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What’s Important to the Researcher? PI Focus Groups Help us Understand eRA System Requirements

Contributed by: Genevieve Garland and Marley Thrasher

In December, the eRA Requirements Team held four two-hour focus groups with Principal Investigators (PIs) at NC State. Forty-seven PIs from ten colleges attended these sessions to share their feedback on what they’d like to see in a new electronic Research Administration (eRA) system. PIs met in small groups (about 3-7 people) where a table facilitator led discussions and a scribe captured input. Requirements were collected specific to pre- and post-award processing, with PIs discussing improvements across the entire research administration lifecycle.

Top System-Wide Requirements

So, what were the top, system-wide requirements identified by PIs during these focus groups?

  1. Workflow with visibility. A system should provide a robust, flexible workflow that can be customized. To be most helpful, the workflow should provide notifications, visual indicators of where the transaction is in the flow and responsible parties for each step.
  2. Budget tools. Ones that help PIs develop, monitor and forecast budgets.
  3. Dashboards. A dashboard that provides all relevant information for managing proposals and awards could include items like work lists, task lists and active proposals and awards.
  4. System integration. By selecting a system that integrates with other systems currently in use, exchange of research-related data will be more smooth.
  5. Templates. Templates that error check and auto-calculate data to walk users through providing required information.
  6. One-stop shopping. One place for the PI to go to initiate, edit and view proposals and awards.
  7. Step-by-step task lists. These should walk users through what needs to be done and when. Items like due dates, notifications and expected time frames for each step should be included and separate task lists could be provided for subcontractors.
  8. Common data. References or commonly used data should be available when submitting proposals. Examples include boilerplate verbiage for NC State facilities and data management plans, rates (facility, fringe, etc.) and salaries.

Additional Pre- and Post-Award Themes

The Requirements Team also identified additional high priority requirements PIs had for both pre- and post-award processing.



Please remember vendor solutions may not be able to do all we want – especially in phase one of the launch. Our next step is to continue with the requirements gathering process (research administrators, we’re coming for you next!), to hone and refine requirements in preparation for the release of the RFP. You might also notice that some of the items identified above are process related and may not be helped by a system. The eRA Team is committed to tracking, reviewing and implementing solutions to processes as well.

We’d love to hear your questions and thoughts. Use the comments below to share them!