On the 27th of June Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) organised, in collaboration with ARMA-NL, a Learning Community session for Research Support Offices (RSO). More than one hundred grant advisors, RSO heads, research managers and other interested participants from all over the country joined the event. The main aim was to exchange knowledge and best-practices to further strengthen and professionalise Research Support Offices. We are very happy with the results and thank all the participants for their valuable contributions.
Research support offices (RSO) are the departments within research institutions, such as universities, that support researchers with the process of finding external funding for their research, developing project proposals, setting-up grant agreements, finance and project management. Because of the increased dependency on and complexity of external research funding, researcher have a growing need for expert advice and support, which is delivered by the RSOs. Since the employees from the RSOs have an important profession within the research ecosystem with a high level of skills and expertise, it was very welcome to organise an event where they could share ideas and knowledge on the professionalization of their profession with each other.
In 2020, NWO and the Dutch universities published an integral plan to reduce pressure on the research system. The integral plan contains a package of measures to reduce the increasing workload and application pressure on academic staff. The universities are making individual and joint efforts to implement four measures: less emphasis on funding applications, more diverse career opportunities for (starting) scientists, strengthening of the University Research Support Services and improved information provision between NWO and the universities. One of the actions taken to strengthen the University Research Support Services was to launch this pilot event for a Learning Community for Research Support Offices. The pilot event was organised in two parallel sessions.
Session A: Workshop and world café discussion
Session A started with a workshop on the methodology of personal and collaborative grant advising. Marco Last (VU) gave an interesting speech about the differences between teaching, advising, and coaching with regard to personal grants advice, and went further into the ‘coaching attitude’ Claudia Nicolaije (UMCU) followed with a presentation on how to optimally support collaborative grants. She focussed on diverse ways of advising during the various phases of writing a proposal.
After the break, the group divided into smaller groups to talk in a world café setting about three questions:
- What skills and competences does a research manager and administrator need to have to excel at his/her job?
- How can research support offices benefit from standard operating procedures, processes, and standardization?
- What is our role towards the researcher and the organization?
Session B: Brainstorm and working session on the professionalisation of RSOs
Session B was designed in the Open Space Technology method to elaborate on the strengthening and professionalisation of RSOs. The participants were invited to bring in different topics, which were then discussed in smaller groups. Every group wrote down their findings and pointed out certain action points. These actions relate to both the simplification of various processes, as to strengthening of RSO communities.
The main aim of this (pilot) event was to learn from each other by sharing best-practices and knowledge about grant advising. We are very happy with all the input that we collected during this event, and will use this in future actions regarding the implementation of the integral plan. Any future events about system pressure will be communicated through the UNL website.