new Award Management Services unit.

Update on research award management transformation

We are moving forward in our Award Management Transformation Project and want to update you on progress.

Staff have completed mapping the current workflows for all processes to be undertaken by the new unit. During the month of July, their work groups will design updated processes to merge activities currently completed partly by SSC Research staff and partly by Office of Research Post-Award grant managers. During this “future state mapping,” work groups will propose new workflows that leverage technology and increase efficiencies.

We’ve added additional milestones to the project timeline, including our planned finalization of staff assignments. The Award Management leadership team — Alicia Reed, Amy Carlson and Jessica Johnson Webb — is assessing workload metrics in order to finalize staff portfolio assignments for the new unit. As mentioned previously, we envision these positions as responsible for all tasks within a specific portfolio after an award is set up through closeout, apart from invoicing. Assignments will likely be by principal investigator or by department. We plan to leverage current relationships and assignments whenever possible to build upon prior knowledge and trust, but we do anticipate that new roles will require some changes. We plan to announce assignments to campus by Aug. 30.

The timeline originally included milestones for an Office of Research Service Level Agreement (SLA). Based on feedback from the Office of Research Advisory Council, this SLA will focus on other high-impact areas in post-award and is expected to be shared with campus in Fall 2021. Clear roles and expectations for the award management unit will be added to the KU Research SLA in Spring 2022 after the initial stabilization period.

We’ve tentatively determined a unit structure with four teams led by grant managers who report to the associate director. Each team would be focused on a collection of disciplines. Within each team, we envision grant coordinators with full portfolio assignments, and grant officers with a lighter portfolio and additional duties in functional areas or supervision.

We continue to make good progress on this project and welcome all feedback. You can find answers to frequently asked questions on the project webpage, and we will continue to provide monthly updates throughout the duration of the transformation.

Infographic with three interlocking puzzle pieces illustrating themes that have emerged while collecting feedback during the research award management transformation process, including 1) refine award management services; 2) value relationships; and 3) create fulfilling environment for staff.

Themes emerge during award management transformation

As we proceed with the research award management transformation project launched in February, we remain committed to making data-driven service improvements based on feedback received from those who work closely with grant management staff in the Shared Service Centers, KU Office of Research, and designated research centers. Three key themes emerged from feedback received via campus-wide listening sessions, an anonymous webform, and in-person stakeholder meetings: 

  • Refine award management services
  • Value relationships
  • Create fulfilling environment for staff

The following actions are planned to address these themes:

Refine award management services

  1. Need: Update processes
    • What we are doing:
      • Process review: Review of all award management processes for removal of unnecessary complexity, bureaucracy and duplication of effort to create efficient processes.
      • Simplified organizational structure: Create a unit structure with reasonable duties that simplifies point of contact/communication for PIs with clear roles and responsibilities, including prompt issue escalation and communication expectations.
         
  2. Need: Enable staff to be accountable and knowledgeable
    • What we are doing:
      • Provide structure and resources to support accountability and culture of service: Build processes and overall organizational structure to provide staff the ability to work more autonomously and with greater ownership to provide accurate and timely award support.
      • Provide resources to support expertise: Provide extensive staff training during Award Management unit implementation, including overall research administration and customer service training, as well as specific task functionality and area-of-support specifics with quarterly trainings.
         
  3. Need: Make information accessible
    • What we are doing:
      • Enhanced reports: Provide understandable and accurate financial reports and forecasting.
      • Transparency: Leverage technology to develop system-supported workflows for on-demand award action status updates.
      • Success monitoring: Develop metrics and quarterly evaluation cycles to ensure iterative improvements that are responsive to campus needs.

Value relationships

  1. Need: Create and maintain a culture of support
    • What we are doing:
      • Communication and transparency: Regular feedback meetings after unit implementation to address concerns and celebrate successes; robust contact and roles information available for those who want or need to know more. 
      • Set clear roles and responsibilities: Develop and monitor clear roles and responsibilities for award management staff through Service Level Agreements and monitor success with a focus on iterative change to ensure expectations are being met.
      • Support as unit value: Provide resources to underscore customer service as a core value and deliverable of the Award Management unit.
         
  2. Need: Leverage partnerships
    • What we are doing:
      • Process review: Engaging partners across campus in process improvement initiative. 
      • Training: Leverage expertise of research partners for peer-peer training to add context for PIs’ area of support with research centers, SSC (HR + Finance), and other campus partners.

Create fulfilling environment for staff

  1. Need: Ensure reasonable workload and autonomous duties
    • What we are doing:
      • Remove roadblocks, barriers and unnecessary steps: Promote staff ability to work autonomously and efficiently by empowering staff to make decisions and reduce steps that do not add value to processes.
      • Realistic duty assignment: Working with staff and AIRE to develop an organizational structure built on sustainable assignments and embedded performance measurement and feedback. 
      • Empower staff: Update processes, provide training, and organize teams with functional experts so staff can feel empowered to make decisions on their own or work within team to complete tasks. 
         
  2. Need: Expand training and resources to support staff success
    • What we are doing:
      • Invest in and encourage professional development: Ensure staff have access and support to pursue professional development opportunities to help them grow and succeed in research administration.
      • Develop dedicated resources: Create dedicated team resources to develop functional expertise on all aspects of role (research admin, customer support, functional specifics, context in area(s) of support).

Leadership for new award management unit

We are pleased to announce that Jessica Johnson Webb has been selected as the associate director for award management in the Office of Research. She will join us in guiding the award management transformation project launched in February, and then lead the new award management unit after its implementation. April 26 was her first day in this new position.

Jessica comes to the Office of Research from KU’s Shared Service Centers, where she has supported departments and individual investigators since 2012 in various roles, including research manager, HR manager, HR coordinator and HR specialist. She previously worked at the Spencer Museum of Art as a project coordinator for an Institute of Museum & Library Services Engaging Communities grant, and as the youth and family outreach coordinator, a position fully funded by a state of Kansas grant. 
 
She holds a master’s degree in art history from KU and a bachelor’s degree in education from Kansas State University.

Jessica’s enthusiasm and excellent leadership skills will be a great addition to the Office of Research team, and we are excited to welcome her. We would also like to thank the search committee (Jessica Chilcoat, Elenor Crangle, Matt Dollar and Mindy Russell) for their time, Cari Alfers for facilitating the search, and each of you who attended sessions and provided feedback to assist with Jessica’s hire.

Process review kick-off

Staff-led teams will be reviewing and improving award administration processes to ensure consistency, transparency and efficiency. Stakeholders will be asked to provide feedback during this review process.

Infographic illustrating feedback sources for the award management transformation project, including the Research Advisory Board. listening sessions, Staff Advisory Board, research center meetings, and data from Analytics, Institutional Research & Effectiveness

Listening sessions

During listening sessions in March, investigators and administrators shared insights on current award management successes and barriers. Sessions were structured to provide opportunities to discuss experiences with peers and assist in shaping the new sponsored award management unit. Feedback continues to be collected anonymously through the Award Management Feedback Form or via email to Alicia Reed and/or Amy Carlson. This information will be used to make decisions regarding award management unit organizational structure and processes.

For investigators

  • Monday, March 22 | 10-11 a.m.
  • Thursday, March 25 | 8:30-9:30 a.m.

For Office of Research Post-Award Services staff

  • Monday, March 22 | 2-3 p.m.

For SSC Research staff

  • Thursday, March 25 | 2-3 p.m.

For other research stakeholders (not included in other specific sessions)

  • Monday, March 22 | 11 a.m.-12 p.m.
  • Tuesday, March 23 | 3-4 p.m.

Award services transformation launch message

Feb. 1, 2021

The start of the new year presents a natural opportunity to celebrate our collective successes and set bold new goals for 2021. The KU research community has demonstrated resilience, creativity and perseverance while adapting the ways we conduct and support research during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you for your dedication through an exceptionally challenging year.

Now we ask for your partnership as we take steps to re-envision and transform research award support at KU. In 2021, we will work together to create a single, centralized service unit that provides award management support for the KU-Lawrence campus. The new unit — housed in the KU Office of Research — will combine grant support staff from KU’s Shared Service Centers and KU Research’s Post-Award Services unit under the leadership of a new associate director. A search for that position will begin soon. The unit’s ultimate goal will be to better support researchers by leveraging improved processes and technology and providing seamless, consistent service while reducing administrative burden.

This reorganization is a response to widespread feedback from KU researchers about roadblocks and dead ends in the current award support structure, as well as frustration expressed by research administration staff who don't always feel equipped to provide optimal service from their positions in disparate units with distinct processes and reporting structures.

To be clear, this project is not an effort to reduce staffing for cost savings, but to increase effective and efficient service to support research activities. As you have heard from KU leadership, the university is experiencing fiscal challenges that will impact campus in a variety of ways; it is unclear how these challenges will affect our units, but our goal is to use campus feedback to incorporate all existing research support positions into this new unit.

These staff members — along with other research-active and research-supporting stakeholders across campus — will help shape the unit by providing guidance through listening sessions and other feedback opportunities this spring. These forums will not be mere formalities; your expertise and perspective are essential to building every aspect of this unit and ensuring it achieves its goals. We will share information soon about how to contribute.

We recognize that change can create uncertainty. We hope to channel our collective energy into conversations and ideas that lead to a higher level of award support for KU researchers and greater job satisfaction for the staff who help manage their grants.

Please let us know if you have any questions. We look forward to collaborating.

Respectfully,

Alicia and Amy

Alicia Reed
Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research

Amy Carlson
Director, O’Leary Shared Service Center

General questions

  • What is the goal of the new Award Management Services unit?

    The goal of the new unit is to reduce administrative burden for PIs (principal Investigators) and increase staff job satisfaction through increased autonomy resulting in a streamlined approach to award management responsibilities at the University of Kansas Lawrence campus.
     
  • Will feedback be solicited from customers and staff?

    Yes, constructive feedback is one of many data points leadership will use to inform decisions. Listening sessions for PIs, other research stakeholders, and staff were conducted in March to gather feedback. Feedback was also gathered during Research Advisory Boards and research center meetings, where key themes emerged. Additionally, you may submit feedback via the Award Management Feedback Form or by contacting Alicia Reed, assistant vice chancellor for research, amreed@ku.edu; Jessica Johnson Webb, associate director of award management, jeslea@ku.edu; or Amy Carlson, director of strategic initiatives for finance, amycarlson@ku.edu.
     
  • What is the scope of the award management transformation project?

    The scope of this project is focused on all responsibilities currently administered by Shared Service Center Research staff and Office of Research Post-Award grant managers and specialists. The responsibilities of these two units generally occur after an award is set up in the financial system through the award closeout processes prior to invoicing the agency.

    Feedback about other services that affect award management that are not within the scope of the Award Management Transformation project. Issues such as timing and transparency around award setup, sponsored award invoicing, and subaward invoice processing are being addressed in separate projects. More information on these separate projects will be available soon.
     
  • When will the Award Management Services unit launch?

    The Award Management Unit is scheduled to “golive” in mid-fall 2021. Please be aware that the project timeline is somewhat flexible to ensure sufficient time and resources are dedicated to developing a solid foundation for the Award Management Services unit to build upon in the future.
     
  • How will success be measured for this project?

    Goals for this transformation are reduced PI administrative burden and increased staff autonomy and satisfaction. The listening session feedback and surveys will serve as benchmarks. Following implementation, regular checkins with both staff and customers will serve to monitor success. At six months and one year, a campus-wide survey will collect data about perceived success. Additionally, timeline metrics for completion of actions will show whether efficiencies have been gained and areas for continued improvement.
     
  • Why was the Service Level Agreement (SLA) indicator removed from the timeline?

    The initial SLA indicator was in reference to the Office of Research SLA with the rest of campus. Based on feedback from the Office of Research Advisory Board, this SLA will focus on other high-impact areas. Clear roles and expectations for the award management unit will be added to the KU Research SLA in Spring 2022 after the initial stabilization period.

PI and research center questions

  • Do I get to keep my current SSC research contact?

    We plan to leverage current relationships and assignments whenever possible to build upon prior knowledge and trust, but we do anticipate that new roles will require some changes. We will make portfolio assignment decisions after the process improvement and workload assessment phases of the project are complete.
     
  • Will the Award Management Services transformation change the roles and responsibilities for research centers

    An extensive process review project is being completed as part of the overall Award Services Transformation project plan. The purpose of the process review is to improve consistency among all stakeholders, develop best business practices, and streamline workflow to the best of our ability. As the process review project advances, research centers will be involved in reviewing updated/new processes and procedures to provide feedback.

Staff questions

  • What is the vision for the roles of these new positions?

    All decisions about portfolio assignment will be made after the process improvement and workload assessment phases. Currently, positions are envisioned as responsible for all tasks with a specific portfolio after an award is set up through closeout, apart from invoicing. Assignments will likely be by PI or by department and will leverage current productive relationships. As we move through the planning and implementation phases, we will continue to assess, in partnership with AIRE and Human Resources, if this is the best structure to meet our goals of reduced PI administrative burden and increased staff autonomy and satisfaction.
     
  • How will leadershiph determine a reasonable workload for Award Management Services team members?

    Project leadership is currently reviewing available metrics and discussing collecting others, informed by best practices in research administration and peer institutions. These quantitative measures may include number of assigned projects (“portfolio”), a complexity scale for projects, transaction counts, and collection of duration data for specific processes. Additional qualitative data will be sought via discussions with staff performing the processes.
     
  • How do you envision creating a vision, mission and code of conduct for the Award Management Services unit?

    As we move through the transition process, unit staff will be engaged to help create the framework, culture and climate of this new unit. Using the dual goals of decreasing PI administrative burden and increasing staff autonomy and satisfaction, the new team will build our mission, vision and guiding principles together with guidance and facilitation by the associate director of award management and Human Resources.
     
  • What training resources will be available to staff to aid in learning new roles and responsibilities?

    Technical and professional development training are essential to the growth and development of a team. A training plan that leverages existing training materials and incorporates new training resources to align with new processes and responsibilities will be finalized in the late summer. Additional professional development training needs of the unit staff will be explored based on portfolio and current expertise.
     
  • Will the award management transformation project address research centers that are currently outside of the Shared Service Center model?

    A one-size-fits-all solution is not being implemented for research centers. Instead, the unique structure and expertise of each center is being considered while emphasizing the importance of consistent processes and clear roles and responsibilities. Discussions are ongoing with each research center to ensure their current support of affiliated investigators is leveraged — and enhanced, where possible — as part of the overall project.
     
  • Is there a plan to ensure that work is completed during the training and implementation phase?

    Yes. Leadership is working with AIRE’s management analysts to help plan the overall transition. Training will be staggered and will allow for daily work time to keep pace with current duties.
     
  • Have you considered other models beyond PI-centered for staff and portfolio assignments?

    Throughout the process, leadership has continued to be open to various methods of portfolio assignment. We recently considered a hybrid model that builds upon current SSC Research and Post-Award grant manager roles within a new, combined team to jointly support assigned PIs. Through discussion and consideration, leadership determined this model would not adequately maximize efficiencies and autonomy gained by allowing one staff person to do a full range of award management tasks for assigned projects.

    While a PI- or department-centered model continues to seem best able to meet our goals of reduced PI administrative burden and increased staff autonomy and satisfaction, leadership will remain open to options until final decisions are made once the process improvement and workload assessment phases are complete.

We want to hear from you