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OBSSR Strategic Plan 2017-2021

The Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) Strategic Plan 2017-2021 Download PDF  (997 KB) 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. OBSSR’s three scientific priorities and four foundational processes are outlined below and in short, animated videos about the strategic plan.

When the OBSSR Strategic Plan was released in November, 2016, the NIH Director, Dr. Francis Collins, and the OBSSR Director, Dr. William Riley, coauthored an editorial in Science Translational Medicine identifying key developments that influenced the scientific priorities of the OBSSR strategic plan.


Scientific Priorities

Priority One: Improve the Synergy of Basic and Applied Behavioral and Social Sciences ResearchPriority Two: Enhance and Promote the Research Infrastructure, Methods, and Measures Needed to Support a More Cumulative and Integrated Approach to Behavioral and Social Sciences ResearchPriority Three: Facilitate the Adoption of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Findings in Health Research and in Practice
Process One: CommunicationProcess Two: Program Coordination and Integration Process Three: Training Process Four: Policy and Evaluation

Foundational Processes



Priority OnePriority One: Improve the synergy of basic and applied behavioral and social sciences research.

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 TwoPriority 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.

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 ThreePriority Three: Facilitate the adoption of behavioral and social sciences research findings in health research and in practice.

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. 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.


Process One

Communicating behavioral and social sciences research findings

Communication is a core function for the OBSSR to accomplish its mission. OBSSR communications efforts encompass science communication and public engagement. The communications framework is inextricably linked to and in service of its mission and scientific priorities. OBSSR communications efforts are intended to serve a broad and diverse audience of stakeholders.


Process Two

Coordinating behavioral and social sciences research programs across the NIH and integrating behavioral and social sciences research within the larger NIH research enterprise

Program coordination has been a core mission of the OBSSR since its inception.  OBSSR is fortunate to have a diverse and dedicated BSSR community at the NIH with whom it partners to achieve its program coordination goals. The OBSSR’s program coordination functions are also served by the Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Coordinating Committee (BSSR-CC).

Process Three

Training the next generation of behavioral and social science researchers

OBSSR recognizes the importance of scientific stewardship, particularly in developing the scientific talent and skills needed to advance health-related behavioral and social sciences. Training researchers in the behavioral and social sciences is foundational for implementing many of the OBSSR’s strategic planning objectives. The OBSSR has and will continue to offer training in the behavioral and social sciences to scientists across a wide array of disciplines. Training programs that focus on cutting edge methods, designs, and measures or that expand behavioral and social scientists’ capabilities in areas such as genetics, neuroscience, and the microbiome will strengthen BSSR’s ability to meet the scientific challenges of the future.

Process Four

Evaluating the impact of behavioral and social sciences research and addressing scientific policies that support this research

OBSSR is dedicated to strengthening ways to help manage and monitor the BSSR portfolio and to shaping scientific policies and procedures to facilitate an efficient and productive health-related BSSR agenda. OBSSR’s policy and evaluation activities help address important research gaps and monitor and track progress in meeting its strategic goals and mission.  Ongoing analyses will gauge the portfolio more accurately, identify where research is concentrated, and where OBSSR guidance can help the NIH to continue to support cutting-edge science.


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