The NORDP Innovation Award recognizes individuals, groups, or teams; functional units; or organizations who leverage unique skills or resources to kick-start innovation in research development and advance the profession or the field in ways that generate evidence of promise or demonstrable results. Innovators leverage partnerships, experiment with tools and techniques, or generate and share knowledge to advance NORDP and the work of its members.
Who: Karen Walker, Associate Director of Research Development
Where: Arizona State University
Number of years in research development: 12
Length of NORDP membership: 10 years
Karen Walker was awarded the 2022 NORDP Innovation Award for her contributions to establishing academic competitive intelligence as a field within research development. She founded the function at ASU and has given numerous national and international presentations on the topic. She also founded the Competitive Intelligence Working Group, a national group of professionals that meets monthly to share insights and best practices within the world of competitive intelligence.
What is competitive intelligence and how did you first become interested in establishing CI as a component of research development?
Competitive intelligence is the ethical collection and analysis of information, which informs decision making. We’re taking both quantitative and qualitative information, and we’re putting it into context in order to arrive at actionable insights for our stakeholders. So in an academic setting, CI is an approach that provides a better understanding of the funding landscape, allowing our faculty to submit more competitive proposals. At ASU, we also use it to help our leadership gain a better understanding of how our university is positioned in various research areas, which allows them to make more informed decisions. Competitive Intelligence has been around in industry and government for many years, and I first became interested in applying CI practices to work practices in the research office at ASU around 2012. I was trying to get a better understanding of sponsors and other universities, and figure out how we could help faculty develop more targeted strategies for seeking funding, and CI seemed to be a useful tool for doing that.
What was the process of building out competitive intelligence, both at ASU and at the national level, and how did your membership in NORDP play a role in your efforts?
For the first four years that I was doing CI, I was working on my own. At that time, I was also running our limited submissions process, so it was a bit of a challenge trying to get CI off the ground here. But I was fortunate in that there were a number of people at ASU who saw the value in what I was trying to do, not the least of which was Faye Farmer our Executive Director of Research Development at ASU. In fact, Faye was the one who encouraged me to submit an abstract to NORDP for a presentation at the 2016 conference, and that got accepted. I didn’t expect much response, but I presented to a packed room, and I think so many people were interested in learning more about CI because it was such a new thing.
After that presentation, I had a number of people come up to me and I was able to connect with them and begin to form a network of people interested in CI. We have a CI working group (founded in 2017), which is a national group that meets and puts on presentations, about six times a year. Our goal is to build best practices and increase our exposure to different CI techniques. And the formation of that group is all due to those NORDP connections
Meanwhile, back at ASU, we were getting more and more requests from the leadership for projects. And so the team started to grow. We have a team of three amazing analysts now! It has been wonderful to see institutional investment in CI grow over the years, not only here at ASU, but also at other universities. I have talked to a number of colleagues at other universities who are either getting practices off the ground, or actually building out full-time positions within their offices, which is something I never would have imagined when I first started working on CI and has been incredibly rewarding to see.
What relationships have you built as a result of NORDP, and how have these relationships influenced your work?
The relationships I’ve built through NORDP have been really amazing. I have made some good friends, and the people I’ve met have exposed me to things I never would have thought of. Ryan Champagne, from University of Pittsburgh was one of the first people who reached out to me after that presentation. Ryan is not only a fantastic person, but he was the first person who exposed me to the whole world of Library Science and he brought that to our whole CI working group. Alba Clivati McIntyre and Matthieu Karamoko at The Ohio State University have also become close colleagues for our team at ASU. Alba is an incredible source of knowledge. And there are so many other people who have joined the CI working group or who have contacted me because they’ve heard, through NORDP, about CI and they’re interested in learning about it or building CI out at their institutions. It has been wonderful to have an extensive network to draw on, and people are extremely generous with their ideas and their time.
I was honestly shocked to have received this award and I am so grateful to my colleagues for nominating me. I feel immensely rewarded that competitive intelligence has been taken up so much by the NORDP community.
What other innovations have you observed within NORDP (or the field of research development) since you first joined?
After working in research development for more than ten years, one thing I’ve noticed many of us in the field collectively doing is trying to shift our faculty and leadership away from being so reactive, and toward being more proactive or more strategic. It seems like there has always been that mindset of “What’s the latest funding opportunity that has come out? What can I apply to right now?” But what we want our leaders and faculty thinking about is how to plan years out into the future. I think adopting a strategic mindset is so much more at the forefront now than it was years ago, and I think that is a really great place for those of us in RD to be — supporting our leadership and helping shift into that proactive mindset.
What advice do you have for NORDP members leading their own innovative initiatives within the field of RD?
One thing I have learned throughout this process is that nobody is an island. You can’t do it alone. You can have the idea and the vision and believe in it passionately, and that’s great, but you need to find others who will understand what you’re trying to do and support you and want to be part of that journey. I have been thrilled to see people incorporating CI into their office — that is something I never would have imagined when I first started doing CI. And the process of growing CI as a priority within RD wasn’t always easy, but luckily I had people who supported me and who could see the value of what I was doing. So my advice would be to find your vision, but also find your people. Cultivating a network is key to reaching those lofty goals and it’s also really rewarding to see people appreciate and see the value in what you’re doing. It can feel hard at times to let others in on something you may feel ownership of, but I also believe people will recognize you for what you do, so be generous and let people in.