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Breaking the Contracting Barrier: Strategies to Reduce Contracting Time

June 12, 2023 — Sponsored research contracting holds a special place in the hearts of those in university-industry collaboration—perilously close to juggling, tightrope walking, and distance running. Although it’s foundational for fruitful partnerships, navigating contracting complexities can be formidable. Too often, contracting delays can slow the speed of collaboration and potential innovation.

UIDP recently fielded a member survey with a single question: What can be done to reduce sponsored research contracting time? Respondents from both industry and academic sectors gave us a lot to consider.

Survey insights

The survey was open-ended to allow the 100+ respondents all the room they needed. After reading every response, we saw several key themes emerge.

Most respondents pointed to a need for better communication between parties, specifically around sector roles and limitations and intellectual property (IP) management. It’s critical for both university and industry representatives to clearly distinguish between what they can’t do and what you won’t do. They’re not always the same thing.

From the start, a clear understanding of both parties’ goals, limitations, and priorities is essential for efficiency. That’s an element of clear communication, but it also underscores the need to align both parties on what’s most important before the contract negotiations begin.

Some recommended the use of templates. Another common response was simply to expand the contracting workforce (or enhance training for contracting professionals) so there are fewer back-and-forth delays. Adopting more flexible IP terms also rose to the top.

Takeaways and tools

The survey results informed a breakout session at UIDP’s spring conference, UIDP Nashville, which resulted in a lively facilitated discussion led by Keith Spencer, Spark Therapeutics; Terry Adams, Howard University; Emily Hostage, Columbia University; and Jennifer Pak, Meta. Three factors—people, process, and outcomes—framed the discussion. “People” are the individuals involved in contracting—who is (and isn’t) in the mix, understanding their roles, and the importance of trusted relationships to address potential problems. Importantly, negotiators need to be empowered to get the deal done. Time spent going back and forth because the decisionmakers aren’t in the room until you’re up against a deadline is wasted time.  “Process” addresses the tools that can streamline the activity, like templates and standardized terms that help both parties know what to expect. “Outcomes” refers to key objectives, including the importance of defining success and the potential risks if you put speedy negotiations ahead of aligned goals.

Since its founding, UIDP has been dedicated to addressing the most pressing challenges in university-industry partnerships, and contracting guidance is a cornerstone of our work. The UIDP Contract Accords were originally published in 2012, but they are an evolving knowledge bank; today, they offer insight into 17 different aspects of sponsored research agreements and are available to the public. The Contract Accords aren’t cookie-cutter templates. Instead, they state how each sector approaches a contracting approach, define key terms, put forward key principles, and provide practical guidance and insight into addressing potential barriers in mutually beneficial ways. UIDP has also produced guidance for member organizations to address specific approaches for reducing contracting time, like master research agreements and the Intellectual Property Quick Guide.

For in-depth contracting training, there’s no equal to UIDP’s Contracting Forum, set for Jan. 24-25, 2024. What sets it apart is the diversity of perspectives on contemporary contracting challenges; seasoned professionals who represent both industry and university sectors share current practices and frankly discuss the issues. UIDP will also announce a new training initiative in the coming months to bolster our efforts in the sponsored research contracting space.

Why it matters

Real-world factors, like staffing limitations, academic calendars, and corporate budgets, rely on efficient sponsored research contracting. Reducing contracting times in university-industry partnerships ensures that projects achieve maximum impact in a timely manner. Everyone involved in university-industry collaboration shares certain goals, like fostering innovation and accelerating research progress.

We want to hear from you. What strategies have you employed to reduce contracting time? Are there any approaches your institution uses to streamline contract negotiations? Let us know on our LinkedIn profile.

The 3-Minute Read is a UIDP member information piece and does not represent the opinions of our members or representatives. We welcome your comments on our LinkedIn profile.