Our New Resource Allocation Model – Incentivizing Collaboration Part II

Continuing on the theme of collaboration – how do we incentivize collaboration under our new Resource Allocation Model (RAM)?

One approach used in the past, and perhaps more successfully than others, is via joint faculty appointments. Faculty appointments that are spread across different departments and colleges offer a starting point for collaboration. Centers of excellence which, by definition, are meant to be magnets of scholarship and discovery around problems, not so much around disciplines, require joint work, hence joint appointments. The rationale for multi-disciplinary, multi-college centers that bring together faculty across multiple colleges could be weakened if colleges decide to create and staff such centers with faculty whose home departments are in the same college. In short, similar to colleges creating their own set of ‘required’ courses as a means to grow revenue, the new RAM could result in research and scholarship domains that are demarcated by colleges, rather than by the nature of the problem they are meant to solve. For instance, solutions to the problem of mental health require a multi-disciplinary approach. Today, Mizzou is fortunate to have researchers across multiple colleges who came together to address the challenges in mental health in schools in rural Missouri. Kudos to our researchers from the colleges of Education, HES, Arts & Science, who collaborated to create the Missouri Prevention Science Institute (MPSI) where they work jointly across areas to address the challenge of mental health. Thanks as well to their deans for facilitating this. Mental health is not the domain of one specific college and in the future, may expand to include researchers from other areas. At the same time, we would be foolish if we ignored the small but positive probability of such joint work being stymied under the new model where revenues follow the researcher back to their primary college of appointment.

While we will always watch out for these perverse tendencies, a better approach will be to consider and create pathways that intentionally incentivize collaboration. For instance, one can envision central support to fund joint faculty appointments which may not organically happen under the new model. So too, one can imagine centrally funded seed investments when multi-disciplinary centers are created. Our office recently proposed a salary support model for five years to recruit signature faculty whose work would impact research productivity in multiple areas and colleges. Working with the Office of Research, we can create central support for a part of startup package and infrastructure when signature faculty are recruited.

Under the new model our office, like the Office of Research, is a cost center. All central support is paid for by the entire campus community based on a prorated share of the use of such support. Hence, the drawback to doing this is that these mechanisms would result in funds being retained centrally, which goes against the spirit of the new model. And yes, such funding mechanisms would reduce the formulaic elegance of the RAM. On the other hand, such support is critical if our goal is to create real collaboration. Creating incentives to incentivize real collaboration will bring researchers together to solve problems, rather than defining problems around our organizational structure.

As I learned a long time ago in a course in corporate finance, if everything could be run out of spreadsheets, we would not need leaders. The quality of our leadership is defined by the exceptions we make. And incentives to nudge collaborations could be an exception we must build into our new RAM. Your turn – I look forward to hearing from you.