Cradle to Grave: A research and programme management knowledge-sharing series

By Jon Lawn

“I wish this had been around when I started in my current career”

This was my summarising statement after we had finished delivering a three workshop series online in March 2021. Not wanting to blow our own trumpet, however even as a co-designer and presented in this series I found the content excellent and hugely informative, and even after nearly 10 years of working in the field I learnt loads!

Back in August 2020 I was part of a team of GCRF – GROW project managers submitted a proposal to the African Academy of sciences (AAS) and Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA) call for an International Research Management Staff Development Programme. Our team, which consisted of colleagues from the University of Leeds and SOAS (London) were successful in the call and partnered with a team from Southern Africa (the SANTHE network) to co-develop our proposals and deliver a staff development programme by May 2021.

Our new team of nine research managers from across the UK and Africa got to work getting to know each other, our skill sets and expertise, and what we could contribute to the programme. By the start of 2021 we had fleshed out the components of the ‘cradle to grave’ workshop series, adapting what initially was hoped would be a face-to-face exchange series which was now not possible, to an online version.

We designed the series over three workshops, splitting our team up into sub-teams.  First we explore the pre-award design process, including: how to prepare academics in advance of bids, preparing the grant application process, project design, building on existing projects and legacy, due diligence and eligibility. Secondly, we discuss how best to establish reporting frameworks for implementing collaborative research projects focusing on key challenges and considerations associated with equitable partnerships, financial management, communication and data management. Our third and final workshops ends with considerations around closing out research programmes and ensuring legacy.

To ensure the continuation of our efforts and to make the work open access recordings of the webinars and a further toolkit will be hosted online shortly.

As we opened up the application process for our series in early 2021 we nervously discussed how many people report might apply and put a cap on the amount of people we thought we could sensibly take part in a workshop – being hopeful that we would have enough applicants to fill it. In the end we needn’t have worried, we had more than four times the amount of applicants than spaces – indicating the popularity of this topic! We devised a shortlisting process and criteria and were delighted to fill all places.

My main takeaway from this initiative is not actually the success of the workshop series (which were well received), but the new networking and links I’ve made with the GCRF/SANTHE teams; expanding my own network and working alongside personnel from different disciplines and organisations around the world. We met at least monthly over the nine-month period, and in our sub-teams as we designed the individual workshops met even more frequently and this deepened my understanding of the different components and methodologies in a wider variety of research management than on currently exposed to.

Keep an eye out for the toolkit launch and further activities – we do hope these continue to be a resource to many more around the world!


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