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Promoting behavioral science in NIH’s 2021–2025 strategic plan

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) details a five-year vision for the direction, capacity, and conduct of biomedical and behavioral research. Minority health disparities, women’s health, public health, collaborative science, and data science are identified as cross-cutting themes. The plan reflects several of APA’s recommendations and suggestions.

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American Psychological Association. (2021, September 15). NIH releases 2021– 2025 strategic plan.

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NIH recently released its strategic plan for fiscal years 2021–25 (PDF, 7.7MB). Congressionally mandated, the plan details the NIH’s vision for the next five years for its agency-wide research priorities. In 2020, APA provided recommendations prioritizing behavioral science in response to the agency’s request for information, which are included in the compendium (PDF, 1.23MB) (page 157) accompanying the plan. The NIH-wide document reflects the overall priorities of the $43 billion research agency. Specific research priorities are set at the institute and center (IC) level. Each of the ICs has its own strategic plan. 

NIH names “Advancing Biomedical and Behavioral Sciences” as its first objective, reiterating its commitment to advancing biomedical and behavioral research in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and leading concerns in public health. Notably, the newly released plan incorporates “behavioral sciences” where previously the objective referenced only “biomedical sciences.” It also notes that foundational science, disease prevention, and health promotion and treatments will drive the efforts envisioned for tackling worldwide health issues.

The final plan addresses several of APA’s recommendations and suggestions, including greater research focus and support for research within nonhuman animals; resources provided to understand the organization and management of healthcare delivery systems and training; investment in research from the behavioral and social sciences relevant to different dimensions of pandemic preparation and response; and emphasis on partnerships and collaboration related to the COVID-19 pandemic. APA is encouraged to see these suggestions prioritized in the NIH’s strategic plan.

The strategic plan is organized across three dimensions: research areas, research capacity, and research conduct. In addition, cross-cutting themes and additional objectives of the plan encompass minority health disparities, women’s health, public health, collaborative science, and data science.  It also calls for building data resources, investigative tools, and promoting understanding to enhance progress in biological, disease, and human research.

“Developing, Maintaining, and Renewing Scientific Research Capacity” is the plan’s second objective. The plan encourages scientists to put forth novel results at a rapid pace in workforce and infrastructure. It retains an emphasis on the staffing of a diverse array of researchers at all stages of career development to strengthen the talent and enrich the perspectives of the research industry. NIH calls for the development of diversity programs that address racial and gender gaps in the field of scientific research. 

Finally, the plan reflects NIH’s commitment to upholding public trust and confidence in the agency through its third objective, “Exemplifying and Promoting the Highest Level of Scientific Integrity, Public Accountability, and Social Responsibility in the Conduct of Science.”  

APA will continue to advocate at multiple levels, in Congress and to NIH itself, to ensure that the Institute and Center missions and priorities reflect the contributions of psychological scientists and rely on the expertise of members to inform that advocacy.

For more information, contact Sarah Myers or Angela Sharpe.