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Strategic planning for research administration.


Research administration is an academic support function that facilitates research activity through the administration of grant applications for internal and external resources. As such, the mission of the responsible unit must closely align with the strategic plan of the university. By linking the activities of the Office of Research Administration with the larger mission of the university, research administrators can successfully negotiate for a larger fraction of university resources. Likewise, by explicitly distinguishing the relative importance of funded research, the university can more successfully recognize and celebrate faculty accomplishments.

Successful strategic planning centers on establishing realistic goals and developing workable strategies for attaining those goals. By focusing on its core competencies and central mission, the unit can readily establish a short list of major goals. Creating a limited list of strategies for each goal then sets work priorities for the unit.

Assessing success at attaining goals is essential not only for annual evaluation but also for reforming and evolving the strategic plan. By fostering a process of continual assessment and planning, the university can create a culture of strategic thinking and strategic management within the office of research administration. Such a cultural change is of great benefit in the face of increasing competition for internal and external resources.

Creating a Strategic Plan for Research Administration

A vast literature on the process and pitfalls of strategic planning exists (e.g., Besanko, Dranove, & Shanley, 2003; Bryson & Alston, 1995; Dudik, 2000; Fogg, 1994; Kaplan & Norton, 1996, 2000; Kotter, 1996; Napier, Sanaghan, Sidle, & Saraghan, 1997; Wootton & Horne, 2002), and any basic reference can prove helpful when undertaking strategic planning for research administration. In the fall of 2000, Purdue University undertook a comprehensive, systemwide, strategic planning initiative. As part of that process, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) developed a campus-wide strategic plan that the Trustees of Purdue University approved in November of 2001 (IPFW, 2003a). A significant outcome of the plan was the creation of the Office of Research and External Support (ORES). Previously, research support services had been a somewhat neglected function of the Office of Academic Affairs. Creation of a new research administration organization demanded undertaking a comprehensive strategic planning effort. A completed plan would then serve as an operational foundation for this newly created unit, as well as a guide for future growth of the organization. Presented below is an outline of the strategic planning process ORES used to create a strategic plan closely paralleling the IPFW strategic plan. Throughout the discussion, examples are presented from the ORES plan. While the sequence of steps presented below worked at IPFW, alternative processes might be equally successful. Success is determined by how open the planning process is and how extensively the completed plan links to performance review and budget planning.

Step One--Foundations.

One of the keys to successful strategic planning is establishing a solid foundation for the process (e.g., Napier et al., 1997; Wootton & Horne, 2002). This initial step consists of several related tasks, the first of which is creating an organizational profile. Developing a clear understanding of how the process of research administration is organized, who has responsibility for specific tasks, as well as the relationships between the organization, its faculty clients, and its administrative supervisors combine to establish a complete snapshot of the current organization. From this information, the reasons for undertaking strategic planning are addressed by summarizing specific issues or challenges as well as identifying the data required to guide the planning process. Finally, the university must create a strategic planning committee, the membership of which reflects the variety of stakeholders associated with research administration. Each member of the committee must accept a very clear role in the process as well as a specific set of duties to accomplish. By completing these three initial tasks, the planning process can move forward with a minimum of organizational problems.

Step Two--Articulating mission, vision, and values.

Strategic planning documents generally consist of two parts: (a) framing statements that define the organization and its operation and (b) the set of goals and assessment techniques that constitute the action items of the plan (e.g., Dudik, 2000; Fogg, 1994). Developing the framing statements is often one of the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of strategic planning. These statements are, however, the most publicly visible components of the plan, and one must take great care in their crafting, especially considering the confusion that can develop concerning the terminology of strategic planning. The first of the framing statements is the mission. A mission statement also generally comprises two parts: (a) a purpose, defining why the organization exists and what it seeks to accomplish, and (b) the function, describing the main process through which the Office of Research Administration achieves its purpose (Figure 1). Whereas the mission statement summarizes the organization and its activity, the vision presents an image of what organizational success will look like (Figure 2). The process of clearly staring the definition of organizational success in the vision statement facilitates construction of the action items later in the planning process. Finally, the values consist of a set of shared principles that help guide the accomplishment of the mission of the organization (Figure 3). Together, these framing statements define and direct the activities of the organization as well as the development of the remainder of the planning document.

Step Three--Strategic thinking.

Successful strategic planning extends beyond simply writing a planning document. Establishing a culture of strategic thinking is the only way to ensure organizational success in the face of the dynamic landscape of higher education and the intense competition for internal and external resources. The first component of strategic thinking is establishing a baseline of past activity as well as a longitudinal study of organizational performance. Together, these studies provide a complete situational assessment that informs the strategic planning committee about the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. From these data, the committee can highlight critical issues that face the Office of Research Administration and develop plans for how to address those issues. This process is similar to the commonly used SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) approach, but differs in that quantitative data alone provides the basis rather than the more typical quantitative and qualitative mix used in a SWOT analysis. By creating a culture of strategic thinking as part of the planning process, the organization may respond to future changes much more easily.

Step Four--Creating the action items.

The second major component of a strategic planning document is the set of detailed action items associated with defining and measuring the activities of research administration. The institution may divide these actions into three hierarchical levels: goals (what needs to be done), strategies (how it is to be done), and performance indicators (how to measure completion of action items) (Figure 4). Goals reflect the strategic vision, informed by the values, which aid in the accomplishment of the mission of the organization. Generally, a strategic plan for an administrative sub-unit, such as an office of research administration, should have between four and seven goals, depending upon the range and complexity of services the organization offers. For each goal, the organization must identify several strategies that define the process by which the unit will meet that goal. Likewise, for each strategy at least one performance indicator must establish the mechanisms to use to measure achieving the goal. Two distinct types of performance indicators are commonly used in strategic planning documents, metrics and milestones. A plan employs a metric when the descriptor is a quantitative measure defined in terms of number of occurences, financial value, frequency, or percentage. Conversely, a milestone describes an either/or condition, where no quantitave characteristic is readily definable. Examples include completion of strategic plan, publication of annual or hiring a new staff member. Either the tasks were completed or they were not.

Step Five--Key indicators.

Creation of action items can result in a large, and perhaps unwieldy, array of goals, strategies, and performance indicators. While these items define and describe the core content of a strategic plan, they are often written at a level of detail beyond that appropriate for general reporting of the activities of the organization. Therefore, one must create a short list of key performance indicators that will serve as the core quantitative description of the activities of the organization (Figure 5). In the case of many academic service units, composing a short list of key indicators is difficult. For research administration, however, the situation is rather straightforward. A typical list might include the number of external grant applications submitted, the percentage of applications successful, or the total value of awards received during the fiscal year. Since these key indicators represent the most important measures of the success of the Office of Research Administration, they become central to all reporting processes. Ultimately the success of the unit will be judged by these measures.

Step Six--Completing the written plan.

Transforming the strategic plan from a draft to a fully functional document is largely a process of vetting. By involving representatives from all classes of stakeholders throughout the creation, one can create a final draft with broad acceptance. During this stage of the process, the components provided by various members of the planning committee must be re-crafted into a document with a single voice. During this amalgamation, care must be taken to avoid several different types of problems that can arise. First, revisions must be agreed upon and completed in a timely manner. Second, the process of creating goals, strategies, and performance indicators often results in a need to reevaluate the broader mission, vision, and values statements. As operational details of the plan are developed, revision of aspects of these framing statements can become contentious, reflecting the variety, and individual perspectives and biases of members of the planning committee. Any serious conflict that arises must be fully addressed prior to implementation of the plan. Failure to do so will potentially undermine the validity of the strategic directions chosen.

Step Seven--Implementing the process.

The single greatest fear associated with initiating a strategic planning process is the potential failure of implementation of the plan. In order to maximize the usefulness of the planning process and the resulting strategic plan, four conditions must prevail. First, the creation of the plan must occur through an open and honest exchange of information and opinions. If the process of planning contains flaws, those flaws will rebound with devastating consequence during the implementation of the plan. Second, while the plan must be obvious as the product of the work of a representative committee, leadership must firmly embrace it. Given the variety of organizational structures employed by colleges and universities within which research administration fits, the critical leader can vary from the chief executive officer (President or Chancellor) to the chief academic officer (Provost, Vice President or Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs). Any plan that fails to attract the support of leadership is destined to become moribund as subordinates realize that goal setting and performance assessment are not tied to the structure of the plan. Third, strategic management will flow naturally from strategic planning when internal resource allocation is tied to the successful implementation of the plan. Research administrators can leverage additional resources with a well developed strategic plan, while at the same time using the highly structured reporting of performance indicators as justification for the continued allocation of those resources currently committed. Until budget planning aligns with strategic planning, the most well crafted plan will fail. Finally, the plan must be dynamic. The planning committee must continue to discuss the results of performance analysis, modify metrics, and adjust goals and strategies to reflect changing environmental factors. Institutions of higher education are becoming increasingly dynamic in their styles of leadership and organization. Thus implementation of a strategic plan over a two- to four-year duration will require significant modification of that plan as conditions within and without the university change. By revisiting the plan periodically the institution can sustain and magnify the impact of the document by assuring its continued implementation.


The Office of Research and External Support at IPFW is set to embark on the second year of operations under the strategic plan. During '02-'03 we achieved a major advance in sponsored research activity on campus: total grants and contracts increased 40% compared to the previous year, we created a research fellows program, for the first time we submitted major multidisciplinary grant applications to the National Science Foundation, and we are forming plans to establish a multi-component research support program that will significantly increase the number of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows conducting research on campus. Perhaps IPFW could have made some, or even all, of these changes without a detailed strategic plan, but the long-term sustainability and growth of research at the institution depends strongly upon strategic thinking and strategic management within the ORES.
Figure 1.
ORES Mission Statement

The Purpose: The Office of Research and
External Support (ORES) is a unit within the
Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) created to
serve the scholarly and creative activities of
faculty, students, and staff.

The Function: Our mission is to facilitate
the procurement of external support through
research grants, contracts, and technical
assistance agreements, to administer internal
support for research, and to document and
publicize the scholarly achievements of
members of the IPFW community.

Figure 2.

The ORES will

* Enhance the research productivity of the

* Increase external support of research.

* Strengthen the research experiences of
undergraduate and graduate students.

* Celebrate the achievements of researchers.

Figure 3.

As an academic service unit we are committed
to the academic excellence of the University.
As such, the ORES values

* A broad definition of research and creative
activity that includes the scholarship of
discovery, the scholarship of learning, and the
scholarship of engagement.

* The pursuit of knowledge in an environment
that encourages free and open inquiry,
academic achievement, scholarship,
and creativity.

* The celebration of academic achievement.

* The importance of research experiences
for undergraduate and gradate students.

* The collaborative nature of research.

Figure 4.

Strategies Performance Indicators

Goal I: Increase external
support for research.

1. Administer the grant application process

 Process external grant # of applications processed
 applications # of applications funded

 Process internal grant # of applications processed
 applications # of applications funded

 Review faculty satisfaction Survey results
 with services

2. Match researchers with opportunities for external support

 Make announcements of grant # of announcements

 Facilitate individual matches # of meetings conducted
 between researchers and grant # of proposals resulting from
 opportunities meetings

3. Provide support for researchers to meet with funding agencies and
program directors

 Increase communication between # of meetings conducted
 researchers and funding # of proposals resulting from
 agencies meetings

4. Create target list for high priority funding opportunities/projects.

 Create list # of opportunities/projects
 # of opportunities/projects
 submitted for external funding

5. Conduct workshops on the grant process and grant writing.

 Conduct workshops # of workshops
 # of participants
 # of new proposals from

6. Establish a research fellows program and other forms of intensive
support for grant writing.

 Establish research fellows # of fellows designated
 program # of external applications
 # of external applications funded
 $ value of research fellow grants
 $ F&A from research fellow grants

Figure 5.
Research Change Indicators

The central mission of the ORES is to increase
and expand the research productivity of the
university. As such, overall performance of the
Office will be assessed based upon the
following four indicators.

* Total Support for Research ($)

* Numbers of External Grant Applications (#)

* Number of Successful External Grants (#)

* Total Amount of Facilities and
Administration Revenue ($)


Besanko, D., Dranove, D. & Shanley, M. (2003). Economics of strategy (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Bryson, J.M. & Alston, F.K. (1995). Creating and implementing your strategic plan: A workbook for public and nonprofit organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dudik, E. M. (2000). Strategic renaissance: New thinking and innovative tools to create great corporate strategies using insights from history and science. New York: AMACOM.

Fogg, C.D. (1994). Team-based strategic planning: A complete guide to structuring, facilitating and implementing the process. New York: AMACOM.

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. (2003a). Strategic plan 2001 report. Retrieved July 31, 2003, from plan.html

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. (2003b). Strategic plan 2002-2004. Retrieved July 31, 2003 from 27 03.pdf

Kaplan, R.S. & Norton, D.P. (1996). The balanced scorecard: Translating strategy into action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Kaplan, R.S. & Norton, D.P. (2000). The strategy-focused organization: How balanced scorecard companies thrive in the new business environment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Kotter, J.P. (1996). Leading Change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Napier, R., Sanaghan, P., Sidle, C., & Saraghan, P. (1997). High Impact Tools and Activities for Strategic Planning: Creative Techniques for Facilitating Your Organization's Planning Process. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Wootton, S. & Horne, T. (2002). Strategic Thinking: The 9-Step Approach to Strategic Planning(2nd ed.). London: Kogan Page, Ltd.

Author's Note: This manuscript was developed from a workshop given at the SRA section meeting, April 2003, in Memphis,Tennessee. I greatly appreciate the creative dialog that developed among the workshop participants; their insights were helpful in advancing my ideas of strategic planning. I am also indebted to my workshop co-leader Patricia Farrell, Director of Research Support Services at IPFW. The manuscript was greatly improved by her thoughtful comments. Contact: Cad N. Drummond, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, IN 46805-1499. Ph: (260) 481-5750. Email:

Carl N. Drummond, Ph.D.

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne

Carl N. Drummond, PhD, is Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and External support and Professor of Geology at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Currently in his fourth year of service in the Office of Academic Affairs, Drummond spearheaded the development of the IPFW Office of Research and External Support. Maintaining an active research program in the field of quantitative stratigraphy, and serving as editor of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers' Journal of Geoscience Education occupies what little time he has not dedicated to research administration. Drummond earned a BS in Geology at James Madison University, and MS and PhD degrees from the University of Michigan.
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Title Annotation:Case Study
Author:Drummond, Carl N.
Publication:Journal of Research Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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