ARMS CSIRO Excellence In Research Management Practice Award

Congratulations to the University of Melbourne Research Return to Campus Design & Implementation Team!

It was announced today, by Ross McLennan, Australasian Research Management Society (ARMS) President and Merrilyn Larusson, CSIRO that the team was awarded the ARMS CSIRO Excellence In Research Management Practice. One team award is given annually, we received the award under the category “working Smarter: characterised by using creative and innovative solutions that enable work to be carried out more easily, efficiently and/or productively, while not compromising the quality of outcomes”.

Belinda Bain
Belinda Bain is the SBS recipient

Team members

Academic Divisions:

Amanda Lloyd, Barbara Slattery, Belinda Bain, Bella Blaher, Bryony Wakefield, Evan Lloyd, Fiona Kelly, Jonathan Laskovsky, Jonathan O’Donnell, Mark Potter, Megan Price, Michelle Mackay, Monique O’Callaghan, Patricia Gigliuto, Rebecca Croser, Sally Jones and Samuel Rowland

Business Services:

Alex Jenkins, Aparna Neelkantan, Jatin Kohli, Naveen Velagapudi, Ray Yee, Sean Turner, Sophia Lagastes and Tania Finn Angelo

Chancellery Research and Enterprise:

Kate Hayes

Thank you

Many thanks to our nominator, Andrew Stott and to Professor Liz Sonenberg and Profession Mike McGuckin for their letters of support. Thank you also to all our supervisors who supported this cross-functional team, to our senior academic staff who guided us and to our researchers who worked with us.

Summary of the activities of the Research Return to Campus Design & Implementation Team

The University of Melbourne (UoM) has delivered a cloud-based solution to enable on campus access for staff whose research is critical to the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, or whose research cannot be paused due to commitment of funding or other key deadlines.

From conception to roll-out the solution was developed in three weeks, through collaborative efforts across divisions (Chancellery Research and Enterprise, Business Services and Academic Divisions). The minimal viable product solution uses the ServiceNow platform to support approvals to enable research continuity at this critical time. The research request form was rolled out across all UoM Academic Division research areas and has since been adopted as the standard University approach for coordinating all other requests for campus access.

COVID-19 prompted a world-wide directive to “stay at home”. On 23 March 2020, the University of Melbourne Vice Chancellor mandated all on-campus activity would cease. Staff were advised to work from home, where possible, transitioning to a virtual campus from Monday 30 March 2020.

Academic Divisions faced immediate pressure. Research activities at the UoM take place across seven campuses as well as affiliated medical research institutes and partner hospitals. Some research activities are critical to the response to managing the pandemic or seeking vaccine/treatment solutions. Other research cannot be conducted at home or requires short-term access to ramp down projects. Academic Divisions were tasked with determining what research should continue onsite, and establish processes to facilitate this.

In the initial response to campus shutdown, approvals to work onsite were managed via manual solutions (Excel, email requests, webform submissions). These met the immediate need to facilitate access, but the process was slow, uncoordinated, inconsistent and did not ensure good governance.

Our approach needed to be agile, flexible and provide a standardised University-wide solution to evaluate and approve each request.

Within three weeks we conceived, designed, tested and delivered a single University-wide approach for approval to conduct research on campus. This was developed by a cross-functional team, with representatives across the University, using ServiceNow to allow us to flexibly manage workflows.

By working smarter the University has been able to ensure a safe environment for research that is compliant with Victorian Government restrictions, and to effectively monitor research activity on campus.

The principle value of this solution is that it provides a clear, easy pathway for staff and students to seek approval to conduct research on campus against specific eligibility criteria. It also allows related approvals and local area inductions to occur as required across the spectrum of activity.

Research managers coordinate the approval of activity through assigning of roles in the process. Coordinators in Academic Divisions assign research requests for endorsement as appropriate to the request, including building and platform managers, OHS staff, HR and academic leaders. This allows us to manage the process of returning staff and students to campus in a way that enables governance of the onsite activity, compliance and completion of local area inductions/COVID-safe training. The interface is summarised as:

  • Ability for research managers to coordinate the process without needing to understand OHS and local requirements, since these are managed by endorsers in the workflow
  • Collaborative approach to addressing needs of each Academic Division; identifying areas for consolidation
  • Agreement that proposed online approach responds to user needs and senior executive approvers
  • Communications professional developed an internal webpage, quick reference guide and supporting materials for ‘Coordinators’ and ‘Endorsers’
  • ‘Coordinator’ roles established in each Academic Division to manage requests according to Divisional needs. Some are not research management professionals
  • Inclusion of ‘Endorsers’, across a range of functions noting each Academic Division’s delegation requirements

The formation of a cross-functional team resulted in a “working smarter” approach. This team provided their expertise, listened and learned from each other so that consistent, repeatable, integrated and reportable processes could be developed. The solution enables information captured to be combined with data in building density management systems, to give an accurate picture of on-campus activity.

Developing a system where requests are submitted and managed on-system and routed according to specific Division approval processes has ensured good governance and compliance with Government restrictions. This was particularly valuable as easing and tightening of workplace activities took place between June-September. Agile approaches are increasingly being recognised as a valuable way for research management innovation to meet the needs of researchers.