Emory Report
May 8, 2006
Volume 58, Number 30


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May 8 , 2006
Streamlining research proposals in a digital age

John Wilson is IT technical leader and Graydon Kirk is business analyst for AAIT.

Two major IT projects are under way to support initiatives in the Office of Research Administration (ORA). The first is eResearch, a web-based application developed by ClickCommerce for submission, approval, management and tracking of research protocols and related information. Initially, the system will be used by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to manage research initiatives involving human participants.

eResearch is being developed and deployed by a team from IRB and Academic and Administrative Information Technology (AAIT), with input from research administrators around campus. The team plans to hold focus groups, targeting principal investigators (PIs) and their staff members.

Many research initiatives are closely monitored by federal and state regulatory agencies; eResearch will help the University ensure compliance, both with federal and state regulations and with Emory’s own policies governing research conduct. The system is targeted to be available in early June for new study submissions.
The second project is the first phase of eSubmissions, which will use government-supplied software called PureEdge to facilitate online submission of research proposals. Emory’s first sizable transmission will occur June 1.

Two factors—the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 1999 and the President’s Management Agenda, released by George W. Bush in 2001 with the goal of streamlining management and performance of the federal government—have been driving federal agencies to simplify their application requirements for financial assistance for research, teaching and other sponsored activities.

One of the results has been the creation of a single website to apply for federal assistance. Grants.gov (www.grants.gov/) has been mandated by the Office of Management and Budget as the single access point for all grant programs offered by 26 federal grant-making agencies. It provides a single interface for agencies to announce their grant opportunities and for all grant applicants to find and apply for those opportunities.
Last August, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) mandated that all proposal types be transmitted electronically via Grants.gov per a schedule that runs from Dec. 1, 2005, to Oct. 1, 2007.

Requirements for each proposal type typically vary. PureEdge is a software “viewer/container” used to house government-defined proposals, along with all required and optional attachments, in their prescribed formats. Placing these into PureEdge completes the development process that began in software such as Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.

After inputting proposals into PureEdge, the research team prints to hard copy, routes the signed hard copy for approvals, and subsequently transmits the paper copy to the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) and the digitized proposal to the OSP drop box. OSP reviews both versions of the proposal and, when correct, electronically submits the PureEdge proposal to Grants.gov. This will trigger the federal electronic edit/correction iterations, first by Grants.gov and then by the sponsoring agency’s business rules. Certified-correct proposals then are moved into the appropriate agency’s scientific review and decision processes.

The implementation of PureEdge includes two Citrix servers for use by those researchers and their staff who may use a combination of Macintoshes and PCs, from either on or off campus (necessary because PureEdge does not yet offer a native Macintosh version). This Citrix environment is nearly ready for release. In creating it, OSP and AAIT received invaluable advice and expertise from business and technical staff from all of Emory’s schools.

Phase 2 of eSubmissions will be much more complex. In early June, planning will begin for a major proposal deadline on

Feb. 1, 2007. Approximately 300 proposals are likely to be submitted by combined PI and staff efforts of some 800–1,000 people. Lessons learned from Phase 1 (Emory’s and the federal government’s) will be major inputs, along with further modifications to the NIH’s current system, Emory’s strategic requirements and possible future software opportunities.

Current available software—needed to support a comprehensive, robust, strategic electronic-research administration system, including pre-award (eSubmissions built in) and post-award capability—is very limited. All of these variables, including cost, timing and implementation, must be assembled into a comprehensive business and financial plan, with prioritized alternatives.

Although research compliance and electronic submissions are processes that will never end, both the eResearch and eSubmissions projects provide an excellent beginning and foundation to build on for the future.