Employing Strategic Research Initiatives for Long-Term Impact

Employing Strategic Research Initiatives for Long-Term Impact
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We know it’s critical for associations to tap research and data to best provide value to their members and stakeholders. However, a sound research practice needs to be integrated into the culture of the organization—it does not mean one survey and done. In the best scenario, initial data provides a baseline to build upon and inspire more research, which then helps the organization continue fine tuning offerings.

The Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS) is dedicated to applying a comprehensive approach to understanding who its members are—and, equipped with the right research, how to best provide value to meet their evolving needs. McKinley has partnered with RAPS on a long-term approach, developing and implementing strategic research initiatives that build upon each other and capitalize on the Society’s key strengths, translating to increased value for its members.

Project Highlights

  • RAPS, with the support of McKinley, has initiated a breadth of strategic research initiatives to gain impactful insights into its members and marketplace.
  • The first initiative, a member survey, provided a baseline of research to inform its long-term vision.
  • Applying a cohesive long-term approach, each additional phase has advanced the Society’s goals and vision for the future.
  • RAPS has integrated a strong organizational culture of recognizing the value of research and data to inform its decision-making and offerings.


When McKinley initially partnered with RAPS, the organization was seeking to better understand the needs of its members. As part of their long-term vision for serving their audiences, they wanted to establish a baseline to inform future work.

Strategy and Solution

Quantitative Member Research

We kicked off our partnership with quantitative research to understand the needs of RAPS membership. The goal was to determine the value of RAPS resources and explore opportunities to improve services in the future. This knowledge served as the foundation for all future opportunities and set a baseline to track growth resulting from future member initiatives.

Personas Development

Next, we implemented a project to identify the personas of RAPS members, which informed its new website development, including how RAPS customized and curated the content to meet its audience segments’ needs. We gathered more details on who RAPS members are so that the association could create an exceptional customer experience by leveraging its deep understanding of customers’ goals, motivations and needs. Building upon the data acquired previously, we created a new survey, segmenting responses by factors such as career stage and job function, covering:

  • Personal motivators, drivers and goals
  • Engagement with RAPS
  • Involvement in the RAPS certification program
  • Breadth of interests (i.e., narrow vs broad)
  • Professional challenges

We were able to paint a portrait of the Society’s audience segments and where they each find value. Five personas were identified: Next Gen Climber, Rising Star, Focused Achiever, Career Connector, and Tenured on Top.

Global Regulatory Workforce Field Measurement

Concurrent with the personas research, RAPS identified an opportunity to access data that would allow the association to measure the regulatory affairs professional workforce globally. The goal was to gather a better understanding of the growth of the regulatory affairs profession by factors such as subfield and geographic location, and to identify market and career growth opportunities.

McKinley teamed with RAPS and Elemed, a boutique regulatory talent management company, on a workforce field measurement project, which resulted in the 2021 Report on The Global Regulatory Affairs Professionals Workforce. It employed a proprietary methodology that measured the global regulatory affairs field, which had never been done before.

The findings offer a glimpse into the perspective of the regulatory affairs community toward the myriad of changes that the profession has encountered over the past several years. It also provides a baseline of the size of the field, globally and by region, by which the industry can compare benchmarks in future years’ reports to assess growth and understand changes in trajectory. Important data points included issues facing the profession, such as the impact of the global health pandemic, concerns related to diversity and inclusion in the field, and top professional challenges for regulatory affairs professionals.

Looking ahead, this report, and future iterations, will help the Society lead the field. For members, it provides context including how challenges vary by region, and whether professionals in their area and discipline are facing the same kinds of barriers and opportunities. It also helps show whether their skill sets are in demand and how the field is growing—to understand where there will be more demand globally. For the Society, it provides a better understanding of present and potential future challenges, and how best to respond on behalf of its members and stakeholders.

Professional Competency Framework

Later, we teamed with RAPS to review and revise the previous edition of its Regulatory Competency Framework (RCF), to ensure it is relevant, inclusive of current technology (such as the latest in artificial intelligence) and reflects current business realities.

We conducted a literature review to understand what other organizations in the field were doing, then held a series of interviews with participants including field leaders. In addition, we worked with a volunteer task force and, over a series of meetings, reviewed each competency one by one with the group and made revisions that brought the Framework up to date.

Recommended revisions spanned:

  • Including professional titles that reflect the global workplace across a variety of organizational settings.
  • Adding new competencies reflecting the roles of a regulatory leader regarding coaching and data management/IT practices.
  • Consolidating and streamlining competencies that were redundant.
  • Updating language to reflect current business practices and trends.

Following the finalization of revisions, the Framework underwent a review by academic and industry experts, as well as a review by early-career professionals to ensure relevancy across all professional levels. Upon committee approval, we followed up with a communication plan that provided guidance on how to involve and leverage volunteer leadership to promote the work.


The overarching result of RAPS’ ongoing research work is achieving a better and evolving understanding of its members, professional community and marketplace. Specifically, the organization is leveraging the competency framework to drive changes to its education portfolio and provide new value to both members and adjacent audiences that needed a better understanding of the work that regulatory professionals do. The personas have helped ensure its new website is customized and curated to meet its audiences’ needs.

Meet the Team:

A headshot of Kristi DonovanKristi Donovan, M.S., CAE
Senior Consultant


Headshot of Patrick Glaser

Patrick Glaser, M.A., MPA
Senior Vice President, Research and Analytics


“McKinley has been a great long-term partner on our strategic research initiatives, which have collectively helped us increase value for our members and advance our vision for the future. We continue to be impressed with the efficiency and expertise with which McKinley has helped us accomplish all of this critical work—and look forward to more collaboration and success together!”
Amy Fisher
VP, Engagement, Marketing and Market Development, RAPS