Organizational and Administrative Structures

The organizational structure for the Alliance follows from its foundational principles of being community-based, community-serving, and community-governed, with minimal bureaucracy and formality. Although the writing team recognized the need for dedicated professional staff, it wanted to create a framework that was not encumbered by significant overhead costs or unnecessary, burdensome structure. The organizational design selected for the Alliance is viewed as that most optimal for meeting the needs previously articulated.

The Alliance is structured in a manner similar to, though (at least initially) less formal than, the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR, pronounced “co-gurr;” http://cogr.edu). COGR is a national association of more than 200 leading research universities, affiliated medical centers, and independent research institutes that provides information, analyses, advice, policy perspective, and historical context to its members in the areas of research administration and compliance, financial oversight, and intellectual property. COGR has a small professional staff (6 full-time individuals, all located in Washington, DC), a 21-member community-based Board of Directors that consists of practicing research administrators and executives, and four standing committees, each of which is co-chaired by a COGR staff member and a board member. COGR is viewed as one of the most highly effective organizations in the nation, drawing more than 400 people to its three meetings per year, engaging them continuously via calls and an email list serve, and building a strong community around the common theme of effective research policy for higher education. COGR does not fund studies, but rather has a single goal of empowering the community to work together to address important issues of research policy and compliance in a highly collaborative manner.

Paralleling the COGR construct, The Alliance consists of four principal groups composing the “community” (see Figure 1): Researchers (including academic faculty, students, post docs, and others; scientific labs and non-profit researchers; and consulting agencies), Operational Practitioners (including emergency managers from varying geographical scale and location, Federal and state government officials), Strategic For-Profit Private Partners, and Strategic Non-Profit Private Partners (such as private foundations, entrepreneurs and individual philanthropists). All of these groups are stakeholders as well, and it is important to note that Federal and state agencies are not included as “partners” because they generally are not allowed to participate in the governance of organizations such as the Alliance. However, funding from such agencies will be sought to support administrative and programmatic aspects of the Alliance, though the principal involvement of such agencies will be via the provision of funding for research and operational implementation directly to Alliance participants and their institutions.

Figure 1. Administrative and governance framework of The Alliance.
Figure 1. Administrative and governance framework of The Alliance.

Initially, to minimize administrative bureaucracy, no formal membership structure will be utilized within the Alliance. Consequently, no participation fees will exist. In addition to individual participants, the participation of organizations, such as private companies, foundations, etc., will be encouraged when deemed appropriate. In order to become either an individual or organizational participant, one simply will provide information about themselves, their background, interests, concerns, etc. to a web-based system (which also will serve as baseline data on metrics for impact and outcome evaluation). This information will be made publicly available in a searchable database to facilitate collaboration-building within the community. As The Alliance matures, a more formal governance structure may prove valuable, especially to ensure long-term sustainability. However, the Alliance administrative infrastructure should never be large lest the Alliance, instead of the community, become its raison d’etre.

Regarding Alliance leadership and administration, it is important to establish a core team, small in number as in COGR, which is dedicated to the organization’s activities on a day to day basis  (red circle in Figure 1) while minimizing the cost of such operations. Multiple options were considered by the writing team, and the following was deemed most appropriate for starting the Alliance:

  • A full-time Director, who is an accomplished scholar in a relevant field and has the leadership skills and perspective to steward The Alliance to success. An important early aspect of this position, owing to the notion of The Alliance as a public-private partnership, will be the development of linkages with agencies, private donors, non-profit foundations and for-profit corporations. Ultimately, this role may lead to the need for a part-time Director of Partnerships;
  • A full-time Director of Community Support and Communications, who will coordinate all community building activities such as workshops, the creation of disciplinary tutorials, meetings, engagement with agencies and other organizations, etc;
  • A part-time Director of Research Program Development, who will analyze solicitations, help with the creation of cross-disciplinary teams, assist with identifying collaborators, manage pre-submission proposal reviews, and serve as a translator across disciplines;
  • A full-time administrative assistant, who will assist the Director and serve as the financial administrator for the Alliance; and
  • A part-time IT Technician and webmaster.

Unlike COGR, which is headquartered in Washington, DC with all six employees in the same location, it is likely—and perhaps even strongly desirable—that the Alliance leadership staff be geographically distributed, reflecting the Alliance principle of serving the community instead of being an organization at which research takes place. Such a strategy will require extraordinary coordination, communication and accountability, and a thoughtful approach to financial administration.

In addition to the Alliance leadership and professional staff described above, and in a manner mimicking COGR, a Steering Committee (Figure 1) of volunteers, consisting of 12-24 researchers and operational practitioners drawn from the national community across all relevant disciplines and organizations, will have overall responsibility for stewarding the Alliance and will be the formal group to which the Director reports. Members will serve three-year staggered terms (two consecutive terms allowed) to ensure that opportunity for many to participate is balanced with meaningful time in service, and the Chair of the Steering Committee will be selected by the Committee itself. The Steering Committee will identify three or four topical thrusts (as in COGR), in collaboration with NOAA and other organizations such as NSF, NIST, DHS and FEMA, around which the Steering Committee and thus the Alliance can organize its activities.

An important aspect of the Alliance, described previously, involves engaging community members to serve as “bridges” or “translators” across disciplines. This need will be fulfilled via the creation of Alliance Translators, who will play key roles in community-building workshops, interpretation of solicitations, and the development of materials designed to educate researchers about one another from traditionally disparate disciplines. Alliance Translators, the number of which is yet to be determined though probably will be on the order of a half dozen at the outset, will come from different perspectives in the community; however, their primary role will be advocating and facilitating connections and integration among community members. Translators will serve three-year terms and can be reappointed once. Initial members may serve longer in order to establish a rotation that ensures institutional memory preservation.

The Alliance Leadership (Directors and Steering Committee) will establish regular interactions with one another, with DHS, NOAA, NIST, FEMA, and with other entities including private foundations, corporations, and philanthropists, to gauge research interests and operational needs that will help inform the research and development activities of the community. These interactions will be both formal and informal in nature, depending upon the topic and organization.

The Alliance leadership and Steering Committee will engage in quarterly conference calls, open to the entire community of participants, to provide updates on all activities. Steering Committee topical areas will convene a monthly conference call with Alliance Translators to discuss progress on project areas. One face-to-face meeting will be held each year to include all Steering Committee members, Alliance leadership and professional staff, and Alliance Translators with the purpose of identifying annual outcome goals and acknowledging the work of volunteers who give their leadership, time, and talent to further the work of the Alliance.

Most importantly, Alliance leadership will continually engage the community to determine and prioritize activities that will directly assist the community, including but not limited to increasing participation, expanding the number of disciplines and organizations, and influencing the identification and/or development of new disciplinary and interdisciplinary opportunities.