Faculty burden is always a hot topic in Research Administration. The Federal Demonstration Partnership has done surveys on the issue (most recently in 2012) and they've posted their results here for the most recent report and a full list of reports is available here.
I was present when they provided their initial report a little over a year ago and heard the groans in the audience as they reported that the administrative burden was 43.2%. For most this was a disappointing number as was the exact number, to the decimal, as reported in the 2007 survey and to them showed no improvement. I may have been the only person who didn't see this as some form of failure. I tried to remind people that over those 5 years the industry had been inundated with new regulations and had to manage ARRA efforts so from my perspective the fact that the number hadn't risen was in itself a success story. The other difficulty that institions have faced that's increased administrative burden is likely not something they've considered... electronic research administration systems.
Seems odd that someone who professes the value of eRA and makes his living through their sales would bring this up but if we (the people who sell them) are honest in many ways they've made peoples lives more difficult, especially investigators. We've added pre-proposal processes, workflows, added training, the removal of paper which is far easier to update and correct, and helped to institute new procedures which I'm pretty sure if Latin for burden.
I'm not sure what other vendors are doing to address this but it's been something we've been thinking about a great deal. So the question is can we make a system that at the very least doens't make life harder and is it possible to address some of the issues raised in the FDP report? So here's what we've been working on.
1. We've created a proposal development tool written for investigators called TurboGrants. It's a TurboTax™ like interface with simple questions and requires no training to use. Investigators complete their proposal at their pace and when ready submit it to the office of sponsored programs for review.
2. The number 1 issue reported was "Managing budget to actual expenses" so we developed ReKoncile a tool that integrates expenditures with awards and provides investigators direct access to this information that also provides burn rates based on current burn rate and remaining budget so they can manage their budgets.
3. The number 2 issue was Managing Personnel, not a lot we can do to help with that so we moved on to number 3.
4. Effort Reporting got some bad press from reporters. The issues were it's hard to complete effort reports for myself, for others, and training was an issue. We're currently working on complete a simple and easy to use effort reporting tool to address these concerns. You can see the mock ups here if you'd like to provide your input. We plan to have this available before the fall of this year.
5. Next on the list was Conflict of Interest which we feel our system already addresses. Much of the concerns were related to internal COI policies that they felt were overly burdensome.
6. Responsible Conduct of Research. Since there is already a great solution available, The Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI), there's no need to reinvent the wheel there. Instead we decided to create an integration with CITI the pulls your staff's training records into proposal, award, and protocol records so they're at your fingertips. We're working on creating a reporting matrix for each so you will be able to easily see what training is missing for personnel and be able to notify them with a single click that they need to take the training to proceed.
There's more on the report we feel we can provide help with but these are the ones we've prioritized for 2016. We hope others are looking to do the same as it's clear there's lots of work to be done to make eRA what's been promised. We're always looking for ways to make things better for administrators and investigators and welcome your thoughts. Please feel free to comment here of drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have something you'd like to share.