HHS Research – Continuous Improvement in Contract Process Management

  • February 10, 2015
  • News

As published in the CAURA Connection, January 2015

By Sarah Rizzo, Research Agreements and Contracts Coordinator, Hamilton Health Sciences and Katie Porter, Manager, Research Contracts, Hamilton Health Sciences


The entire HHS Research Administration Team aims to provide full research support to the HHS community. The contracts and finance areas support over 500 researchers and personnel staff conducting over 1200 project activities, from basic science to clinical trials for fundamental, translational, clinical, knowledge transfer and health services research platforms. Our vision is to become a world leader in advancing and creating new knowledge that informs patient care by bringing evidence into practice through translation and application. To maintain our status as one of the country’s top academic hospitals, we, as administrators need to find ways to work more efficiently and find effective ways to support the researchers who carry out this important work.

Prior to the creation of a comprehensive database, a single contract reviewer was responsible for managing the documents and signature process in addition to negotiation of the agreements. However, as volume increased and staff changed, the responsibilities came to be shared amongst several people rendering the current process ineffective and disjointed. To appropriately address the issues inherent in a large volume of work moving through a multi-step process and involving many people, HHS developed and implemented a comprehensive data capturing system.

How We Did It

Staff identified the data needed to perform their daily tasks as well as the information they were required to quickly report to their superiors and external parties. A meeting was then held between management and staff to review these ideas and identify additional needs and broader objectives. A summer student was hired to create a Microsoft Access database based on our identified specifications. Ongoing changes were made to improve the database until it was considered satisfactory by all users.

The Role of the Database

Since its launch, the database has become an integral component of our office’s operation. The database has allowed contract reviewers to easily document new agreements and update Sponsors, Principal Investigators and study teams on the progress of open agreements by providing a central platform on which study information, comments and status can be recorded. It has also facilitated contract negotiations by providing summaries and links to fully-executed contracts for our reviewers to refer to during new negotiations. As the database is accessible to all members of the research administration team, it has also simplified the management of inherited workloads in the events of staff absences or changes. The database has also become a hub of information and as such is capable of preparing and running reports for ongoing negotiations and contract metrics effectively and efficiently.

In addition, the HHS research financial services team also benefited from the use of the new database. Fields captured included account specific information, including funding source, funding restrictions, overhead rates and fees for ethics review as well as account signing authorities were tracked and collected.

Future Database Development

Since its launch, contract volume has continued to increase while available database space has decreased leading to an operational and technological burden on our team. As a result, our staff is actively pursuing and interested in updating our database to align with the current demand for our services. Size, features, increased security, accessibility, integration of services and ease of use remain key concerns. The transfer of data from our current database to an updated version has also received significant attention. After exploring and inquiring into numerous programs, design and development of our new database is expected to remain an in-house operation for purposes of cost effectiveness, quality and risk assurance as well as pre-existing knowledge of organizational processes and procedures.

Article first published in the CAURA Connection, January 2015; Read more about CAURA – Canadian Association of University Research Administrators.