NIH Institute and Center Strategic Plans

Mar 17 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) just released its new strategic plan. I was involved in writing the first NIGMS Strategic Plan released in 2008. I must admit that I was skeptical of the value to writing a strategic plan when we started down the path toward this plan. However, I found both the process and the final product useful. It allowed the institute to formalize our commitment to research and training activities, the balance of the use of particular mechanisms, and so on. Even though many aspects of the plan seemed obvious in terms of the culture of NIGMS, I found myself looking back to the plan and referring others to important sections over the next years.

The new NIGMS plan takes a similar approach. One section of interest is:

Objective 1-2: Promote the ability of investigators to pursue new research directions, novel scientific insights and innovative ideas.

This objective includes the following implementation strategies:

1. Align funding decisions with the need to create a broad and diverse research portfolio that maximizes the scientific return on taxpayers’ investments.

2. Support investigators working in underexplored areas of science that are relevant to the NIGMS mission.

3. Conduct regular analyses of NIGMS’ scientific investments to assess their efficacy, distribution and impact, and use this information to help guide programmatic and funding decisions.

4. Pilot and assess alternative mechanisms of funding that emphasize individual investigators, rather than individual projects, to better meet NIGMS goals and objectives.

5. Increase the Institute’s ability to conduct in-depth portfolio analyses and evaluation activities.

Importantly, this includes commitments to analysis and analysis capabilities (strategies 3, 5) as well as a strategy related to the new Maximizing Investigators' Research Award (MIRA) mechanism.

While I am still going though the plan, plans for other NIH Institutes and Centers are available (although some links on this site are broken).

Do you find these plans of any use? How could they be made more useful?

15 responses so far

  • drugmonkey says:

    how is this a plan, as opposed to a simple recitation of what NIGMS is already supposedly doing?

    Where are the specifics about what is not happening under such a plan and how the NIGMS is planning to fix it in the future?

    That is my problem with this. it seems like some sort of pablum that merely describe what is supposed to be happening. It doesn't have any sense of *change*.

    • datahound says:

      I understand your point and it is natural that there is some ideas predated the plan and some ideas that surface during the planning process get implemented. In the older plan, the discussion about more closely linking training and diversity programs was helpful to drive change now reflected in a more integrated organization within NIGMS.

      It is a strategic rather than a tactical plan so that specifics are intentionally lacking. The existence of the plan does invite input about how to address these issues identified or others missing. If you have particular issues, I would post them on the Feedback Loop post.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Props on getting your ideas on analyzing the in/out churn, time to refunding and the larger pool of "NIGMS investigators" in there. However, that chart is presented in a poor way.

    It seems to assume that PIs being out of funding over a 1-8 year period are all the same and that it is tragic that they are not all funded. This needs SOOOOOO much more analysis. Your cumulative probability of refunding graph suggested what, maybe 50% come back? So at least half of the gap identified in the NIGMS strategic plan probably should be there. Maybe more?

  • DJMH says:

    I just checked out my IC's and it was surprisingly useful, at least the executive summary. It let me know what their funding priorities were, which helped me see how my work fit in (something I had been unsure about).

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    On a related note, Datahound (and Drugmonkey--this will be of interest to you, too) -- NIMH Director Insel has just released a white paper discussing the breakdown of spending priorities within his IC, with the goal of transparency.

    This is in the context of a pending revision to the NIMH Strategic Plan, to be released later this month. I find these plans to be extremely helpful in understanding programmatic priorities, and they are most useful as tools to help trainees get a big picture view of how their work might (or might not!) fit into the overall portfolio.

  • Namesaste_Ish says:

    I have loathed the admin load from every DARPPA DOD grant I've ever been a part of but fuckke if those fuckkers aren't on you about what your deliverables are. If we are moving to a point where we have metrics of success in deploying new models, assessing treatments/devices/paradigms then NIH should start asking for these things.

    I worry about a day when all we have to show at the end of million + spending is titles of papers that the public doesn't understand. Right now, doing increased analysis of metrics and 'sucess' is greatly limited by having data that does not correlate w sucesses that are meaningful to the folks paying our salaries (tax payers, not fuckken Congress Critters).

    • datahound says:

      Different metrics are appropriate for different types of research. More targeted research (e.g. clinical trials) should have deliverables (e.g. patients accrued, protocol followed and eventually results about endpoints (good or bad)) and NIH should insist on them as the projects move forward.

      For basic research, such deliverables are harder to define and the end results that matter to the taxpayer often involve aggregating results from many studies. These are often only obvious in retrospect, looking at practical advances and tracing back what made them possible. From my own work, studies of zinc finger protein design led to basic understanding and eventually to clinical trials but only after 20 years with the accumulation of other technologies, some early failures, and identification of the right clinical contexts. Do we foresee this as a possibility? Certainly. Would it have been helpful to discuss this in detail earlier on? I am not so sure.

  • These "strategic plans" are a complete waste of time and effort. They're nothing but make work for bureaucrats in the ICs and a distraction from where and how the real agenda-setting occurs.

    • datahound says:

      While I agree that real agenda-setting does occur to some degree elsewhere, the strategic plans do act as a framework, particularly shortly after they are released. I was more skeptical until I participated in the process at NIGMS and then used the plan going forward. They are required by Congress so that it is up to the Institutes and Centers to make the most of the process.

    • drugmonkey says:

      And where does the real agenda setting occur?

  • Established PI says:

    I think it is useful to know what the overall objectives are, but they only become meaningful to those in the trenches when they are coupled with concrete plans to achieve those goals. By themselves, they are not specific enough to figure out how implementing the strategic plan will actually impact science, training and distribution of funds. I look forward to learning new details (other than the MIRA award pilot) and will be particularly interested to see how they measure the success of their new initiatives.

    For some reason, I am not able to access the report (error is "Bad Request" - ha!) from here or from the Feedback Loop blog, so I am basing this on the summary posted on the blog.

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