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50th Anniversary Recap: Founders’ View on SRAI’s Creation, Principles and Vision - Part 1

By SRAI News posted 01-25-2018 12:00 AM


Lawrie_RobertsonAuthored by:
Lawrie Robertson
Retired Assistant Dean for Finance and Administration
University of Washington

In Vancouver, SRAI celebrated 50 years of service to the research administration profession. This anniversary focused on three important benchmarks of SRAI’s evolution: founding principles, growing to an over 5,000 global membership, and creating a vision for the coming decade.

In this two-part set of articles, we will reflect first on the Society’s creation and founding principles through the eyes of founding member Joe Nava and SRAI’s first journal editor and co-creator of the initial Western Section Steve Lawrence. Next month, we will then hear from some of the many who have shaped our Society’s evolution into an international resource and professional support network. These 2017 interviews are additive to a series of member web podcast interviews gathered at our 2015 Las Vegas Annual Meeting and 2016 Anniversary kickoff meeting panel in San Antonio.

Administration FOR Research: In 1967, a small group of University department administrators and commercial research managers gathered to define a new networking organization. Founder Joe Nava noted it was based on a singular principle – to openly share knowledge, techniques and innovations to better serve the research enterprise by focusing on supporting “administration FOR research” rather than the “administration OF research.” Through a collaborative facilitating partnering relationship with investigators, they believed they could extend their personal impact by creating a cross-institution network of peers sharing a common service vision. At the time, there wasn’t much support coming from central campus, thus the need to build an external group to share ideas and inspire innovation.

Diverse Inclusive Membership: Initially, Society membership was limited to senior university and commercial research managers. However, early on, Steve Lawrence said the group realized the importance of vertically engaging all parts of the research enterprise. First, by offering membership to our government partners and to non-profit research managers; then finding ways to extend training and network building to their staff through the creation of chapters, sections, divisions and a journal. Quickly, the Society meetings realized the value of every idea being potentially valuable no matter what the job title, organizational affiliation or role. This open sharing, welcoming and inclusive culture and “researcher focus” led to SRAI’s rapid growth as a viable alternative to more narrowly-focused professional organizations. Joe, Steve and those more recent colleagues echoed the ongoing importance of SRAI meetings as a source of network creation, informal problem-solving and more seamless efficiency in freeing the researcher to focus on their research by having well-informed administrative support at every level.

Steve felt that the government’s inclusion as full and equal Society members has led to both clarity of compliance requirements and an avenue for sharing from the grantee through the grant provider. Steve and Joe view moving to a global membership as a natural step in this process since our researchers’ interests and collaborations transcend national borders.

Looking Forward: While growth has spurred new opportunities and breadth, Steve and Joe note that it makes it harder to develop the important one-to-one relationships so valued by its founders and more recent leaders. They believe it is key for SRAI to remain true to its core founding principles: focusing on administration FOR research, open sharing of ideas and information, valuing every member’s contributions and opportunity to immediately contribute, promoting diversity to match the researchers’ needs (our customers), and valuing knowledge over status by making SRAI accessible to all those engaged in the research enterprise. In short, Joe and Steve are excited for SRAI’s next 50.