NIH Council of Councils Discusses Initiatives to Support Behavioral Science

September 22, 2022

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Council of Councils met on September 8th and 9th for a full agenda, including several items of interest to behavioral and brain scientists (see the agenda and recording here).

This body is made up of 27 members, selected from NIH Institutes’ and Centers’ (IC) Advisory Councils, individuals nominated by the Office of the Director’s program offices, and community representation. This was the first meeting chaired by Robert Eisinger, Acting Director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI). The Council plays a crucial role in advising the NIH Director about the policies and activities of DPCPSI. Additionally, it is involved during the “concept approval” stage of the NIH Roadmap initiative review process. Here, they act as an external advisory panel to the IC Directors. DPCPSI staff also develop trans-NIH initiatives and submit them for review during the concept approval stage. In addition, DPCPSI staff provide information such as deliverables, timetables, and projected costs for each initiative to the Council.

The Council of Councils approved two new concepts that are of great interest to FABBS members.

The first concept, titled “Accelerating Behavioral and Social Science Through Ontology Development and Use,” seeks to address the lack of a common vocabulary within behavioral and social science research (BSSR). FABBS is proud to have been a sponsor of the National Academies consensus study on this topic that laid the groundwork for this concept (see previous coverage here).

Over the past 25 years, BSSR has seen explosive growth, with ever increasing amounts of complex data being published each year. The sheer quantity reduces researchers’ ability to make meaningful use of the data, especially given that there is not a standard for the terminology used within publications. To address this challenge, the concept supports the development of ontologies, agreed upon systems and/or knowledge structures that consist of the relevant concepts and relationships that exist within a specific domain.

For example, the terms self-regulation, emotion regulation, and cognitive control are often used interchangeably; however, in certain fields, it is critical to distinguish between these terms. While ontologies can provide a framework for usage of relevant terms and concepts, a single ontology may not work well for the range of disciplines under the BSSR umbrella. Therefore, the concept proposes developing multiple ontologies that span the breadth of the domain.

The proposal includes two major components: 

  • Coordination and Dissemination Center and a Research Project Network. The Center will foster collaboration, provide ontology-related tools, compile information, and support ontology expansion through outreach.
  • The Research Network will support independent research on ontology development to consolidate and make better use of the findings from decades of BSSR.

The second concept of interest to FABBS members is a new Common Fund Program, titled “Advancing Health Communication Science and Practice. The widespread use of technology has brought many benefits to the health communication sector. At the same time, it has led to the spread of misinformation. This proposal will support research to better understand the effectiveness of health communications methods, for whom they work for, and why they are effective.

This concept will have three components:

  • Research Network – multidisciplinary projects to cultivate sustainable health communication strategies. This will be backed by a sub-initiative to identify upcoming challenges in health communication.
  • Methods and Measurement Research Projects – will invent and assess novel methods of health communication, focusing on partnerships with social media platforms and marketing experts.
  • Coordination and Dissemination Center – will consolidate information, share key findings, and communicate ideas to those in the field. By understanding how health communication has evolved with the introduction of technology and testing innovative methods, this concept will implement effective health communications strategies that facilitate equitable health outcomes.