This is the time of year when all academics in Sweden, and possibly elsewhere, are either busily writing funding applications or – and for many it is and – doing annual or final reports for their funded activities. In the digital world, much of this work for which we once had specialists falls on academics not trained in such accounting activities. Somehow the notion that we all have computers translates in many institutions into the idea that therefore we can also all – quasi-osmotically? – undertake all the processes for which we once had trained staff. Research time thus turns into research administration time, and since this is not what academics were trained for, we spend more time than is appropriate on tasks that we do not do routinely but intermittently.
This is made worse when accounting to funders requires the translation of the same information into multiple forms that are incompatible, use different categories each, and are not interoperable. One way in which this happens is when funders have a local system but also then decide to buy an ‘off-the-peg’ system from elsewhere (usually the US) where other discourses, categories, and assumptions prevail, and where the system may have been set up for certain disciplines (medicine or certain science/s spring to mind) that answer to other accounting imperatives. For the researcher this creates added administrative burdens in an age when ‘lean’ is the norm, and academics have virtually (or actually) no support for the burgeoning of administrative tasks they are meant to fulfill. Systems with a variety of automated functions including e.g. the selection of journal titles or funders (where one has to enter information manually which one ends up doing almost entirely – after all, how many of us have e.g. the DOI handy at all times?), but where the journal titles and publishers are really all the US ones, and to find non-US ones takes ages, are not helpful. So what is one to do?
In posh hotels now they have IT butlers, ready to help you with your IT needs in smart rooms with systems that your average punter cannot operate. Maybe it’s time universities appointed IT butlers, too, ready to do the digital labour that is research administration which takes researchers many unproductive hours. This measure would help researchers through the current stage of lack of interoperability and user-friendliness that bedevils the add-on strategies of organizations grappling with their digitalization processes.