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DGC executive director co-leads workshop on university-wide research initiatives

  • November 01, 2023

UCLA Depression Grand Challenge Executive Director Michelle Popowitz co-led a three-hour workshop at the 2023 NORDP ReCON: ForwaRD! national conference this month. The workshop, “Leveraging Campus-Scale Initiatives to Advance RD Goals: The Case Study of Grand Challenges,” featured thought leaders who had been the first to lead campus-wide grand challenge-type programs at their universities (UCLA, Indiana University and University of Texas at Austin).

The panelists opened the workshop with a rapid-fire resource share-out of presentations, articles and reports, drawn from over a decade’s worth of historic materials created for and about large-scale research initiatives during the height of interest in the research development space.

Popowitz then introduced the concept of using a playbook for research initiatives, a strategy adopted by the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge. Through examples of the DGC’s use of its playbook, Popowitz highlighted how a well-developed playbook may be leveraged for success in multiple venues, with different audiences and for different purposes including campus accountability, fundraising and individual project planning.

Next, the participants selected one of three breakout groups led by the panelists  to practice developing playbooks for particular research development objectives: (1) expanding their organization’s research portfolio (led by Popowitz and Hawkins); (2) developing faculty as collaborative research leaders (led by Lyon Gardner and Allen), and (3) cultivating external partnership through co-design (led by Rauser and Green). Each workgroup reviewed a fictional case study and collaborated to respond to a series of prompts, participants which enabled them to develop a shared understanding that informed the creation of a playbook for their topic. The participants then returned to the main session and presented their takeaways and playbooks.

Creating and using a playbook, Popowitz shared, provides a means to explain what you are doing and why, hold yourselves accountable, outline critical success factors and easily show gaps.

“Since we developed a playbook for the Depression Grand Challenge, we have been able to more successfully simplify and delineate the description of parallel efforts and seemingly disparate activities, to highlight which efforts are priorities, and more effectively demonstrate progress and success,” Popowitz said of the importance to a large university-wide effort. “This was my first experience sharing and demonstrating the DGC playbook in a setting outside of our stakeholders. Being charged to explain its use in practice, facilitate brainstorming and advocate for others making their own playbooks for initiatives big and small was an extremely rewarding opportunity. I’m optimistic that we inspired others to try this approach in their settings.”

NORDP, the National Organization of Research Development Professionals, serves 1,200 research development professionals and their institutions with professional development and tools to enhance research competitiveness as well as to catalyze new research and institutional collaborations. The mission of NORDP is to advance the global capacity for and impact of research by strengthening the practice and profession of research development.

Workshop panelists:

Jennifer Lyon Gardner, The University of Texas at Austin, Deputy Vice President for Research, Scholarship and Creative Endeavors (founder of Bridging Barriers Research Grand Challenge initiative)

Eva Allen, Arizona State University, Senior Proposal Manager (formerly Indiana University focused on environment-related grand challenge)

Faith Hawkins, UC San Diego, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research & Chief of Staff (formerly Indiana University overseeing university’s Grand Challenges Program)

Tessa Green, The University of Texas at Austin, Executive Director, Research Development (former Executive Director of the Bridging Barriers Research Grand Challenge Initiative).

Michelle Popowitz, UCLA, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research & Executive Director for Depression Grand Challenge (co-Founder of UCLA Grand Challenges & former Executive Director of UCLA Grand Challenges)

Cassie Rauser, Sustainability & Climate Strategist (formerly UCLA overseeing the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge as its inaugural Executive Director)