U looks to lessen its research oversight

Other University offices have been charged by President Eric Kaler to go through a similar process.

by Dina Elrashidy


The Office of the Vice President for Research has rolled out oversight procedure changes that re-evaluate the University of Minnesota’s idea of risky business to increase efficiency and decrease bureaucratic clog in its office.

Changed procedures within OVPR will lighten the burden of faculty and staff by decreasing the frequency of inspections for researchers with strong performance track records and easing the process of research change approval.

“The University has been in a risk-averse stance for years,” said Sarah Waldemar OVPR’s director of Research Integrity and Oversight Programs. These risks include noncompliance and less reporting by researchers.

In the Human Research Protective Program — a regulatory program charged with research on humans — filing forms for changes in research plans can now be done via email.

Though it may sound like a minor change, for potentially 100 researchers under review by HRPP, this means fewer delays for research as they wait for the paperwork to filter through to administrative approval.

The number of inspections for researchers under the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee will decrease for approximately 25 percent of researchers because of their good track records.

In the case of IACUC, the risks were evaluated and deemed unlikely. The benefit of lowering administrative oversight in a low-risk situation won out, and the changes were implemented.

Since March, OVPR has evaluated its policies and procedures. They began to roll out changes in the summer and will continue to do so as other offices at the University begin a similar evaluation process.

University President Eric Kaler asked offices across the University to look into improving their procedures.

Risky business

The initiative will allow researchers to take on what the University would once have considered more risky opportunities, said Vice President of OVPR Tim Mulcahy.

The Minnesota Innovation Partnership Policy of OVPR will ease the process for companies to partner with University researchers, Mulcahy said. He said that before the policy changed in December, companies would have to bargain with the University, which is looking for a profit in case a product becomes commercialized.

The hassle of such agreements deterred companies from working with University researchers while the amount of money made from successfully commercialized products was low, Mulcahy said.

“Benefits of more research support, a better working relationship with companies … and support from philanthropy were more valuable than the low probability of financial return,” he said.

The University is one of the first universities in the country to give the option for companies to forgo the bargaining process and have full rights to possible commercialized product revenues, Mulcahy said.

Taking on potentially riskier projects could mean more failure, but the opportunities outweigh the costs, he said.

“If every time you made a decision that decision turned out to be perfectly right, you’d wonder, ‘Am I really taking all the opportunities I could?’” Mulcahy said. “To succeed, you have to fail once in a while.”

Other University units looking to implement policy changes will look to OVPR’s process as a template, Mulcahy said. But each unit will have unique challenges in updating their policies to streamline processes, reduce oversight and re-evaluate their reactions to risk.