System Design for TOR proposal

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Team Optimization Resource (TOR)

Gateway to Generating Increased National Institute of Health Funding

Part of our responsibility as Team Science members was a proof of concept project—in other words, could we as Team Science come together and solve a problem. As such, our six member interdisciplinary team was called upon to assist the UTK Office of Research and Engagement (ORE) with their need to increase the number of proposal submissions to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Our proposed solution was to develop a tool (TOR) to help identify the most effective research team members who could address and secure specific NIH funding opportunities. However, we faced barriers to information access due to our graduate student status. Therefore, our final deliverable was a concept document and presentation of a system design for a three phased approach to aggregate existing researcher data from UTK and NIH systems, enhance the information through researcher engagement, and develop search/relevancy functionality based on NIH specific metrics.

For this project, I took the lead role on the team and, with a proficiency in problem solving, identified the needs of ORE, managed the team, and implemented our approach to meet our objectives and deliver a solution represented by a system design.

Reflection on Learning Experience

At the onset of this project, we had not designated roles or leadership. Instead, we assumed a horizontal organizational structure to brainstorm and tackle tasks, although I was increasingly undertaking the data-sources research and suggesting approaches. This is not surprising given my experience in the workforce, but I was hesitant to allow this to undermine another teammate’s desire or capacity to take point. I was initially disappointed when not a single teammate seized this opportunity, as my intent was to exhibit strong teamwork behavior and not presume an authority role. However, leadership is not solely decision-making and by not utilizing the full potential of my skills and experience, I was in fact being a poor team player. Subsequently, as I took the lead, I was able to encourage as well as coach my teammates as we collaboratively worked toward a solution. Further, I was able to model the type of work standards and expectations required for team success.

Our original goal was to develop a minimal viable product—a rudimentary working database and application. The challenges we faced in gaining access to information about the UTK systems and data prevented its development. This, however, did illustrate how UTK data is located in many different systems across the institution and is owned by many different groups—none of which have effective cross communication.   We re-evaluated the user needs and succeeded in producing a system design to describe the overall functional intent and features of a solution and identify the necessary data sources and owners.  Although this was enough to fulfill our project requirement, there are several phases of the software development process needed to fully implement this tool, which include code developing, testing, and deployment.

We also presented to ORE the system design, in addition to many recommendations regarding researcher engagement and incentives vital to data collection. I have shared my interest in continued development of this project with ORE and look forward to possible opportunities if they elect to pursue our proposal.