The complexities of managing research projects: an ongoing study of developing a quality framework and measuring perceptions of service quality at UniSA.Introduction
Australian education continues to be faced with a number of challenges as it strives to provide the nation with advanced knowledge and innovative research and development (Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee The Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee is an organisation founded in Sydney in May 1920, which attempts to advance higher education through voluntary, cooperative and coordinated action. , 2004). As a consequence of increased challenges and pressures, universities acknowledge that they belong to a 'market' that is becoming increasingly competitive. One area of university operations that has historically been overlooked in the "quality" forum is that of research. Currently, the Government measures are performance or "outputs" based, considering only successful higher degree research student completions, staff and student research publications and staff research income. There is, however, no opportunity for the research partner/client to provide "input" about the level of satisfaction with the experience.
In order to understand better the expectations of clients and to attain a superior competitive position, the University established an ISO (1) See ISO speed.
(2) (International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, Switzerland, www.iso.ch) An organization that sets international standards, founded in 1946. The U.S. member body is ANSI. 9001 Quality Management system. The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of an approach to improving research management by measuring and streamlining the processes that support research project activity. It is not the intent of this paper to provide the prescriptive pre·scrip·tive
1. Sanctioned or authorized by long-standing custom or usage.
2. Making or giving injunctions, directions, laws, or rules.
3. Law Acquired by or based on uninterrupted possession. methodology used to survey clients.
The first section defines the principles, requirements and intent of ISO, while the second section explores how ISO9001 is applied and implemented at UniSA and, importantly, reveals how a formal management system has been key in driving improvement strategies through the development of quality performance measures in relation to the services provided to its external research clients.
What is ISO?
In the pursuit of competitive advantage, it is increasingly important to identify the demands and values of current and potential clients (Menzer, Flint flint, mineral
flint, variety of quartz that commonly occurs in rounded nodules and whose crystal structure is not visible to the naked eye. Flint is dark gray, smoky brown, or black in color; pale gray flint is called chert. , Kent, 1999). As we enter the 21st Century, it is imperative that we consider the complexities of our environment such as technology, globalisation, competition, change, speed of change and complexity itself (Tetenbaum 1998) as these factors contribute to the challenges of our organisational existence. If organisations, including University Research Offices accept these complexities and challenges, we must then address them by seeing knowledge, or the attainment thereof, as a prerequisite pre·req·ui·site
Required or necessary as a prior condition: Competence is prerequisite to promotion.
n. for sustainability. How do we best address these conditions and challenges and achieve competitive advantage? How do we give rise to a sustainable future?
It would be naive to suggest that ISO9001 is the complete answer; however, for UniSA, it does provide a formal management system and framework for identifying client requirements, setting organisational objectives, assigning responsibilities, managing human and material processes and monitoring the output of the system, including client satisfaction, with a view to continual improvement Continual Improvement (also called incremental improvement or staircase improvement) is a process or productivity improvement tool intended to have a stable and consistent growth and improvement of all the segments of a process or processes. . This being the case, the formalised Adj. 1. formalised - concerned with or characterized by rigorous adherence to recognized forms (especially in religion or art); "highly formalized plays like `Waiting for Godot'"
formalistic, formalized system enables controlled interaction with the environment in which we operate.
The ISO9000 model contains eight management principles designed to enable continual improvement. They are:
1. Client focus
3. Involvement of People
4. Process Approach
5. Systems approach to management
6. Continual improvement
7. Factual approach to decision making
8. Mutually beneficial Adj. 1. mutually beneficial - mutually dependent
dependent - relying on or requiring a person or thing for support, supply, or what is needed; "dependent children"; "dependent on moisture" suppler relationships
Complementing these underlying principles is a series of requirements that need to be met in order to be certified See certification. (or registered, as it is often referred to in North America North America, third largest continent (1990 est. pop. 365,000,000), c.9,400,000 sq mi (24,346,000 sq km), the northern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere. ). They are:
1. Management Responsibility--Responsibility for the system rests with the 'top management' of the organisation, thus at a strategic level.
2. Resource Management--Sufficient human and physical resources are available to carry out the processes.
3. Product Realisation--There are controlled processes in place to support and manage products/service provisions.
4. Measurement, Analysis and Improvement--Strategies are in place that allow the system to be measured objectively and which allow for collecting information about how the system is performing in relation to client requirements.
Unlike many of the ISO standards This is a list of ISO standards that are discussed in Wikipedia articles. For a list of all the more than 16,000 ISO standards (as of 2007), see the ISO Catalogue.
About 300 of the standards produced by ISO and IEC's Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1) have been made freely/publicly , ISO9001: 2000 is a "generic" standard--that is it can be applied to any organisation, regardless of size or type. The model's four requirements function similarly to the PLAN-DO-CHECK-ACT (PDCA PDCA Purebred Dexter Cattle Association
PDCA Painting and Decorating Contractors of America
PDCA Purebred Dairy Cattle Association (USA)
PDCA Pile Driving Contractors Association
PDCA Pug Dog Club of America ) improvement process that was popularised by W. Edwards Deming William Edwards Deming (October 14, 1900–December 20, 1993) was an American statistician, college professor, author, lecturer, and consultant. Deming is widely credited with improving production in the United States during World War II, although he is perhaps best known for . It is a process approach; therefore, its framework.
(Figure 1.1) illustrates how client requirements drive the input and how client satisfaction drives the output. The process approach emphasises the importance of understanding and fulfilling the requirements of the client, the need to consider processes in terms of added value Added value in financial analysis of shares is to be distinguished from value added. Used as a measure of shareholder value, calculated using the formula:
[FIGURE 1.1 OMITTED]
As illustrated, the process based quality management system shows the significant role that clients have in defining requirements as inputs. The continual improvement of a quality management system is derived from monitoring the satisfaction of clients, by evaluating information relating to relating to relate prep → concernant
relating to relate prep → bezüglich +gen, mit Bezug auf +acc their perception, as it is this that determines whether an organisation has met the requirements of their client (AS/NZS AS/NZS Australian/New Zealand Standard ISO, 2000). By deploying this framework and abiding a·bid·ing
Lasting for a long time; enduring: an abiding love of music.
a·biding·ly adv. to the requirements of ISO9001:2000, UniSA has developed processes, policy and procedures to ensure the following results:
1. Client/Industry Partner requirements are defined and documented ensuring alignment between client expectation and UniSA's perception of that expectation.
2. Project Management processes are developed to ensure the clients' requirements are fulfilled ful·fill also ful·fil
tr.v. ful·filled, ful·fill·ing, ful·fills also ful·fils
1. To bring into actuality; effect: fulfilled their promises.
3. Client feedback is obtained at the end of every research and consultancy project as well as via an annual survey as described in the Service Quality Perceptions part of this paper.
4. Objective measurement of client feedback and process effectiveness is used to assist with decision making, leading to continual improvement and superior competitive positioning.
Because quality is critically linked to an organisation's success (Buzzell & Gale, 1987; Gronroos, 1990; Howat, Milne & Crilley, 1996), UniSA has developed a framework which includes a suite of tools and systems for managing its research and consultancy projects. The aim of these is to foster process consistency and to learn more about our clients.
To be able objectively to measure client satisfaction one must have a consistent approach. To this end, the Research and Innovation Services Office has developed policy and procedures for the project management of research and consultancy, along with mechanisms for the continual review and improvement of its processes. This approach is consistent with Johnson's (1993) concept of ISO quality, suggesting that ISO9000 is focused on meeting client needs with a system that is appropriate, planned, controlled, documented and fully understood. Additional information may be found at http://www.unisa.edu.au/res/busadmin/default.asp
At a functional level, a reliable approach to the management, tracking and recording of research and consultancy projects has been achieved through the development of a web-based project management system called the Project Quality System (PQS PQS - Picture Quality Scale ). The PQS enables projects to be managed from proposal stage through to project completion as its process tracks and records client details, intellectual property opportunities, risk assessment, capacity approval, budget entry, and client feedback. It is this latter component, client feedback, which is most important as it enables us to assess how the services that we are delivering services are valued by our clients.
Service Quality Perceptions--The Clients' Perceptions
The initial question to be addressed therefore is "What do our clients value or want in their interactions with UniSA's research services?"
Beginning in 2001, a portfolio of service attributes was identified by conducting two focus groups with external clients. The service quality issues shaped the development of a self -administered questionnaire (see Appendix A), that was subsequently, piloted with a sample of clients from the PQS database. The self-administered questionnaires use a tailored service specific version of SERVQUAL SERVQUAL Service Quality , a conceptual service quality model able to facilitate the monitoring of clients service quality expectations and performance (Parasuraman, Zeithaml & Berry Berry, former province, France
Berry (bĕrē`), former province, central France. Bourges, the capital, and Châteauroux are the chief towns. , 1985 and 1988).
The adaptation of SERVQUAL is dependent on two variables: expected service and perceived service. The two variables are compared so that the "perceived service quality" is interpreted from the differences in degree and direction between perceptions and expectations. For example the service quality attribute for "employee enthusiasm" in 2003 had an importance rating of 5.1 and a performance rating of 4.9, resulting in a service quality gap of-0.2. The smaller the gap the better the alignment between the two variables--expected service and perceived service.
The inaugural survey study of external clients, conducted in March 2001, netted a response rate of approximately 40%. Subsequent factor analysis on the 2001 data set led to improvements to the questionnaire, which included the identification of three industry specific dimensions of service quality. These were categorised Adj. 1. categorised - arranged into categories
classified - arranged into classes as "product/service delivery," "human resources The fancy word for "people." The human resources department within an organization, years ago known as the "personnel department," manages the administrative aspects of the employees. " and "assurance and reliability."
Each year since, the Research and Innovation Services Office has contracted an independent research centre, specialising in these types of studies, to survey our clients under the guidance of a pre-determined set of criteria. The response rate during the last four years has ranged from 34 to 40 per cent.
The first two annual surveys examined only UniSA's service delivery. The study has since extended to include the Australian Technology Network Universities (ATN ATN Acute tubular necrosis, see there ), of which comprises UniSA, Curtin University Perth, Queensland University of Technology (QUT QUT Queensland University of Technology (Australia; now Queensland Institute of Technology)
QUT Position of Incident Is Marked (radiotelegraphy) ), University of Technology Sydney (UTS (Universal Timesharing System) Amdahl's version of Unix System V. Release 4.0 is POSIX compliant. ) and the Royal Melbourne Royal Melbourne, a high class neighborhood in Chicago's North Shore, is both a residential community and Greg Norman designed golf course. The neighborhood houses some of Chicago's elite professionals, including world-renowned lawyers, doctors, and athletes. Institute of Technology (RMIT RMIT Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology ) are members. The perceived advantage of extending the survey to several comparable institutions is that it enables benchmarking and identifies areas of best practice. Each participating organisation receives an individual report with their results and a separate section in which these are compared to the benchmark average.
This paper now examines a small sample of survey results which are considered to be key indicators listing areas of strength and areas that require monitoring or attention. Furthermore, it explores an area that was highlighted as "requiring further attention" and explains how the process was identified and improved.
Using a seven-point scale with a measurement range from Very Dissatisfied dis·sat·is·fied
Feeling or exhibiting a lack of contentment or satisfaction.
dis·satis·fied to Very Satisfied, survey respondents In the context of marketing research, a representative sample drawn from a larger population of people from whom information is collected and used to develop or confirm marketing strategy. are requested to rate their levels of satisfaction. The attribute, (Figure 1.2) is a summary attribute that measures overall satisfaction.
The measurement above illustrates that overall satisfaction with UniSA has increased (6.00 in 2004 from a maximum of 7.00) from the previous surveys (5.91 & 5.65). Achieving 86% from a maximum score of 100% (i.e. 6.00 from 7.00) is considered a strength as overall satisfaction has increased by a total of 6% over a three year period and is above the ATN benchmark. It could be argued that a 6% improvement over three years can at best be considered small, however the validity of this argument would lose its strength when it can be seen that UniSA is achieving 81% from a maximum of 100% in 2002 and 84.4% from a maximum score in 2003. In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently UniSA believes that as it is scoring close to the available maximum available result it is difficult to achieve large percentage improvements within such a limited available scope.
Similarly, another positive summary attribute (Figure 1.3) is that of recommendation to others. The tool used to measure the extent to which clients would recommend UniSA to others is a five point scale that ranges from Strongly Not Recommend to Strongly Recommend.
Aggregating the UniSA scores for strongly recommend and recommend it can be seen that UniSA has achieved high levels of recommendation, which have remained consistent each year with results of 88% in 2002, 89% in 2003 and 89% in 2004. Furthermore through benchmarking with the ATN Universities UniSA is above the total recommendation benchmark score, which is further evidence that the service provision for this attribute is at a level where clients are willing to recommend UniSA to others.
The scale used in this part of the questionnaire ranges from 1 (disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). The importance mean refers to the extent to which respondents believe the particular service attribute is important to them. The performance means measure how the service attribute is perceived to be performing. These two means are used to calculate the client service quality (CSQ CSQ Certificat de Sélection du Québec (Quebec selection certificate; immigration document)
CSQ Carrier Squelch (radio, scanner)
CSQ Customer Satisfaction Questionnaire ) gap for each attribute. By requesting respondents to rate their levels of importance and performance in relation to attributes of service quality, the 2004 survey highlighted a number of attributes that may be considered as competitive strengths, these are shown in table 2.1.
The benefits of these results are a confidence amongst researchers and research administration staff that their services are valued by clients; use in external marketing; and knowledge of what processes can be maintained and which need improvement.
An area identified in the 2003 survey as needing further consideration was that of "administrative processes." As the nomenclature nomenclature /no·men·cla·ture/ (no´men-kla?cher) a classified system of names, as of anatomical structures, organisms, etc.
binomial nomenclature suggests, this question focused on measuring clients perceptions of administrative support processes (legal. finance, ethics ethics, in philosophy, the study and evaluation of human conduct in the light of moral principles. Moral principles may be viewed either as the standard of conduct that individuals have constructed for themselves or as the body of obligations and duties that a ) of the research project using a scale from 1 (disagree) to 6 (very strongly agree). In 2003 the results of the survey identified a comparatively large gap between clients' importance ratings and their perceptions of UniSA's performance. The gap of-1.0 (importance 4.9 and perceived performance Perceived performance, in computer engineering, refers to how quickly a software feature appears to perform its task. The concept applies mainly to user acceptance aspects. 3.9) was larger than the ATN benchmark and was also larger than that recorded in the previous year, which was -0.7. The relatively high importance rating of 4.9 reinforced that clients considered this aspect of service quality to be integral to the research project's success.
To better understand "administrative processes" an external focus group study was conducted with the aim of obtaining detailed feedback from clients who had engaged in research projects. Using a "storybook sto·ry·book
A book containing a collection of stories, usually for children.
Occurring in or resembling the style or content of a storybook: storybook characters; a storybook romance. " approach, participants were asked the following nine questions and were encouraged to write responses on cards and discussion was facilitated to generate more ideas and elaborate on key points:
1. When engaging in research projects with UniSA, what in general were the areas in which problems were experienced?
2. When you commenced a research project did you experience any administration problems?
3. In relation to these administration problems, what should UniSA improve and how?
4. Does your organisation have any "best practice" administration principles that UniSA might adopt?
5. How can you as a client help UniSA to deliver products and services on time and according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
6. What would your organisation like to be asked by UniSA staff at the conclusion of a project?
7. What should be the feedback mechanism(s) for your organisation to provide suggestions back to UniSA staff after a project is completed?
8. How many feedback mechanisms should there be?
9. Any other thoughts/experiences?
Free text responses from the storybook methodology included: financial monitoring takes a number of calls to sort out, incorrect invoicing in·voice
1. A detailed list of goods shipped or services rendered, with an account of all costs; an itemized bill.
2. The goods or services itemized in an invoice.
tr.v. ; financial processes are not timely especially the production of invoices; lack of clarity about processes for payment in joint research projects; financial arrangements not specifically established. Responses to these questions identified that financial processes used to support research and consultancy projects needed urgent consideration.
Furthermore free text responses from the survey (e.g. financial monitoring takes a number of calls to sort out; incorrect invoices) had reinforced this aspect of service quality as one requiring immediate attention.
To address the area of financial processes, an internal review was conducted on the processes that support the financial management of projects. A number of interviews were conducted with senior administrative staff and active researchers. Findings from these interviews were documented and reviewed with the aim of identifying common issues and opportunities.
Based on the findings, it became evident that the processes relating to invoicing correctly and on time needed immediate action. To improve the existing and inadequate processes, it was agreed in consultation with relevant stakeholders Stakeholders
All parties that have an interest, financial or otherwise, in a firm-stockholders, creditors, bondholders, employees, customers, management, the community, and the government. that all financial monitoring and invoicing would be standardised Adj. 1. standardised - brought into conformity with a standard; "standardized education"
standard - conforming to or constituting a standard of measurement or value; or of the usual or regularized or accepted kind; "windows of standard width"; using the PQS milestone facility to manage financial matters. This initiative was chosen as the PQS is able to automatically remind appropriate staff via email that financial action needs to be taken based on pre-entered project deliverable and financial schedules. To ensure that staff act upon the PQS financial milestone invoice An itemized statement or written account of goods sent to a purchaser or consignee by a vendor that indicates the quantity and price of each piece of merchandise shipped.
A consular invoice is one used in foreign trade. emails, staff in the Research and Innovation Services Office develop regular ongoing reports from the PQS database to monitor financial milestone completion and, where necessary, take appropriate action to ensure scheduled milestones relating to financial matters are satisfied.
In an effort to better comprehend and track financial processes, the 2004 survey instrument was modified whereby the "administrative processes" attribute was removed and replaced by two questions: one focusing on "financial processes" and the other on "legal processes." The results of the 2004 survey project show that the gap (importance v performance) is smaller than the gap for the previously included "administrative processes." Future surveys will assist in reinforcing these results; however, preliminary investigations suggest that 2004 survey respondents have had a better experience in relation to this aspect of UniSA's service provision.
Prior to 2001, there existed no systematic way for Australian higher education higher education
Study beyond the level of secondary education. Institutions of higher education include not only colleges and universities but also professional schools in such fields as law, theology, medicine, business, music, and art. research managers to measure the level of service quality provided to their clients. With increasing expectations from industry clients, research management processes have become more complex, and risks have increased as the pressure for quick turnaround times (1) In batch processing, the time it takes to receive finished reports after submission of documents or files for processing. In an online environment, turnaround time is the same as response time. for contracts and deliverables grows. The development of a formal ISO9001:2000 quality framework and the ongoing measurement of client satisfaction has enabled these challenges and complexities to be addressed by providing a frame of reference for organisational learning, whilst, at the same time, providing clients with assurance that their requirements for products/services will be met and delivered conforming to specification under a globally accepted quality standard (http://www.isixsigma.com/library/ content/c000917b.asp).
UniSA is now able to identify objectively its strengths, and to address areas requiring attention as perceived by its external clients on an ongoing basis. Through this measurement, services can be improved by reviewing and, where appropriate, re-engineering the processes that support the management of research and consultancy projects.
The journey is just beginning. Building on what has been learned, it is understood that these findings are not conclusive Determinative; beyond dispute or question. That which is conclusive is manifest, clear, or obvious. It is a legal inference made so peremptorily that it cannot be overthrown or contradicted. , nor ends in themselves, but rather an ongoing study of client feedback and processes that support research and consultancy project management. Whether future results reinforce what is already learned remains to be seen. In either case, (confirm or refute re·fute
tr.v. re·fut·ed, re·fut·ing, re·futes
1. To prove to be false or erroneous; overthrow by argument or proof: refute testimony.
2. ), the ongoing study of process efficiency, effectiveness and client satisfaction gives rise to opportunities for improvement.
The survey discussed in this paper is an ongoing cost-effective source of manager and decision maker friendly information that enables us to better understand the service perceptions and expectations of our clients. Competitive advantage or superior market positioning is thus achieved through this identification of client values and demands.
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University of South Australia South Australia, state (1991 pop. 1,236,623), 380,070 sq mi (984,381 sq km), S central Australia. It is bounded on the S by the Indian Ocean. Kangaroo Island and many smaller islands off the south coast are included in the state. (2005). Research at UniSA. Retrieved 18 June, from http://www.unisa.edu.au/research/ researchatuni/default.asp
Mark Gorringe: Masters in Administrative Management (in progress)
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University of South Australia
Research and Innovation Services
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Mawson Lakes, South Australia Mawson Lakes is a suburb and new residential development approximately 12km north of the CBD of Adelaide, South Australia. It was previously known as The Levels, and as such was non-residential, housing a campus of the University of South Australia and Technology Park. , 5095
Tel: 08 83025143/Fax: 08 83023921
Table 2.1 Importance and Performance Ratings. CSQ Attributes Importance Performance CSQ Gap Employee knowledge and experience 5.3 4.9 -0.4 Key contact person clearly identified 5.4 5.2 -0.2 UniSA's working knowledge of industry requirements 5.2 4.9 -0.3 Assuring trust and confidentiality 5.3 5.1 -0.2 Flexible Approach 5.2 4.8 -0.4 Figure 1.2 Overall Satisfaction with UniSA's Research Services UniSA ATN Group 2004 6.00 5.75 2003 5.91 2002 5.65 Maximum Rating = 7 NOTE: Scale used for this question ranged from 1 'very dissatisfied' to 7 'very satisfied' Note: Table made from bar graph. Figure 1.3 Positive Recommendation Levels of UniSA's Research Services. 2004 2003 2002 UniSA recommend 53% 52% 50% UniSA strongly 36% 37% 38% recommend ATN Group 82% UniSA total 89% 89% 88% recommendation `Undecided' introduced in the scale in 2002 (11%) was chosen by 10 percent of respondents in 2003 and 11 percent in Note: Table made from bar graph.