Commemorating 25 Years of the OBSSR: A History in Milestones

1993

  • Congress Establishes the OBSSR

    Congress Establishes the OBSSR

    June, 1993

    On June 10, Congress creates the OBSSR to identify, coordinate, and promote behavioral and social science research projects at the NIH and beyond. Its founding demonstrates growing public acceptance that behavioral and social science factors greatly impact public health.

1995

  • The OBSSR Opens its Doors

    The OBSSR Opens its Doors

    July, 1995

    The OBSSR officially opens its doors within the Office of the NIH Director. The Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Coordinating Committee (BSSR-CC) forms the same year to advise the Director of the OBSSR and foster communication and coordination with NIH staff and external partners in the field of behavioral and social sciences research.

  • Dr. Norman B. Anderson Appointed Director of the OBSSR (1995–2000)

    Dr. Norman B. Anderson Appointed Director of the OBSSR (1995–2000)

    July, 1995

     

    Ask not what NIH can do for behavioral and social sciences. Ask what behavioral and social sciences research can do for NIH.

     

    Norman B. Anderson becomes OBSSR’s first director. Previously a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center, Dr. Anderson specializes in intersections between health and behavior, with a particular focus on racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic health disparities.

    Under his leadership, the OBSSR articulates its priorities. As the OBSSR’s first leader, Dr. Anderson champions the integration of behavioral and social sciences research across the NIH. The OBSSR hosts its first conference and releases its first strategic plan (in 1997) to address the critical behavioral and social science factors affecting public health. The OBSSR defines behavioral and social science research with input from a diversity of fields, laying the foundation for its role as the backbone of the behavioral and social sciences at the NIH.

1997

  • First Strategic Plan Revealed

    First Strategic Plan Revealed

    August, 1997

    OBSSR Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research releases its first strategic plan, which identifies three main priorities: (1) improve research and training in the behavioral and social sciences; (2) cultivate interdisciplinary research by integrating biobehavioral perspectives in all areas of NIH research; and (3) enhance communication within the field and with the public.

  • Disease Prevention Through Behavior Change

    Disease Prevention Through Behavior Change

    October, 1997

    The OBSSR issues FOAs enacted in 1998 and 2003 to test whether theoretical models and practical interventions are effective for creating positive, long-term behavior changes. In particular, researchers study poor diet and exercise, alcohol abuse, and tobacco use, the leading causes of poor health and premature death.

1999

  • Research on Child Neglect

    Research on Child Neglect

    March, 1999

    Child neglect can have long-term health and behavioral consequences. Seeking to promote the development of research programs into child neglect, the OBSSR issues a FOA Funding Opportunity Announcement in 1999 and again in 2001. The FOA Funding Opportunity Announcement aims to build partnerships between researchers studying child health, education, and juvenile justice and those working with child neglect and abuse research.

2000

  • Dr. Peter Kaufmann Appointed Acting Director of the OBSSR (2000)

    Dr. Peter Kaufmann Appointed Acting Director of the OBSSR (2000)

    April, 2000

    OBSSR has been the backbone of behavioral and social sciences research at NIH.

    Peter Kaufmann becomes Acting Director of the OBSSR after a decade as the Chief of NHLBI National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute ’s Behavioral Medicine Branch. Dr. Kaufmann encourages OBSSR staff to use their diverse subject backgrounds and abilities, enabling the team to concentrate on and strengthen aspects of behavioral and social sciences research at NIH.

  • Dr. Raynard S. Kington Appointed Director of the OBSSR (2000–2003)

    Dr. Raynard S. Kington Appointed Director of the OBSSR (2000–2003)

    October, 2000

    OBSSR is constantly  identifying opportunities . . .  for those areas of behavioral and social science knowledge where a nudge of some sort could promote the scientific advance in a way that ultimately gets us to treatments and cures and prevention faster.

     Raynard S. Kington becomes OBSSR’s director after serving as the Director of the Division of Health Examination Statistics at the CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ’s National Center for Health Statistics. As director, Dr. Kington examines the links between health and education. This work ranges from micro to macro levels of analysis: from how education shapes neural pathways in the brain to how it affects an individual’s economic status and overall health.  

    Dr. Kington also prioritizes studies on implicit racial bias and its impact on patient care at individual and structural levels. These studies and the conversations surrounding them reflect OBSSR’s larger mission: to demonstrate the critical role of behavioral and social science in clarifying complex health-related questions.

2001

2002

  • Methodology and Measurement

    Methodology and Measurement

    March, 2002

    The OBSSR issues a FOA Funding Opportunity Announcement focused on developing and enhancing the quality and power of data in health-related behavioral and social sciences. Researchers are asked to explore how to improve methodologies in research design, measurement, and data synthesis. This FOA Funding Opportunity Announcement is reissued in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2016, and 2017.

2003

  • Pathways Linking Education to Health

    Pathways Linking Education to Health

    January, 2003

    The OBSSR encourages investigation of formal schooling’s impact on overall health by issuing a FOA Funding Opportunity Announcement . In 2014, the OBSSR holds a related meeting called “Education and Health: New Frontiers.” The meeting minutes are included in the 2015 NAS National Academy of Sciences report “Exploring Opportunities for Collaboration Between Health and Education to Improve Population Health: Workshop Summary.” The OBSSR issues related FOAs “Education and Health: New Frontiers” in 2016 and 2018.

  • Dr. Virginia S. Cain Appointed Acting Director of the OBSSR (2003–2005)

    Dr. Virginia S. Cain Appointed Acting Director of the OBSSR (2003–2005)

    February, 2003

    Keeping the behavioral and social sciences on the radar of NIH and the leadership, . . .  and the impact of behavioral and social science and the contribution that it can make to understanding health and healthcare, are major contributions of the OBSSR.

    A veteran researcher at the OBSSR and ORWH Office of Research on Women’s Health , Virginia S. Cain becomes the OBSSR’s acting director. Dr. Cain ensures that behavioral and social sciences research is prioritized in the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, which helps define NIH’s strategic plan. She also protects NIH funding for behavioral and social science grants, including those for AIDS treatment and prevention.

2004

  • Understanding and Promoting Health Literacy

    Understanding and Promoting Health Literacy

    June, 2004

    The OBSSR releases FOAs to stimulate research in health literacy—the capacity of individuals to understand and act on information to improve or sustain their health. These FOAs examine how health literacy connects to health disparities and how technology can bridge the knowledge gap. These FOAs are reissued in 2006, 2010, and 2013 and inform a 2011 IOM Institute of Medicine report.

  • Strengthening Behavioral and Social Science in Medical School Education

    Strengthening Behavioral and Social Science in Medical School Education

    June, 2004

    In collaboration with the OBSSR, the NAS National Academy of Sciences publishes “Improving Medical Education: Enhancing the Behavioral and Social Science Content of Medical School Curricula.” In October 2004, the OBSSR issues FOAs aimed at bolstering behavioral and social sciences research in medical education. The OBSSR releases related FOAs in 2010 and 2011.

  • Community Participation in Research

    Community Participation in Research

    December, 2004

    Community-based participatory research allows people with great stakes in a community’s health to work alongside scientific researchers to improve health and address related disparities. The OBSSR issues a FOA Funding Opportunity Announcement in 2004, and again in 2008, to stimulate joint involvement of researchers and communities in conducting health research.

2005

  • Dr. David Abrams Appointed Director of the OBSSR (2005–2008)

    Dr. David Abrams Appointed Director of the OBSSR (2005–2008)

    January, 2005

    We get a lot of applause for all the breakthroughs in biomedical research . . . , we get some applause for the breakthroughs in psychosocial, epidemiology, and public health research . . . If the one takes place without the other, it’s the sound of one hand clapping . . . Imagine how much more applause we would get if both hands were clapping, on the one side the biomedical sciences, and on the other side collaborating with the behavioral and social sciences.

    David Abrams becomes the OBSSR’s director after a long tenure as a professor of Community Health, Psychiatry, and Human Behavior at Brown University Medical School. Under his leadership, the OBSSR publishes a strategic prospectus. Dr. Abrams prioritizes systems science—studying the world as a series of systems interacting with one another—and transdisciplinary team science. His efforts involve focusing on major chronic diseases that are not easily categorized into biomedical or psychosocial realms but rather result from interactions between them.

    Dr. Abrams also encourages community-building efforts and provides spaces for staff to generate ideas about how to enhance the mission of the behavioral and social sciences within the NIH community. He establishes a “kitchen cabinet,” holding weekly meetings with behavioral and social sciences programming staff across the NIH to garner advice. The group builds a sense of camaraderie, discussing challenges the OBSSR faces and ways to work together more effectively. 

     

  • Social Work Practice and Concepts in Health

    Social Work Practice and Concepts in Health

    December, 2005

    The OBSSR releases FOAs in 2005, 2006, and 2007 that promote the development of research on observed intersections between social work and positive health impacts on people with medical conditions and behavioral disorders. They aim to analyze and enhance the effectiveness of social work services.

2006

2007

2008

  • Dr. Christine Bachrach Appointed Acting Director of the OBSSR (2008–2010)

    Dr. Christine Bachrach Appointed Acting Director of the OBSSR (2008–2010)

    April, 2008

    OBSSR (is) . . .  a uniter of NIH institutes around behavioral and social science issues, having a small budget . . . to nudge things along, to seed ideas, and having a voice.

     Christine Bachrach becomes the OBSSR’s acting director following a long tenure at the Demographic and Behavioral Science Branch of the NICHD National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Center for Population Research. Under Dr. Bachrach’s leadership, the OBSSR organizes institute directors, program leaders, and working groups to create OppNet NIH Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network , a fruitful interdisciplinary funding initiative launched in 2009.

  • Technological Innovations for Interdisciplinary Research

    Technological Innovations for Interdisciplinary Research

    July, 2008

    The OBSSR issues FOAs encouraging methods for incorporating behavioral and social sciences into interdisciplinary research using technological innovations. This effort builds on 2007’s NIH Roadmap, an initiative that emphasizes the need for efficient transferring of basic research into actual human practice and positive health impacts.

2009

  • Institute on Systems Science and Health

    Institute on Systems Science and Health

    May, 2009

    In collaboration with the CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , the OBSSR organizes its first annual institute on systems science and health. The institute’s purpose is to provide students with an overview of systems science methods and training. Students represent a variety of disciplines and education levels—from predoctoral to full professor.

  • OppNet Is Created

    OppNet Is Created

    November, 2009

    The OBSSR facilitates the establishment of OppNet NIH Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network , a collaborative trans-NIH funding initiative. OppNet NIH Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network identifies research areas and issues FOAs to fund research projects that advance the goals of NIH institutes and centers. Over the next 10 years, it provides over $80 million to more than 100 research projects.

2010

  • Dr. Deborah Olster Appointed Acting Director of the OBSSR (2010–2011)

    Dr. Deborah Olster Appointed Acting Director of the OBSSR (2010–2011)

    January, 2010

    There are still health disparities among various groups, racial, ethnic, geographic . . . figuring out how environment, broadly defined to include the social and behavioral environment, as well as the physical and chemical environments, influences gene expression, and health and disease outcomes . . . those issues are still on the table for NIH and for OBSSR.

    Deborah Olster becomes the OBSSR’s acting director after serving as Deputy Director of the OBSSR and in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences at the National Science Foundation. As acting director, Dr. Olster spearheads the interdisciplinary research activities and funding opportunities included in the NIH Roadmap.

  • Social Networks and Their Impact on Public Health

    Social Networks and Their Impact on Public Health

    March, 2010

    OBSSR releases FOAs related to social network analysis and translating important social science findings into health-related behavior improvements. The former focuses on improving the science of social network structures, the latter on stimulating innovative research projects to close gaps between public health research, policy, and practice.

2011

  • Dr. Robert Kaplan Appointed Director of the OBSSR (2011–2014)

    Dr. Robert Kaplan Appointed Director of the OBSSR (2011–2014)

    February, 2011

    What I’ve come to appreciate is that the determinants of health are much broader than we’ve ever recognized. OBSSR has really developed that message.

    Robert Kaplan becomes the OBSSR’s director after serving as a professor in UCLA’s School of Public Health and School of Medicine. During his tenure, the OBSSR invests in the development of the mHealth Collaboratory, an initiative that employs mobile technologies to improve public health and prepares for next-generation technologies and research methods.

    Under Dr. Kaplan’s leadership, the OBSSR also spearheads a training program to help medical schools reform their curricula to bolster behavioral and social science content. The OBSSR also holds many short courses to train early-career researchers and doctors in mHealth, dissemination and implementation methods, systems science, and more.

  • First Annual Training Institute for Dissemination and Implementation Research in Health (TIDIRH) Is Held

    First Annual Training Institute for Dissemination and Implementation Research in Health (TIDIRH) Is Held

    August, 2011

    In close partnership with other NIH institutes, the OBSSR develops a training institute designed to build capacity in dissemination and implementation (D&I) research. In addition to receiving training in conducting D&I research, participants are expected to return to their home institutions and share what they learned in order to grow the field. 

  • Medication Adherence Research

    Medication Adherence Research

    November, 2011

    Commitment to medication regimens is crucial to producing positive health outcomes. In collaboration with the NIH Adherence Network and other NIH agencies, the OBSSR issues FOAs for innovative research to encourage patients to follow prescribed medication instructions. These FOAs are reissued in 2014 and 2018.

2013

2014

  • Dr. William T. Riley Appointed Acting Director (2014) and Then Director of the OBSSR (2015)

    Dr. William T. Riley Appointed Acting Director (2014) and Then Director of the OBSSR (2015)

    May, 2014

    I cannot imagine a more exciting time than now to be a behavioral and social science researcher. Advances in technology, open data, and big data analytics are providing new and temporally dense information in large and varied samples. Transdisciplinary efforts by diverse disciplines, including genetics, neuroscience, computer science, and engineering, are reinvigorating the behavioral and social sciences with novel approaches and methodologies and are cross-pollinating behavioral and social sciences research approaches into their disciplines as well.

    William T. Riley becomes the OBSSR’s acting director, and then director, after serving for more than a decade within the NIMH National Institute of Mental Health , the NHLBI National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute , and the NCI National Cancer Institute . He specializes in the application of digital technologies, engineering, and computer science to the behavioral and social sciences in order to improve public health research and outcomes.

    Under Dr. Riley’s leadership, the OBSSR expands its training initiatives. In particular, the K18 award provides funding opportunities for established scientists to gain experience in disciplines beyond their primary research fields. The OBSSR releases its third and current strategic plan, which expands on scientific priorities by providing a list of functions central to the OBSSR’s mission and advancement.

  • New Dimensions of Electronic Health Records

    New Dimensions of Electronic Health Records

    June, 2014

    In collaboration with the OBSSR, the NAM National Academy of Medicine (formerly IOM Institute of Medicine ) publishes the consensus study report “Capturing Social and Behavioral Domains and Measures in Electronic Health Records.” This two-phase report advocates for the incorporation of social and behavioral dimensions of health into EHRs, which provide crucial information about patients to their providers. The OBSSR organizes an NIH meeting on this topic in 2018.

2015

2016

2017

  • Intensive Longitudinal Analysis: Leveraging New Technologies

    Intensive Longitudinal Analysis: Leveraging New Technologies

    March, 2017

    The OBSSR issues FOAs to develop a cooperative agreement network and Research Coordinating Center to support the Intensive Longitudinal Health Behaviors Initiative. The goal is to learn the influences of key health behaviors from data collection and analysis, assisted with real-time data from smartphones and new technologies, to suggest personalized strategies for disease reduction and prevention.

  • Third Strategic Plan Released

    Third Strategic Plan Released

    November, 2017

    The OBSSR releases its third strategic plan, for 2017 to 2021. The plan details scientific priorities on strengthening behavioral and social sciences and interdisciplinary research structures, as well as applying findings to practice and policy. It outlines foundational processes for supporting these scientific priorities and advancing the OBSSR’s overall mission.

2018