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Reinventing Administrative Capacity in the University Setting: Collaborative Innovation

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization. 

By Emily Devereux
February 3, 2019

Expectations of securing grants and sponsored funding awards can induce stress in academia and faculty members, especially for pre-tenured faculty building their portfolios for tenure and promotion. Adding to this stress, social equity performance distributed by external funding, such as grants, contracts and cooperative agreements reveals distribution disparities affecting smaller public higher education institutions. Faculty members of these smaller institutions thus frequently experience competitive struggles when submitting grants due to the consideration of factors clearly out of the faculty’s role. This includes administrative and institutional capacity, as perceived in peer review panels during the award process. In response, universities must become innovative while growing administrative capacity and support within a limited resource environment to set their faculty up for competitive funding success.

Cultivating Change

Pushing institutional boundaries and cultivating a collaborative relationship between research and advancement offices at the university can garner positive culture change in research on campus. It can also fuel growth in sponsored funding, both from foundations and governmental agencies. Creating this institutional collaboration across departments in universities that have historically not worked together can offer strengthened capacity and newly envisioned services. It also meets efficient stewardship of institutional resources. It can also be a catalyst to cultivate stronger relationships with stakeholders, sponsors and industry with university constituents. Integrated, collaborative services can enable the university to operate more uniformly in its purpose and mission, resulting in capacity building, increased visibility and sponsored funding.

Collaborative governance and new organizational models are not new to the public administration field, and many practitioners in research administration and advancement services hold MPAs, and now DPAs, within these university divisions. The public administrator’s background and experience should contribute to capacity building initiatives with efficacy of resources and service delivery. This  helps stimulate innovative change for collaborative efforts. Engaging the group process to cultivate this change necessitates the following:

  • Clarity of purpose: To accomplish collaborative innovation, it is critical to identify common goals and purpose, resulting in a united vision.
    • Research and advancement offices seek external funding and engagement. By intentionally working together, the university can achieve:
      • Better stewardship of institutional resources.
      • Growth in funded student research and creative opportunities.
      •  Growth in faculty support and funding.
      •  Innovative solutions for the university and the community.
      • Stakeholders and sponsors observing a unification of campus efforts.
  • Open communication: Mary Parker Follett’s power-with management theory, as reflected in her book “Creative Experience,” is based on trust gained through open communication. Follett emphasizes the importance of an integrated and informed organization in order to reduce skepticism. Organizational integration can also provide better decision-making capacity for maximizing resources, ultimately producing superior outcomes.
    • Collaborative communication between offices can assist faculty in developing research ideas and submitting proposals. White papers should be shared between offices, along with both offices attending brainstorming and creative sessions. Collaborative sponsor and industry visits are also a perk to identify diverse funding opportunities and to engage university stakeholders.
  • Structural change efforts: Structural change efforts visible to university constituents are important for communicating a unified front of the research and advancement offices . They also help entities work together to grow sponsored funding and engagement. Change efforts beneath the surface are just as important. They can help both offices recognize the intentional working relationship and required efforts for growth in capacity and building collaborative foundations. 
    • These efforts may include:
      •  A weekly meeting of both offices.
      • Positions in both offices that bridge the services and collaborative efforts.
      • Co-delivery of workshops and trainings on campus for sponsored funding development.
      • Strategic communication with the university and its stakeholders.
  • Resource creativity and fiscal efficacy: Limited personnel and budgetary resources are a common hurdle in higher education institutions.
    • Leveraging resources from each side, both financial and personnel, can result in capacity building. It helps dedicate specialized time for cultivating relationships with both foundations and agencies. It can also help with learning how to best align research and creativity at the university with potential investors. Lastly, it can assist with dedicating resources for prospecting and funding opportunity identification.
  • Support from administration: Reporting efforts and how they are managed, viewed and interpreted by administration is critical to the overall success of collaborative efforts and acknowledging productivity. Administration must be in full support and encourage collaborative reports to reflect meaningful credit for both offices.

Efficient Stewardship of Resources

Capacity building, when based on institutional arrangements, can offer specialized development for structure and growth to achieve equitable results across various groups and individual needs.

Benefits of efficiency in university resources include:

  • Duplicating less services.
  • Leveraging financial resources across campus
  • Strengthening the value of investments in resources due to benefiting multiple divisions.
  • Faculty, staff and students gaining ease of access to resources and services instead of navigating silos.

Collaboration between research and advancement offices to grow administrative capacity and institutional support at the university can result in a model that has more significant impact than either division could accomplish by working separately or in competition with each other.


Author: Emily Devereux is executive director of research and technology transfer at Arkansas State University and is a student in the DPA program at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. She is a certified research administrator and serves on the Arkansas State University’s MPA advisory board. She can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @EmilyDevo.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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