COSSA Members Respond to OBSSR Strategic Plan

Several COSSA member organizations responded to the recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) Request for Information (RFI) regarding its 2016-2020 Strategic Plan (see Update, November 3, 2015). In addition to stressing the challenges and opportunities for the behavioral sciences, the groups emphasize the need for continued leadership by OBSSR within NIH and the federal government. Below are highlights from the comments submitted by the American Educational Research Association (AERA), American Psychological Association (APA), the Population Association of America/Association of Population Centers (PAA/APC), and the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM).

AERA notes its “shared aspiration” with OBSSR regarding “a wide range of research questions with the potential to improve the health and well-being of all citizens.” The association recognizes NIH/OBSSR’s “thoughtful attention” to STEM education and acknowledges the Office’s previous strategic plan which “devised a…meaningful process for engaging stakeholders and the broad community.” AERA applauds OBSSR and the “vital role it has played since its inception in advancing the social and behavioral aspects of health and the connections between all of the sciences that contribute to understanding the causes and consequences of health an illness.”

APA emphasizes the challenges that impact the behavioral and social sciences, including limited opportunities for early career investigators, insufficient funds allocated to behavioral and social science research training, lack of consistent support for basic research, methodological limitations of traditional approaches to randomized controlled trials, lack of dissemination and implementation of evidence, and a poor understanding of the value of behavioral and social science among other scientists. Areas of opportunity for OBSSR in advancing the science to improve health were also highlighted by APA and include greater focus on impact and policy-related research, greater focus on technology-based strategies for intervention, greater emphasis on integration of evidence-based behavioral interventions in medical health settings, more attention to studies that integrate biological and behavioral factors, increased prominence for prevention science, more attention to integrating research on rehabilitation with research on prevention and treatment of chronic illness, additional research on interventions for distressed couples, and a greater focus on research with non-human primates and other animals.

PAA/APC recognize the important role of OBSSR as a partner to the NIH institutes and centers and its support via its co-funding of research projects, centers, and data collection efforts. PAA/APC encourage OBSSR to “lead the way at NIH to foster population health science given its mission in both social and behavioral science and the importance (given the NIH mission) of addressing health at population as well as individual levels.” The associations further urge OBSSR to support relevant research training programs as recommended in a recent IOM Roundtable on Population Health Improvement report. OBSSR is also encouraged to support interagency as well as trans-NIH collaborations “to understand more fully how the U.S. and world populations are changing, and the implications for these complex, social, economic, and demographic changes.” Lastly, PAA/APC recommend that OBSSR encourage “research innovations and strategies to ensure data are accurate, accessible, and informative,” to address the challenges being posed as mobile technologies and advances in survey method alter and challenge the population sciences.

The Society for Health Psychology (Division 38 of the American Psychological Association) and the Society of Behavioral Medicine emphasize in a joint response the challenges and opportunities that impede and/or could greatly advance the impact of the behavioral and social sciences, specifically in the fields of Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine. The challenges include the “slow cycle of funding-research-dissemination” and the need for “specific training in dissemination and implementation science,” “methodological limitations of traditional approaches to randomized controlled trials,” and limited opportunities available to early career investigators, specifically the need for an “increase in funding initiatives and training programs…that focus on members of underrepresented groups, should be a priority.” With regards to opportunities, Division 38 and SBM emphasize the need for a “greater focus on impact and policy related research,” greater focus on integration of evidence-based interventions in medical health settings, more attention to “behavioral scientists/clinicians role in team science and care models,” and increased focus on technology-based strategies for intervention, where scientific evidence is needed to effect “greater dissemination of effective health behavior interventions.”

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