Transforming Our Professional Services


Working towards the future of Research and Innovation Support

25 November 2020

Over the summer we reviewed our plans in response to the impact of coronavirus and have been to progressing our ambitious agenda through working with the Research and Innovation Community to improve processes and pilot new ways of working.

Photo of a Mass Spectrometer

Despite the challenges this year, UCL brought in £520m in research, we were awarded the most UK Research & Innovation funding of any university for the second year in a row, and we continue to climb in world rankings. As the volume and variety of the research and innovation we are delivering at UCL continues to grow, and we become engaged with larger and more complex projects, so does the need for institutional support for the whole spectrum of research and innovation activities. 

Our current activities include: preparing for the start of the new Executive Director for Research and Innovation Support Operations (RISO); piloting support services for innovation projects with the Faculty of Engineering Sciences and the Faculty of Medical Sciences; exploring how we adapt our core research IT systems to include innovation; and extending the Research and Innovation Business Partner pilot.  

Working towards the future of Research and Innovation Support

In July we began recruiting for a new Executive Director of Research & Innovation Services Operations (RISO) to lead this new service. Following an extensive external recruitment process and with over 130 applications, we’re delighted to announce that Claire Glen, currently Director of Operations for the UCL Faculty of Medical Sciences, will take on the role in February next year. 

Trialling new ways of supporting innovation projects

The Innovation support service will initially be piloted in the Faculty of Engineering Sciences and Faculty of Medical Sciences through January and March 2021, beginning by working with the community to build the team who will deliver the operational support for selected projects. Liam McCafferty, previously Innovation Development Manager in UCL Innovation & Enterprise, joins the programme in December as Head of RISO Pilots. 

The pilot will start with low volumes, via selected projects, so that we can also ensure we are learning how best to support these projects before scaling up. We will also use this trial to build a better understanding the longer term operational and systems support that will need to be developed, before working to integrate the pilot into existing services in a second three-month stage. 

Exploring options to extend the scope of our IT systems

We have reviewed the IT systems currently used to support the management of research and innovation activity. Through this work we identified more than 35 core systems, managed by UCL ISD or UCLB and UCLC, which does not include those that are provided, maintained and managed in departments. In addition, we found that the core, institutional IT systems currently in use such as Worktribe, MyFinance, Axiom and Tableau, are only used to manage a proportion of our research and very little of our innovation activity.

While some of these systems are already partially integrated, there are gaps within the current provision and the variety of systems. Along with the wide range of interconnected and overlapping management information and reporting requirements we have across the university, it’s clear we need to consider how we can enhance them so that they can be used to manage our broad and diverse range of research and innovation projects whilst ensuring that operational management, financial treatment and reporting requirements can be met.

Trialling Research and Innovation Business Partners

In January 2019, we began piloting a Research Business Partner model with the aim of providing coordination, support and continuity for complex research bids and projects. Our first Research Business Partner, Amy Rutherford, joined SLASH and IOE, with two others joining BEAMS (Jen Hazelton) and SLMS (Helen Hopkins) in April. 

While these roles were designed to help manage a portfolio of research and innovation opportunities within these schools, due to the pandemic much of their focus has instead been on supporting UCL’s response to the impact of coronavirus on our research activities. This itself highlights the benefit of the role and its ability to react and respond to changing priorities. 

Initially set to finish after a year, following a review which acknowledged the support the Business Partners have offered, the RIST Programme Board has decided more time is needed to fully assess the role and have agreed to an extension into 2021. 

Signposting to get to the right advice and guidance

We’ve also restarted the signposting and guidance project, which will make it easier for staff to find the information they need by developing a more user-centred website that includes support for all kinds of research-related activity. Starting in November, we are reviewing our current content before developing the guidance framework based on the Research and Innovation Lifecycle.

More information 

Find out more about the vision for Research and Innovation Support on the RIST SharePoint site


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