ORI Introduction to RCR: Chapter 8. Collaborative Research

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In addition to effective communication, collaborative projects should have effective management plans that cover:
  • financial issues,
  • training and supervision,
  • formal agreements, and
  • compliance.
When a PI is in charge of all of the work done on a project, the lines of responsibility are clear. The PI is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the project, from financial expenditures to staff training, data collection, reporting, and wrapping up the project. In collaborative research, the partners in the collaboration share responsibilities. Under these circumstances, an effective management plan is essential.
Financial management. The expenditure of Federal research funds is subject to financial management rules issued by the Office of Management and Budget in Circulars A-21 and A-110 (see boxes, below and next page). A-21 covers all aspects of financial management, from accounting procedures to reporting requirements. For example, one section carefully describes, in fairly technical terms,allowable and unallowable expenses. Some travel costs are allowed; others are not. A-110 sets out rules for issuing government grants and contracts. It explains how equipment should be purchased and used, even after the project has come to an end.
Every federally funded research project must adhere to the rules set out in A-21 and A-110. Therefore, collaborative projects must be managed in ways that assure that all expenditures are in compliance, from those incurred by the primary investigators working at major research institutions to survey workers or clinicians working in the field.
Training and supervision. Wherever they work, research staff should be properly trained and supervised. In some instances the training is mandatory. Anyone who works with research animals or human subjects must have formal training. The same is true of staff who work with hazardous substances or biohazards. These requirements extend to everyone working on a collaborative project, whether they are at a different institution, in another state, or even another country. Management plans for collaborative projects therefore should include the training and supervision of all researchers and staff working on the project.
Formal agreements. Some aspects of collaborative projects must be worked out in advance in formal agreements. For example, when research is carried out in more than one place, it is sometimes necessary to transfer materials from one institution to another. Since many materials are carefully controlled, to protect either safety or ownership, the terms of transfer should be carefully spelled out, including (see NIH-recommended provisions below):
  • who owns the materials,
  • the use to which they can be put, and
  • proper acknowledgment of the source.
These agreements help protect the interests of the collaborators by assuring that ownership will be respected and that the materials will be properly used.
Compliance. Increasingly, research institutions must in one way or another certify that they are in compliance with specific research regulations. When research institutions are involved in collaborative projects, an institution’s responsibility for compliance can extend to other institutions. If the other institution is a U.S. university with a large research portfolio, that institution most likely already has a compliance plan in place. However, if the other institution does not do a great deal of research or is located in another country, it may not have thought about its compliance responsibilities. Management plans for collaborative projects must take into account the need for meeting compliance responsibilities throughout the project sites and not just at one institution.

OMB Circular A-21

OMB Circular A-110

NIH Materials Transfer Guidelines


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