In late 2014 a selection of research support staff, academics, and external process review experts came together to ‘simplify, collaborate and deliver’ a new approach to the administration of approximately 2,000 research contracts per year. The challenge was to significantly improve Warwick’s contract review and approval system, which was experiencing low levels of satisfaction from both its customers and from the professional contracts officers working within it.
The team convened a number of groups to review the current state of the contracts support system and its associated processes, mapping the workflow from the initial point of entry into the system through to approval. They identified a number of barriers to successful service delivery that were inherent within the current system.
- A lack of a clear entry point into the contracts support system
- Too many handovers (due to contracts passing through multiple officers prior to approval)
- A lack of a clear framework and standards to guide both contracts officers and academics
- A lack of proportion in terms of risk and complexity (with all contracts being treated in the same way regardless of risk)
- A disconnect between the ultimate contracts signatory and the practitioner team. A fundamental restructure of the contracts system has followed, based upon an increased understanding of the contracts workflow and the barriers within it.
A number of proposed changes are being embedded, led by the practitioners themselves, in consultation with Warwick’s senior management team, including:
- The creation of one point of entry for grants and contracts
- An early assessment of risk and complexity
- A reduction in the number of handovers within the contracts review system
- A new framework and set of institutional standards to guide contracts officers and academics during the negotiation.
Underpinning these improvements are cultural and structural changes within the contracts support team. For example, levels of responsibility for officers to approve contracts has increased and a new integrated ‘grants and contacts’ support role has been developed. This has aided a more cohesive approach to service delivery right across Warwick’s research portfolio.
A number of service improvement measures have been developed. These include a reduction in contracts lead time, from 135 days to 100 days for non-financial legal agreements (24-26% reduction) and to 102 days for financial agreements (23-24% reduction). We will also measure the steps taken to review and approve contracts in order to reduce the current 34 steps to 21 steps for medium risk agreements (38% reduction) and to 18 for non-financial agreements (47% reduction).