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Partnering to Improve the Conference Attendance Approval Process

Notes from the input session for conference approval process flow. (Photo by Ruth McDunn.)

The lab receives funding to conduct research and create new knowledge. Information sharing at conferences, workshops and seminars is a vital part of that process. But getting to those meetings has sometimes been more difficult than it should be. In the past, many members of staff have been unsatisfied with the paper-based, repetitive and sometimes obscure process of obtaining approval to attend conferences and events.

On Tuesday afternoon, May 25, 20 administrators from all directorates gathered to review and refine a proposed electronic Conference Attendance Approval process flow. The intent of the project team tasked with automating the process: ensure that those who have to use a process are able to influence how it is designed, installed and operated.

After collecting feedback from many stakeholders and taking into account many comments and criticisms over time, conference approval staff drafted a new process flow and began setting up the systems needed to implement it all electronically. But recognizing that blindly imposing a process on the people who need it can be a serious problem, they sought more direct and detailed input from those who will use the approval system on a day-to-day basis, the directorate conference coordinators.

The biggest changes in the Conference Attendance Approval process include conference details entered on-line in the database so everyone in every directorate can use them, fields populated with employee information, and online approval routing.

During the meeting, the large group picked apart the proposed process flowchart and suggested clarifications, modifications and improvements.

After the meeting, many attendees commented on the process:

Theresa Wong, LCLS: "The lab is taking steps to consider all parts of the process and improve it for everyone. It's great they are getting input from people who have to use the system."

Maria Herraez, PPA: "It seems like the electronic process will be a lot better. Conference details are entered one time and anyone who wishes to attend can use that information for their justification."

Barbara Hemstad, Accelerator Directorate: "Automating this process is a leap in the right direction."

Michelle Montalvo, SSRL: "I'm very impressed with the energy and forward thinking of the conference management group, which has brought about innovative concepts in creating the conference approval process. We may not get an award-winning conference attendance approval process, but it will be the best possible given life at the lab. Of most importance, I like the plan to extensively test and work out kinks in advance."

Siony Matni, LCLS: "I like that the process can be used remotely. Our conference attendees are often out of the country and can't get paperwork filled out and filed easily."

Amita Gupta, PULSE: "I am heartened to experience the ways the Operations Directorate is converting manual, paper-intensive processes to online workflows. It makes my life, and the life of the scientists I support, a lot easier."

Laurie Escudero, OCFO Conference Management Group: "I really appreciate the willingness of the directorate administrators to partner with us. Their expert opinions and goodwill go a long way to making a process that works for the lab."

For further information or to make suggestions, please contact Laurie Escudero or Frank Topper.

—Frank Topper
SLAC Today, June 2, 2010