In eager antipication of interoperability and user-friendliness…

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.

Gabriele Griffin

One thought on “In eager antipication of interoperability and user-friendliness…

  1. Thanks for this post. I fully agree with the incoherence, on many levels, around administrative tasks in Sweden, especially for the majority of us (academics) who do not have dedicated administrative help. However, I think your solution of the IT Butler may fall short, at least in two respects:
    1) it would not address the injustices about which academics get help and which do not.
    For example, at two of the “Big” universities where I am currently affiliated, they seem to allow certain academics to have administrative help and others are not allowed even if they have the funds to pay out of their own research budget; (help seems to be mostly “allowed” for older white males) without any explicit or coherent reasons for this. So I assume this same problem would continue with IT butlers.
    2) Administrative tasks go beyond IT tasks.
    The organisation of meetings, inviting stakeholders to research events, communication activities (that fall outside of those taken on by communication teams, and here is another problem we could discuss), annual checking of (EU) time sheets (which arguably would be less problematic if central admin would care about not making mistakes…), payment for different services, including open access for journals and so on and so forth. So many of my colleagues, at a similar career level ( and success) as mine working in Canada, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland etc. have this administrative help, some shared with 1 or more colleagues, some dedicated fully to them and this definitely gives them an advantage. They have more time to do what they were hired to do: teach, research etc…

    So what to do? Accept that administrative assistants are valuable, meaningful and needed posts and include them back into Swedish Universities, please!


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