The End-to-End Research Lifecycle Project: What is it, why is it important, and what’s coming next?

Alison Evans
Alison Evans, Director of Post Award

After more than 20 years working in research management, and having gained first-hand experience in nearly all of the research support functions – from pre-award, bid development, contracting and project management, through to commercialisation, impact and the REF (as well as having completed a PhD!) – I consider myself to have a pretty good understanding of the research process.

So, when I joined Bristol as Director of Post Award in the Division of Research Enterprise and Innovation (DREI) in November 2019 it wasn’t a huge surprise to be delegated responsibility from Jon Hunt, Executive Director of DREI, for delivering the End-to-End Research Lifecycle Project – affectionately known as E2E. Three years in, and having now launched our researcher’s route map, it is timely to reflect on what we’ve done so far, and what’s next…

What is E2E?

The E2E initiative was launched in April 2019 as part of the then Professional Service Fit for the Future programme. In the first phase, KPMG led a review of our existing processes for supporting research applications and awards. Whilst their report highlighted some good practices to be preserved, including the dedication, knowledge and skills of many staff, it also identified a number of weaknesses that were leading to delays, additional effort, high risk exposure in some circumstances and sub-optimal decisions.

In response, we first concentrated our efforts on some major changes, including implementation of Worktribe, creation of the Research Finance Centre of Excellence, and development of a single contracts administrative hub. I think it’s fair to say that these all went some way to improving service delivery, as well as bridging the critical interface between DREI and Finance.

However, we also knew that concerns still remained around a lack of common and transparent processes, decision-making gateways, and defined institutional risk parameters (with appropriate escalation points and risk owners). So, in August 2020, the second phase of E2E got underway, focusing on the design and delivery of three key tools:

  • A high-level, visual E2E route map setting out the researcher journey, from application and award through to project delivery and lifecycle closure, that incorporates decision points (eg whether or not to go ahead with a bid), and acts as a single platform from which to access information, guidance and advice at all stages of the journey.
  • Clearly defined roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of everyone involved in the E2E process, including academics, Heads of Schools, Deans and various professional services.
  • A set of defined features or attributes (eg funder type, bid value, space requirements) that enable DREI and finance to “classify” a proposal based on its complexity as being low, medium or high (now called Levels 1, 2 or 3) and allocate resources accordingly.

This all took a huge effort, with staff across DREI and Finance working together to scope, consult on, and trial the three tools extensively with numerous academic and Professional Services colleagues. It truly was a collective effort, and the levels of engagement from everyone are testament to the interest in the project.

Katie Glenton-Wall
Katie Glenton-Wall, Project Officer

The Researcher Route Map was finally launched two years on, in August 2022. This is still very much a work in progress, and we are keen to continue to get feedback and make improvements where we can – so please do get in touch with our project manager, Katie Glenton-Wall.

Why is E2E important?

The main rationale behind the E2E programme was that optimising resources across the research lifecycle (from bidding through to project delivery) will increase levels of success in a changing and challenging funding environment. This is clearly something that researchers and Professional Service Staff are all trying to achieve, and we hope the route map and associated tools with help to do this in the following ways:

  • Bringing together information, support and guidance in to one accessible platform.
  • Emphasising and encouraging consideration of project requirements and engagement with relevant stakeholders as early as possible to avoid delays, reworking and potential rejection.
  • Reducing bureaucracy between DREI and Finance where we can (e.g. in our contracting processes), and allowing us to reallocate resource to where it is most needed, in the most timely way.
  • Providing clear, consistent and transparent decision-making, with roles and responsibilities understood.

What’s next for E2E?

Since launching phase 2 it’s become clear that this is just part of a longer E2E journey of continuous improvement. We’ve now started to focus on particular pain points that have been identified, one of which is around our process for managing the more complex (L3) bids as described earlier, and we have been working with the consultancy MoreBrains to look at this.

We are also looking more closely at support for post award activities – an area of need that was highlighted both in our stakeholder consultations and in the recent review of research bureaucracy (UoB staff access only). We have been lucky to secure some funding from DREI and the Research England Enhancing Research Culture allocation to do this.

Our third, and possibly most exciting, next step is to evolve the package of tools into a single research office portal – giving easy access to everything a researcher might need to know from a user-friendly one-stop-shop. We hope to be telling you more about this shortly – so watch this space!

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