Increase your research lab productivity by measuring researchers against ROI

In theory, productivity metrics have a closer connection to research labs versus other space types. Research space has more quantifiable outputs, such as publications per researcher and indirect cost recovery. However, institutions have found it difficult to track how productively space is used because of data accessibility issues. As a result, individual researchers often continue to occupy their labs regardless of changes in grant funding or productivity.

One solution is to establish a space productivity benchmark to track individual researchers against. This enables institutions to gauge how productively space is currently used and link researcher productivity to future lab allocation decisions. Learn how the University of Michigan Medical School (UMMS) moved towards a more productive use of their limited research space through a home-grown lab allocation process based on indirect cost recovery.

Define a research space productivity metric

The first component of UMMS’s revenue-driven lab allocation is to define a research space productivity metric. UMMS defined their productivity metric as indirect cost recovery on externally funded research divided by square feet of research space. The graphic below illustrates how UMMS clearly articulated what measures would and would not be included in both parts of the ratio.

Research productivity

Establish target to benchmark for researchers comparison

UMMS next established a target to benchmark for comparison. UMMS’s target is based on the overall cost of its research facilities (including both capital and operating expenses) divided by the total number of square feet. This yielded a target of $111 per square foot. While UMMS does not charge researchers for space, this target allows leaders to quickly determine which researchers could cover the cost of the space they use. These benchmarks are not just useful for research labs—UMMS also uncovered that they only recoup $98 per square foot through indirect costs, a clear signal that there is room for productivity improvement for the school as a whole.

Use researcher productivity to inform space allocation decisions

When making space allocation decisions, UMMS incorporates researcher productivity against the target benchmark. To aid this process, UMMS built an ArcGIS interface to track individual lab productivity. The interface takes indirect cost recovery data for each researcher and the existing space assignments to calculate indirect cost recovery per square foot for each researcher. This number is displayed next to the researcher’s name, as shown below. If a researcher has multiple spaces, the tool calculates one number based on total space which is displayed in the appropriate rooms.

UMMS map

This tool supports complex decisions about where to locate researchers and equipment to maximize productivity. For example, it helped UMMS deny a request for increased space to six units across three years due to below-target productivity. In fact, the medical school has also denied six requests for additional space specifically because researchers were below the $111 per square foot target.

Want to learn more?

Download the full study on partnering with academic leaders to improve space utilization.

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