Make the most of space audits to boost F&A return rate

Expert Insight

Make the most of space audits to boost F&A return rate

Many universities struggle with space optimization, despite its importance to recovering facilities and administrative (F&A ) costs. With smart space accounting practices, chief research officers can better capture the full scope of research across campus and boost negotiated F&A rates.

This starts with enhancing the institution’s space survey, which is critical to F&A for four reasons:

  • The facilities portion of F&A is uncapped
  • Facilities pools have the biggest impact on overall F&A rate
  • The space survey is the main driver of four of the five facilities pools
  • Accurate space accounting is critical for F&A rate growth

More on this topic

This resource is part of the Adopt a Proactive Approach to Facilities and Administrative (F&A) Funding Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.

Yet, many institutions struggle to effectively execute on space surveys since they require collaboration and coordination across units. Leaders also have difficulty ensuring consistent methodology across units. And conducting a space survey is a time consuming and expensive process that depends heavily on accurate and accessible data. Failing to accurately account for research space and uses, however, can lead to underrecovery of F&A.

It is therefore critical that leaders adequately plan and prepare for their space survey, using these 10 critical components as a guide:

1. Review previous space survey (past feedback, weaknesses)

2. Determine methodological approach and set timeline

3. Get buy-in from stakeholders

4. Identify knowledgeable departmental administrators

5. Make sure you have needed data

6. Double check your space inventory is accurate

7. Clearly define roles and responsibilities for involved parties

8. Ensure clear and consistent understanding of functional definitions across campus

9. Provide mandatory, in-person training

10. Develop supporting materials (FAQs, scenarios, common pitfalls)

After conducting these initial planning steps, universities should invest in quality insurance. Use the below data validation checklist to answer key questions when reviewing space survey results.

  1. Does room usage total 100%?
  2. Are there room occupants assigned for all rooms coded OR1?
  3. Does the room type seem reasonable given its use?
  4. Do any room types have different functional usages than expected?
  5. Are accounts/funding assigned for all rooms coded OR and OSA2?
  6. Are all large, on-campus awards associated with a room?
  7. Are there any rooms with no/low OR pay but high OR use percentage?
  8. Are there any occupants with no IDR3 pay but low OR use percentage for the room?
  9. Are there any situations where OR pay sources of occupants are not listed as accounts in the lab?
  10. Are there any accounts listed in the lab but no record of occupants paid from those accounts?
  11. Are there any situations where PIs were not paid from any accounts listed in the lab?
  12. Has OR space been confused with IDR or OSA space?
  13. Are lab service areas functionalized the same way as surrounding lab space?
  14. Are hallways providing exclusive service to private rooms assigned same functional use as the rooms they serve?
  15. Are any rooms designated 100% OR? Is there strong evidence to support this?
  16. Are there any over-generalized patterns in functionalization?
  17. Has space been used by visiting professors or emeritus faculty been coded properly (typically OIA4 not OR)?
  18. Has space used by students been properly coded? Have the appropriate accounts been designated?
  19. Are there any rooms that have an ASF5 “plug” (e.g., 1 sq. ft.)?
  20. Have spaces funded via start-up, bridge, and/or seed funding been properly coded (typically IDR not OR)?

Space audit strategies for chief research officers

While chief research officers (CROs) may not own the space survey process, they do need to support it. There are three things CROs must do to ensure a successful survey: engage, support, and strategize.

Engage: Familiarize yourself with the space survey process, terminology, and past results, and touch base with the space team on campus responsible for the survey.

Support: First, review Organized Research and Other Sponsored programs definitions to ensure accuracy and alignment. Then participate in the space team’s survey planning process and work with the space team to develop a validation checklist and a list of FAQs for departmental administrators. Finally, support communications to colleges and departments about the importance of the space survey.

Strategize: Engage in larger conversations with the space team about space allocation on campus (and its effects on F&A). CROs should also consider whether investing in external consulting services for their space survey would be worthwhile.

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