Definitions and Criteria for Core Research Facilities A core research facility provides access to equipment that in and of itself is either too expensive, unique or whose usage would be too limited if it were to be accessible only to a single researcher. The basic intent of a core facility is to increase access to multiple users, thereby maximizing the efficiency of utilization and opportunities for research expansion.
Depending on the degree of access, core research facilities are (a) departmental core research facilities, (b) college core research facilities, or (c) University Core Research facilities (UCRF).
Departmental Core Research Facility Departmental core research facilities primarily serve members within one department. Priority for service is given to departmental faculty members. The fee schedule is set by the department with the approval of the department chair. The use of research space to support the service is within the research space allocation of the department. Departmental core services are not eligible for institutional support for equipment, space or interim support.
College Core Research Facility College core research facilities primarily serve faculty members within a particular college. At least 50% of the user activity must be from investigators distributed among departments other than the sponsoring department. User activity can be identified as a combination of the number of principal investigators, amount of revenue from other departments, percentage of the revenue that covers operating costs, the grant support activity and scientific impact factors. The research services provided are not redundant to existing university core services. Priority for services is given to college faculty members. These research services are not offered as a university-wide service and in general are not eligible for institutional support for equipment or interim support from the Vice President for Research (VPR). However, large, unique non-redundant (non-duplicative) equipment may require support from the VPR or the college, if a university-wide benefit is apparent. College core facilities reside within the research space of the sponsoring department or center and the research space is designated as college research space. This designation removes the core facilities space from the research space allocation within the sponsoring department or center.
University Core Research Facility A University Core Research Facility (UCRF) serves two functions. The first is a research support function that offers equipment and services for the investigations of faculty, staff members, and students across the University. This function also may include support for faculty members engaged in the development, optimization, and benchmarking of new research equipment. The second function is a training function that assists users or possible users to focus the capabilities of the UCRF on research problems relevant to them. This function encompasses the publication of print and electronic manuals and guides, individual or small group consultations, short-term user workshops and technical seminars, and longer-term specialized training programs. In addition to its research support and training functions, a UCRF promotes the cross fertilization of research by encouraging the exchange of ideas that might not otherwise take place among researchers from diverse disciplines. Moreover, a UCRF supports multidisciplinary collaborations in areas that currently may not be obvious to faculty members.
A UCRF serves multiple users who may be from any department or center within the University. At a minimum, the faculty must serve at least three principal investigators from more than one department. Priority for service will be on a "first come, first serve" basis. The fee schedule must be equitable and established according to university policies and procedures.
Established UCRFs have well-defined available services, established costs, and a users' group. Established core services charge fees sufficient to cover at least 50% or more of their operating costs, and have undergone competitive external review. These facilities have current grant support for service activities, including extramural funding for the facility itself. Services must have an established impact in the form of grant support activity and/or manuscripts citing core support. The priority for service is University faculty. UCRFs are eligible for institutional support from the VPR for equipment and/or interim support. A UCRF is listed as VPR research space; therefore it is not included in the research space allocation for the sponsoring unit. University research facilities that, by their nature require significant regulatory compliance (e.g., vivarium, BSL3), may be designated as a UCRF.
Criteria for Establishing Core Facility To determine whether or not a facility should/could be designated as a core facility of any type - departmental, college, UCRF - a thorough assessment and review should be conducted. The review includes a needs assessment, documentation of unique service, an administrative plan, a business plan, a utilization plan and a quality control/period review plan:
Supply vs. demand: Documentation is required detailing the projected use of the service. Acceptable documentation includes grant activities currently listing this type of service on the budget page justification, current publications from faculty using this type of activity, shared user instrumentation grant applications or letters of support from faculty outlining their specific needs.
Cost-benefit analysis: The rationale for starting an in-house service rather than utilizing commercial services is required. Acceptable justifications include unique departmental needs, in-house versus out-sourcing considerations, the necessity for local expedited service or the potential for new technology development. Unacceptable justifications include service proximity or convenience factors not tied to performance.
Risk assessment: There are potential services that exist on the "leading edge" that only one or a small group of principal investigators may recognize as having potential importance, including the impact of a new service that faculty will be using in two to three years. This potential class of services could greatly enhance the research mission of the University, but may involve considerable financial risk. Justifications of "leading edge" type services must include an analysis of benefit versus risk.
Other compelling considerations: Occasionally, there is a compelling need for a rare service that is needed by a few investigators. Alternatively, a large number of faculty may use the service, but need it only occasionally. These considerations need explanation, justification and documentation.
Demonstration of a Unique Service Documentation of non-duplication with existing services: Significant overlap with existing services is strongly discouraged; however, in extraordinary circumstances some overlap may be considered, if compelling justification is provided. It is recognized that a proposed new service may have a minimal amount of overlap with existing cores. Overlapping services require justification as a new service since in most cases, existing established core services are expected to integrate new complementary services or take the lead in developing new complementary core services.
Administrative Plan At a minimum the administrative plan must include:
One faculty member or service professional who assumes both administrative (personnel, advisory board, etc) and scientific oversight to assure that services provided remain current with respect to technology
Financial tracking mechanism with quarterly reports
Web-based access for description of the service and fee schedule.
Faculty based users' group, meeting semi-annually with documentation
Annual reporting of activities to VPR's Research Council
Mechanism for communication with existing core support services
Requirement of a Business Plan
Fee schedule determination: Some considerations include - potential for tiered pricing or bundling, pilot projects vs. established projects, maintenance costs, personnel costs, and non-university users. A justification of the fee schedule is required and must be consistent with university policies and procedures.
Pro forma projections (3-5 years)
Financial plan for long-term operation and maintenance of equipment
Requirement for inclusion of costs on PI users' grants
Revenue distribution from non-university user fees
New technology development
Subsidizing interdisciplinary/pilot projects
Marketing plan: This should specify whether a web site will be used, brochures will be printed or if workshops will be scheduled and how this new service will be interfaced with research faculty
Plan for Maximum Utilization of Service/Instruments
How requests are made
How time is allocated
Plans for attracting new users
Quality Control Review Process
Benchmarks for success
Listing of peer-reviewed grant funding support for the service
Number of users that have peer-reviewed funding
Number of users that include the service on grant budget
Impact of service for publications, potential F&A, and total awards
Unique features or niche of the service
Balanced Scorecard (budget or goals are measured against actual costs)
Participation, presentation, leadership in national/international core research facilities societies such as Association of Biomedical Research Facilities (ABRF) (http://www.abrf.org)
Core facility-conducted surveys of users that include assessment of data quality, data accuracy, and turnaround time. Cores should distribute these to all customers, keep all returned surveys on file, and have them available at the review
Ensuring that all projects have received approval by institutional human subjects, animal welfare and biosafety committees. The investigator is responsible for having appropriate University regulatory approval
External Review process: Every three years, an external review of the core facility and its related services occurs. The external review may be accomplished by the required NIH core support services review. More frequent external review also may occur at the request of the users' group contingent upon resources. This process includes an announcement (i.e., university web page, announcements to all users, and departmental and college administrators whose faculty utilize the core facility.) that a given core is due for review, and performance feedback is solicited from the relevant community of researchers. This is an opportunity for feedback independent of that channeled through the core, a mechanism that has limitations.
Designation and Approval of Core Facilities The process for approving new research core facilities is coordinated through the VPR's Research Council. The process requires a recommendation for approval by the sponsoring unit(s) - in the case of a department core, the department; in the case of a college facility - approval by participating departments and dean's approval; for a UCRF, departmental and college approvals. Final approval will be at the designated core level - i.e. for departmental cores, the department chair approval; for college cores, the dean, for UCRFs, the VPR.