During the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Council of Councils Meeting on May 19-20, a report from the Working Group on Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (BSSR) Integration was presented and approved by the Council. The report, which was presented by Acting Director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) and Acting Associate Director for BSSR at NIH Dr. Christine Hunter, was prepared by a working group chartered by the NIH Council of Councils. The group included two PAA members, Dr. David Weir, University of Michigan and Dr. Rebeca Wong, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, members of the National Institute on Aging and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development advisory councils, respectively.
The working group was charged with examining the proportion of NIH research with a significant social or behavioral component and the representation of BSSR in the expertise of those within NIH. The report finds that while BSSR is relevant across each of the Institutes and Centers (ICs) at NIH, there are “significant gaps and variation in BSSR integration across the NIH.” Recommendations included urging the NIH to:
- Better incorporating and integrating BSSR into IC and NIH-wide strategic plans;
- Evaluate and monitor the distribution of BSSR staff across the agency;
- Align NIH Advisory Council representation to have two minimum members with BSSR or public health expertise;
- Work with OBSSR to identify opportunities to increase BSSR applications at ICs with low BSSR usage;
- Increase centers, resource grants, and trial networks that include a BSSR focus;
- Increase resources allocated to OBSSR for staff and programs; and
- Engage BSSR expertise throughout the development of new research policies and practices.
The members of the Council of Councils were largely supportive of the report and its findings, with some questions directed to Dr. Hunter regarding the importance of research grant success rates, the “shockingly low” amount of BSSR used at some of the ICs, and, given the wide range of application of BSSR, calls that it be better utilized in improving public health.
About her experience, Dr. Wong said, “I was pleasantly surprised by the charge to this committee, and I was appalled at how little representation there was of the behavioral and social sciences across the NIH IC’s. If for no other reason, we need to get more involved across all of NIH to make progress in health disparities.”
The PAA Government and Public Affairs Committee will use the report’s results to identify ICs that could benefit from learning more about critical population research activities and findings and to discuss how additional resources could benefit both the population sciences and the research agenda of select ICs.
The working group report and the presentation slides are available on the Council of Councils website.