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Developing a framework for research management professionals

The Chair of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators sets out how ARMA went about building a framework for its members professional development. ARMA believes it will help individuals and training providers assess the professions training and development needs.

Research administration has developed and matured. Its association, ARMA, is 20 years old this year, and has grown to encompass a range of areas of expertise. There are “sister” associations in closely related areas, and between us we try to help develop those supporting research and knowledge exchange activities, and to represent their views. But what skills are needed for research management and administration, and what professional development is needed in order to advance one’s career? These are questions that we’ve been asked for some time.

The range of research support goes from management of transactions (and there seems to be a greater proportion of complex transactions that test institutional mechanisms and policies) through assessment and individual development, to dissemination and application, all underpinned, one hopes, by strategy and policy.

Supporting research applies to a whole lifecycle, from conceptualisation to commercialisation, from knowledge creation to knowledge appreciation. It’s also about supporting a range of people and their interests: individual researchers and teams of researchers; academic managers and vice-chancellors; customers and funders; regulators and sponsors; plus other professionals and other research managers. Wherever one works, and at whichever point(s) in the cycle, one is likely to have to face in several directions.

The range of knowledge and roles to accomplish this is significant:

• Diplomat, politician, people manager and motivator
• Organiser, operations manager, project manager
• HR, finance, estates
• Law (contract, IP, company, employment)
• Systems, e-business
• Marketing, PR, communicator, spokesperson
• Technical subject knowledge, market needs
• Policy maker and interpreter

Not everyone needs each of these, but to be successful, and appreciated, one tends to need a good selection of them. There is no defined route into research management and administration, and there has been no satisfactory definition of the requisite knowledge, skills and attributes.

Aside from the accretion of technical knowledge and skills, there are a set of personal attributes that are desirable. Having recently revisited Kipling’s house, his poem “If” comes to mind: If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming you …”. This nicely sums up the need to be level-headed and professional in one’s behaviour.

Over the years, our members have expressed the desire to have more structured guidance about what they might need to know in order to develop their career, and institutions have asked for input into role descriptions, junior and senior, and organisational structures. This has been repeated in discussion with our international colleagues.

So last year ARMA decided to create a professional development framework that would ‘unpack’ the knowledge, skills and attributes embedded in the above list, and provide a means by which we (and others) can offer training and development provision, and which helps individuals assess their training and development needs.

The final draft comprises the tasks we undertake, and the knowledge and skills required for those tasks, grouped into 20 areas, under seven headings, and viewed from three perspectives. For institutions, we believe the framework will provide a tool to assist in the construction of suitable job descriptions, with development pathways and points for assessment. The development of the framework, which will be launched later this year, has been undertaken through a series of focus groups with our members and discussions with a number of related associations and organisations. We’re grateful to the AUA for their support, which has helped us to align our framework with their CPD Framework.

The development of the framework has sparked interest nationally and internationally, including requests from our international sister societies to share our developments, and productive dialogues with our national colleagues, in particular with PraxisUnico and AURIL. With an increasing movement of researchers and research managers between countries, there are opportunities for a more coherent approach (whilst recognising the country-specific details), and we have had some initial discussions within the context of INORMS, the International Network of Research Management Societies.

One area of debate has been over accreditation, whether there should be academic or professional certification of some sort, and how this would relate to other established professions, who are actively involved in research support roles (e.g. accountants and lawyers). I see the merits of academic qualifications being available, but believe ARMA’s role, as a professional association, would be to provide a flexible means of professional accreditation and recognition. We will be pursuing this in more detail once the initial framework has been launched.

In times of tight resources, it’s even more important to have well-trained, knowledgeable staff exhibiting professional behaviours. Whilst the framework will be of most value to professional services staff, we also believe that it will also be of value to researchers. In this context, we have had discussions with Vitae to look for alignments with their Researcher Development Framework, and also with the Leadership Foundation with relation to senior managers’ needs.

The framework will not be a panacea, but we do hope that it will provide a solid guide to individuals and to institutions (quite apart from helping ARMA to develop an increasing training and development offering), assisting the development of the profession, and thereby the quality of the research and related activities that we support.

Ian Carter is Chair of ARMA, the Association of Research Managers and Administrators, and Director of Research and Enterprise at the University of Sussex