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Good afternoon,

It’s University Research Week at UNC-Chapel Hill. In celebration of this important theme, we want to share an update on our Operational Excellence initiative focused on research. As many know, the OE team is partnering with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research to streamline the way the University manages research projects. A pilot with 11 departments/units began in August and runs through the end of November.

In this pilot, we’re working with representatives from central research offices (the Office of Sponsored Research and the Sponsored Programs Office in the School of Medicine) and each department/unit’s business managers and research administrators. The current goal is to cut award setup time in half with three key objectives:

  • Reduce the time in award negotiation;
  • Improve the quality of submissions; and
  • Reduce department response time.

For these three key objectives, the team has developed solutions, communications, and wrap-around support services. These include:

  • Playbooks outlining the award setup process for federal, nonprofit, and industry sponsors to standardize the quality of proposals and help familiarize new employees with the proposal process.
  • A new engagement model to provide additional structure around existing conversations between the central research offices and campus units.

While the pilot is not yet complete, early feedback shows many pilot participants finding all three playbooks “very helpful,” especially the Federal and Nonprofit versions.

Feedback in reference to the engagement model, which is the enhanced collaboration between central (OSR / SPO) and campus unit research administrators, seems to be having a positive impact on the level of collaboration between central and campus units around the award setup process. Participants have stated this model is “extremely valuable.” Here is an example of the feedback we have received:

“We are regularly meeting with SPO and OSR personnel for new proposals and ongoing projects. I feel very positive about the engagement model, especially like the frequent communication with SPO and OSR. Lack of communication is the main problem we have now between the department and the university central offices. With this engagement model, we will be staying on the same page and really work as a team. I hope we will continue this model and will see the progress soon.”

                –Pilot Unit Business Manager

In parallel with the ongoing pilot, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research has also met with various faculty groups, including the Faculty Council Executive Committee, Chair of the Faculty, the Academic Deans for the Health Affairs Schools, and the Center/Institute Directors and planned future meetings with the Schools of Education, Pharmacy, and Public Health. While these meetings have included a range of issues, many not tied to this OE initiative, one such related issue being discussed is challenges related to contract negotiations which aims to level-set faculty expectations surrounding award setup, particularly with industry sponsors.

We are creating dashboards to present metrics on award setup time to measure the potential impact of the pilot once concluded as well as to continuously monitor the impact of the playbooks and engagement model after they are rolled out campus wide.

Stay tuned for next week when we will return to our regular status updates. Please feel free to share this email with your colleagues. You can also visit our website to learn more about Operational Excellence, read my previous updates and submit feedback. If you have any questions, please reach out to me at I read every email.


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