2017- 2021 Strategic Plan
A scientific paradigm shift is occurring in the behavioral and social sciences. Fundamental or basic behavioral and social sciences research (bBSSR), integrated with advances in neuroscience, genetics, and emerging “omics” fields, is beginning to clarify the complex dynamic mechanisms that shape the brain, behavior, and environment. Advances in measurement science and technologies provide temporally dense, contextual data on human behavior and its influences at levels of granularity and precision previously unimaginable. Advances in technology are rapidly changing the reach, scalability, and adaptability of behavioral and social interventions. The expanding sources of population-level data and efforts to integrate these data provide both the platform to better monitor health and its behavioral and social influences and the ability to more rigorously assess population-level interventions.
The health of the nation is shaped primarily by behavioral and social influences. Therefore, it is critically important that the preeminent health research agency in the United States, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), focuses substantial effort and resources on advancing our understanding of and ability to modify these influences, at the individual and population levels, to improve health. As established by Congress more than 20 years ago, the role of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) at the NIH is to coordinate the health-relevant behavioral and social sciences and to identify challenges and opportunities to advance these sciences in the service of the nation’s health. These core roles remain guiding principles of this strategic plan.
The strategic plan includes three equally important scientific priorities, which reflect key research challenges that the OBSSR is uniquely positioned to address, along with four foundational processes to enhance and support these scientific priorities as well as the OBSSR’s broader mission.
To learn more about OBSSR’s new strategic plan you can download the PDF.
Priority One: Improve the Synergy of Basic and Applied Behavioral and Social Sciences Research - View the video
New and innovative approaches to change behavior and social systems to improve health rely on fundamental research that characterizes novel mechanisms and targets. The OBSSR is committed to identifying and encouraging bBSSR to develop viable pathways to improve individual and population health. To do so, the OBSSR will work with the NIH Institutes and Centers to identify promising and emerging lines of bBSSR relevant to the health research mission of the NIH, stimulate new areas of bBSSR that address important research questions, and facilitate the translation of bBSSR findings to applied research.
Priority Two: Enhance and Promote the Research Infrastructure, Methods, and Measures Needed to Support a More Cumulative and Integrated Approach to Behavioral and Social Sciences Research - View the video
Technological and scientific advances offer exciting opportunities as well as novel challenges for behavioral and social sciences research. Varied and voluminous data from multiple data sources increase the importance of data sharing, harmonization, and integration. To take full advantage of the data being produced, a robust and open research infrastructure, including common data elements, ontologies, and consensus measurement metrics, must be developed and refined—a need that the OBSSR is uniquely positioned to address. Advances in science are often preceded by advances in measurement, and the OBSSR will continue to encourage new approaches that improve the precision, accuracy, and efficiency of measures of behavioral and social phenomena and their context. New data types and new measurement approaches necessitate new methodologies and analytics. The OBSSR is committed to encouraging a broad repertoire of methods and analytics to answer increasingly complex and relevant research questions.
Priority Three: Facilitate the Adoption of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Findings in Health Research and in Practice - View the video
A substantial gap remains between the research findings in the behavioral and social sciences and the implementation of this research in practice. The OBSSR can play an important role in narrowing this gap by encouraging behavioral intervention research in the context in which these interventions are intended to be delivered. To foster adoption of effective behavioral and social interventions, the OBSSR can disseminate research findings, encourage dissemination and implementation research, and partner with other agencies and entities to reduce the barriers to adoption of effective interventions.
To address the scientific priorities and the broader NIH efforts in the behavioral and social sciences, the OBSSR will rely on four foundational processes. View the video
Communicating behavioral and social sciences research findings
Program Coordination and Integration
Coordinating behavioral and social sciences research programs across the NIH and integrating behavioral and social sciences research within the larger NIH research enterprise
Training the next generation of behavioral and social science researchers
Policy and Evaluation
Evaluating the impact of behavioral and social sciences research and addressing scientific policies that support this research
These foundational processes are central functions consistent with the OBSSR mission that can be marshalled to meet the objectives of the scientific priorities outlined in this strategic plan.