New NIH-Wide Strategic Plan: Increased Emphasis for the Brain and Behavioral Sciences

August 12, 2021

NIIH-Wide Strategic Plan Framework Graphic. Adapted from the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2021-2025.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) released the updated NIH-Wide Strategic Plan, modifying key objectives, identifying cross cutting themes, and setting bold predictions.

Though each of the 27 Institutes and Centers composing the NIH have their own strategic plans and individual missions, Congress included a mandate for the NIH to develop an agency-wide strategic plan in the FY 2015 Appropriations Bill (HR 83), asking for a clear articulation of NIH research priorities as Congress contemplated increases in NIH funding. Before the previous report in FY 2016, which included a requirement to update every five years, the last time the NIH went through an organization-wide strategic planning process was in 1991-1992.

In the newest strategic plan, ‘Behavioral sciences’ were included in Objective 1 of the report, whereas previously, the objective was limited to the biomedical sciences. The NIH aims to drive forward the role of these sciences on three fronts – foundational science, disease prevention and health promotion, and treatments, interventions, and cures. FABBS members might be interested to see the cognizance of behavioral and social scientific research in pandemic preparedness and response, public health crises, and in advancing the health and wellbeing of underserved communities through preventive medicine and analysis of socioeconomic factors that may lead to health disparities.

Objective 2, which concerned the research workforce, resources, and infrastructure, reflects NIH efforts to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion. These efforts include the Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NGRI), aimed at early-stage researchers (within 10 years of completing their highest advanced research degree); the Stephen Ira Katz Award for early-stage researchers; and other training programs to foster inclusive participation. The Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) initiative is also in the works, aimed to transform culture at NIH-funded institutions by recruiting faculty cohorts with demonstrable commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Objective 3 underscores the ethics and regulations in the conduct of science. NIH is partnering with the National Science Foundation and the General Services Administration to develop and implement tools to identify overlap in grant proposals, to reduce risk of duplicative research. NIH is also leveraging partnerships (federal, public-private, international, and public engagement) to apply research-informed, fundamental knowledge to the advancement of health. The objective also placed increased emphasis in transparent communication throughout the research enterprise, to include ensuring scientific integrity and reproducibility, to providing recourses for harassment in the research environment and pathways to facilitate inclusion.

Inviting Comments and Suggestions on a Framework for the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2021-2025.

The revised plan reflects an inclusive process and efforts to engage the stakeholder community. NIH solicited public input from their Request for Information (RFI) and received 160 submissions.

FABBS submitted comments (also seen on page 115 in the July 2021 report of findings) and commended the addition of the Behavioral sciences to objective 1, as this was consistent with the Cross-Cutting Theme of Promoting Collaborative Science. This objective also underscored the importance of foundational and basic research, which paves way to innovation, improved therapeutics, interventions, and cures.

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