How does a university ensure that it is supporting researchers to become world class? PA Consulting writes about the work they did at the University of Manchester

The University of Manchester aims to be of the top 25 research universities in the world. Researchers there are leading the search for solutions to pressing global problems, from tackling cancer and poverty to finding energy technologies for the future. To enhance world-leading status, the University needed to find ways to continue to drive improvements to its research team and facilities. We worked with the University to identify where it could invest to support its researchers with better processes and IT services.

Key successes

-- 1,000 researchers consulted in just eight weeks
-- Business case that confirmed significant investment
-- Identified priorities for improving support to the research lifecycle

Finding opportunity from complexity

The University of Manchester wants to enhance its research capabilities to help maintain and develop its position as a leading research university. We wanted to understand the support researchers need to do their best work. In only eight weeks, we engaged with around 1,000 researchers across different faculties to get their view – this represented 30 per cent of the research community. In addition to face to face conversations we broadened the debate to the whole research community using ThoughtExchange, a software platform that allowed us to crowdsource answers to open ended questions in real-time.  This enabled us to engage a further 688 people who created 1077 thoughts and generated 11,234 ratings and we were able to differentiate the needs of early-career researchers from the needs of established academics.

'PA understood our mission right from the start. They have a great deal of experience in higher education and working with large public organisations that depend on data. This gave them great credibility as they engaged with research teams to understand their needs and priorities.' - Dr Angus Hearmon, Research IT Programme Director, University of Manchester 

Establishing priorities and securing investment 

Our diverse team combining expertise in business design, operational excellence and IT transformation, identified 20 potential projects and developed the business cases to understand the opportunity from each. We established three priorities. One – improve the process for managing research grants reducing the administrative burden and maximising successful applications. Two – provide better support for data management, so that data used in research is managed in accordance with regulation and is accessible to other researchers once published. Three – boost processing power, with a blend of on-premise systems and new cloud capabilities, to ensure all researchers have access to the ‘compute’ resource they need.

Our recommendations received the unanimous support of the University’s research committee. In fact, the board discussed additional investment to demonstrate their commitment to improving all aspects of research support over the next four years. Research teams at the University will be better supported than ever to tackle global problems and deliver a positive human future.

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