NORDP 2018 Opening Keynote: From Tweaks to Transformation with Saul Kaplan

From Tweaks to Transformation: Do Research Development Professionals need to explore new business models to ensure institutional competitiveness? 

Saul Kaplan, Founder and Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF), argues the answer is yes. For Kaplan, the barrier to delivering better value are humans and our institutions—both stubbornly resistant to change—impeding our ability to network people, resources, and capabilities within and across organizations. Kaplan calls for a safe, manageable environment to explore new business models, a real-world testbed to innovate collaboratively without disrupting current operations.

“Most organizational leaders today have only had to lead a single business model throughout his or her entire career,” says Kaplan. “And most haven’t had to significantly change a business model in order to sustain the organization competitively. Organizational leaders of tomorrow will have to change their business model several times over the course of a career and the successful leader will establish an ongoing process to explore new business models, even models that might threaten the current one.”

Saul Kaplan

Kaplan started BIF in 2005 with a mission to enable collaborative innovation. BIF is creating a real-world laboratory for innovators to explore and test system level solutions in areas of high social importance including health care, education, and energy.

Before focusing on business model and system level innovation at BIF and Innomodels LLC, Kaplan served as the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation and as the Executive Counselor to the Governor on Economic and Community Development. Prior to his state leadership role in economic development, Kaplan served as a Senior Strategy Partner in Accenture’s Health & Life Science practice and worked broadly throughout the pharmaceutical, medical products, and biotechnology industry.

Kaplan holds an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute focusing on the strategic management of technology and a BS in Pharmacy from the University of Rhode Island. He shares his innovation musings on Twitter (@skap5) and his blog (It’s Saul Connected), and as a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and Bloomberg Businessweek. Kaplan is also the author of The Business Model Innovation Factory.

Saul Kaplan will be the opening keynote speaker for the 10th Annual NORDP Research Development Conference on May 7. We hope to see you at the Conference, which will be held May 7-9, 2018 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, VA. Follow @NORDP_official on Twitter for all the latest #NORDP2018 updates.

NORDP 2017 Conference Notes: Research Development: Results from and Opportunities through a NORDP Approved Study

Research Development: Results from and Opportunities through a NORDP Approved Study


  • Michael Preuss, Executive Director, West Texas Office of Evaluation and Research, West Texas A&M University
  • Kimberly Eck, Director, Research Development Team, University of Tennessee Knoxville
  • Mary Fechner, Proposal Development Specialist, Office of Research Development, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Loren Walker, Director, Office of Research Development, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Thanks to our session note-taker!

Key points from the session. We learned: 

  1. The dataset for this study included 442 position descriptions collected over the course of 10 years (2006-2016). They found that the most frequent postings come from R1 or R1-aspiring institutions.
  2. Director was the most commonly posted Position Description.
  3. 73% of all PDs had a requirement or a preference for a graduate degree.
  4. Only 60% of all PDs required # of years of experience.
  5. Chose 1 term –“funding opportunities”– to determine its use in the PDs. Focused on 6 job titles out of the 14. Half included “funding opps” in the PD. 94% of the Specialist job title included “funding opps” in the PD. Expected this task to be primarily entry level, but found it at all levels.
  6. Looked at every instance of the term “research development” in all PDs and conducted a qualitative analysis. Research development conceived as being distinct, organized, person- and knowledge-based, interactive, targeted, and measurable.
  7. Proposal development vs. research development – RD had many more descriptors but proposal development was used as a noun as a commonly understood concept. Proposal development is experienced-based while research development is knowledge-based.

 What did you hear at this presentation that surprised you?

It was surprising that half of director positions included funding opportunities as part of the job description. The similarities in responsibilities across job titles could be due to the limited number of RD personnel at institutions.

What was the most interesting question asked by an audience member, and what was the presenters’ response?

Q: It would be helpful to cross-analyze job descriptions versus the number in the RD office. Funding opportunities might not be part of a job description but they might supervise someone who does.

A: Not possible with current data set, but possible in the survey. We don’t collect how many people you have as direct reports. Could consider adding this as a question with renewal/new members.

Comment: Original definition of RD posted in 2009. Developers of PDs often use the described set of activities as a basis for developing their PDs.

Q:  Would be interesting to see how the RD term has shifted over the years.

A: That Q was one of the motivating factors for doing this work. Haven’t forgotten it but it’s on the back burner.

What else from this session should NORDP members know?

  • If you haven’t taken the survey, please do so.
  • Also, they would love help if anyone has data visualization ideas.
  • Next steps: analyze survey data. Conducting focus groups with the NE region. Then, conduct another survey.


New Member Cameo: Kate Walters

Welcome to NORDP: Kate WaltersKate_Portrait.jpg
Where: University of Maine
Number of Years in Research Development: 1
Joined NORDP: July 2017

What is your RD work?

I am a Grant Development Specialist at the University of Maine. The focus of our office is to assist junior faculty as they navigate the grant seeking world, and to work on large center proposals and proposals that fall under the University’s signature research areas. My focus area is NIH proposals and efforts to increase our success rate that include faculty writing workshops and training opportunities.

What is your professional and education background, experience?

Similar to many in RD, I have taken a winding path through my career. I began writing grant proposals and reports on funded projects for a non-profit in Alaska. This led to work with the State of Alaska reviewing proposals for recreational trail funding and ultimately assessing projects & helping grantees. Looking to be closer to family I took a pre-award administrator position at the University of Maine in 2015. After two years I changed roles and began working in the Grant Development office seven months ago. I love being a part of the proposal development team which has given me the opportunity to learn a great deal about research efforts on campus and truly get to know faculty and their interests.

What attracted you to NORDP?

I was recruited by a co-worker to join NORDP this summer. Since I am relatively new to RD and our office is less than 3 years old I thought it would benefit us as we build our office. The professional development available through the conferences and regional meetings have confirmed we are on the right path. NORDP helped me answer the question, “So, what exactly is grant development?”

How will your NORDP membership enhance your own career?

NORDP has provided me with a wealth of resources to learn from others in the field.  Members are very generous in sharing their knowledge, experience, and resources.  Their willingness to help, especially on the listserv has been wonderful.

Compiled by Daniel Campbell, Member Services Committee