Effective grant management is at the heart of every organization that conducts research and receives funding to support that research.
Whether the institution embraces a centralized model, where all grant management staff are located in one office, or a decentralized model, where the responsibility of managing aspects of the grant is completed by personnel within the individual departments and the research administration office, there are a number of challenges that many organizations encounter.
Let’s take a look at the top 5 challenges experienced by many research institutions and the best grants management solutions.
Five years ago, if you would have surveyed the grants personnel within any research organization, you would find that a high percentage would report that they had been in their positions for at least 5 years, with most stating that they had been in their positions for 10+ years. Although it has not been that long ago, it is a very different grants’ world.
Funding agencies, which were once upon a time fluid in their processes and policies, have become rigid and inflexible, requiring compliance and certifications in a number of research-related activities. This is due to continuous changes in the guidelines that govern how federal funds are utilized and reported. These changes are incorporated in the Uniform Guidance for Federal Awards, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), and Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) clauses.
Institutions have struggled to keep their staff abreast of the new requirements and it is often unclear whose role it is to manage the various roles and responsibilities, leaving grants personnel feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.
This overload can be overcome by encouraging staff to join grants management associations like the National Grants Management Association (NGMA) or the Society of Research Administrators International (SRAI). Organizations, such as these, are great for training and sharing information through forums, workshops, and publications. They are also helpful with networking and learning how organizations across the country are structured to address the new regulatory and compliance requirements.
Communication, Collaboration, and Coordination
“Whose on first?” is a popular Abbott and Costello skit, and a feeling that many people who work in grants management have. It is not uncommon for multiple people within an institution to be working on the same aspects of a grant submission or award unaware. This inefficiency utilizes the effort of individuals unnecessarily and can sometimes give room for activities to be missed or fall through the cracks.
Having an electronic-based system that connects all parties – research staff, research administration, and other internal collaborators – and allows communication and access to the same information and documentation, including the status of activities and timestamp of where the grant is in the workflow, eliminates the unknowing and reduces disorganization.
Redundancy and Duplication of Efforts
If an organization is still manually managing its grant-related activities, there is probably lots of redundancy causing blockages in the process. Simply stated, the research staff is spinning their wheels to complete various tasks, but not moving very far.
Without a documented streamlined process, and system to support that process, an organization is relying on individual staff members to complete similar tasks and house their grant documents, which include spreadsheets and word documents, in the way that best fits them. The same for tracking grant deadlines and statuses of the application or award. This is only ideal if the staff doesn’t take a vacation, get sick, etc… If, however, a team member must be off, interim support may have trouble accessing files requiring creating new grant-related documents and duplicative efforts.
Organizations that have a uniform approach or process for how grants are managed, pre-and post-award activities, are more likely to provide uninterrupted support during staff PTO or high peak grant submissions when cross coverage is needed.
Organizations with a system that supports its documented process and workflow will further eliminate the opportunity for redundancy and any duplication of effort, resulting in better time management and efficiency.
Access to Information
As mentioned above in Challenge #3 when information can only be utilized by an individual team member, it creates the need to share that data via email or paper. As updates are made, this leads to multiple versions floating around, increasing the risk of incorrect documents being submitted to funding agencies or used as source documents. This also causes disruption to that team member, who must stop doing what they are doing, to send copies of documents to internal collaborators when needed.
Utilizing an electronic-based grant management system, organizations have access to a centralized repository of all of their research grant-related data. This includes application-specific documents, notices of awards, and compliance-required certifications. An even greater benefit, however, is that multiple parties within the organization can be given access so that they can view these records at any time.
Staying in Compliance
Funding agencies have increased their requirements for greater compliance oversight and monitoring. This may include frequent progress, technical, and/or financial reporting. It may include copies of training certificates or protocols.
Some organizations have departments designated specifically to review each grant’s regulatory requirements, but for many institutions, this is managed by staff who are also responsible for the pre-and post-award activities, such as grant submissions and awards management. For these individuals, compliance monitoring is often last on the list of priorities and when reports are required, it consumes lots of their time to pull the information from various sources. Completed in this haphazard fashion, the reports may be missing information or report incorrect data.
Fortunately, there are electronic research administration grants management systems that have the framework to support reporting and compliance monitoring requirements. These systems can prompt staff, faculty, and research administration on reporting deadlines and the type of reporting being submitted. Furthermore, they are able to create checklists, track data, and house necessary documents.
It is crucial that organizations have a system that can effectively manage compliance-related activities. Without one, they are at greater risk of jeopardizing future funding, out-of-compliance auditing findings of non-compliance, and applied penalty fines.
There you have it! The top 5 challenges many research organizations are facing and the best grant management solutions for each.
So, if your institution is experiencing a turnover in grants staff, lack of coordination and communication across departments, duplication of efforts, trouble accessing files and data, or an inability to effectively manage compliance responsibilities, having an electronic-based grants management system is the solution.
Okay, it won’t solve your staff retention problem, but it will make life easier for interim grant support to provide coverage while you rehire and train new staff.
Are you ready to move your research grants management to the next level? Contact us today for a demonstration.