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Strategic changes in the Office for Research to improve efficiencies, staff support

Customer service, increased staffing among areas of focus
Eric Perreault said one priority for his team is the recommitment to service excellence and engaging research stakeholders as partners to build productive relationships across offices, units and schools.

With ambitions that span the biosciences, decarbonization, renewable energy, data analytics, and artificial intelligence, Northwestern has announced a plan to enhance its central research administrative functions to support and expand the University’s $1 billion research enterprise.

The Office for Research (OR) is implementing strategic changes to create a more effective and supportive environment for faculty and staff, aiming to provide researchers with service that quickly and efficiently advances their work while remaining compliant with increasingly complex federal regulations and research security requirements.

“Our research is thriving with so many exciting and high-impact projects underway,” said Provost Kathleen Hagerty. “Still, given the scale of all this activity, we recognize the need for improvements, so we took the steps to move quickly and make meaningful changes to sustain our research community.”

Announcing plans to support and expand Northwestern’s $1 billion research enterprise.

Led by Eric Perreault, vice president for research, OR collaborated with the Office of the Provost and Huron Consulting Group to conduct a detailed self-assessment. Feedback stemmed from hundreds of interviews with faculty and staff, peer benchmarking and data analysis.

"These improvements are a significant step toward elevating Northwestern’s research capabilities, and Eric Perreault is a collaborative leader with the vision and commitment to implement these needed changes,” Hagerty said. “By fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and streamlining processes, we are positioning our faculty to continue to produce transformative knowledge that benefits society."

The effort identified areas for improving organizational structure, reporting relationships and roles supporting research activities and University priorities including:

Customer service

Perreault said one priority for his team is the recommitment to service excellence and engaging research stakeholders as partners to build productive relationships across offices, units and schools.

“By realigning our resources and enhancing our organizational structure, we are creating a more efficient and effective support system for our research community,” Perreault said. “These changes will help manage workload better and ensure compliance with complex regulations.”

Increased staffing

Northwestern is increasing strategic staffing in high-volume areas such as the Institutional Review Board Office, Sponsored Research, Export Controls and International Compliance and Accounting Services for Research and Sponsored Programs to boost productivity and support the research community.

Renee Gonzales has been appointed as the inaugural chief research operating officer to oversee research operational functions, ensure service delivery and support research growth.

Process improvements

Changes also involve streamlining proposal, award and subcontract management processes to ensure flexibility, efficiency and compliance. Business administration, research analytics and training activities also will be restructured to increase capacity and service levels.

Advisory groups, joint committees, expanded communications and reconciliation of obstacles to collaboration will tighten network connections across the University.

“By driving up efficiency in critical areas such as grants management and various compliance functions, we are working to shorten transaction times for our faculty, increasing opportunities and reducing costly potential risks,” Perreault said. “This means our faculty can focus on what they do best — high-impact research — and do more of it.”

Matt Golosinski is director of communications in the Office for Research.