Improvements to the Effort Logging process – introduced by management eighteen months ago in response to widespread staff complaints – appeared to have failed, with growing concerns that the controversial system is stifling innovation within CSIRO, writes Staff Association Treasurer Dr Scott Wilkinson.
THE RECENT CSIRO staff survey – conducted by professional services company Towers Watson – identified burdensome administrative processes as one of the major barriers to improving innovation.
More than a third of respondents said that to boost CSIRO’s capacity to innovate, operating efficiency need to be improved through creating simpler processes and by reducing the administrative burden on scientists.
A follow-up ‘Last Straw’ survey of selected staff identified effort logging in the top five issues causing concern.
When considered together, the separate survey results suggest that reforms to Effort Logging have failed to make the system simpler and less time-consuming.
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The Staff Association has campaigned for several years to simplify effort logging requirements in response to staff concerns.
A move from actual to planned hours recording was finally implemented in last financial year via the ‘auto logging’ system, which was intended to remove the need to log actual effort for most staff, such as where work was consistent with SIP outcomes.
However, it’s clear that ‘Auto’ logging is currently unusable for many staff. Contrasting with previous years, the SIP outcomes were divided into ‘hard’ or contracted allocations, and ‘soft’ allocations to themes which were not entered into effort logs – after the ‘mapping-season’ was over, staff time was left partly unallocated.
Divisions have requested staff to compress ‘hard’ project allocations into opening months of the year to the detriment of practical research timelines.
Consequently many staff continue to spend time and effort constructing and manually entering data.
Practical problems with the administration of the system belie larger concerns about the pressures that administrative processes can – perhaps unintentionally – place on scientific research.
The question remains: Do we really need effort logging to demonstrate accountability in addition to the SIP process?
By resorting to bureaucratic solutions and chasing ever finer resolutions of effort allocation, are we being pushed towards safe, join-the-dots research and forcing staff to misrepresent research practices?
The Staff Association will raise the issue at this month’s Consultative Council meeting, within the wider context of the pressures facing science research, especially regarding funding.
Our position remains that effort logging be a task requiring negligible effort. Effort recording should simply reflect current reality, with research planning discussions being held in a constructive manner.
The alternative is a time-consuming bureaucratic process which detracts from our science mission.
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