FAQs: Funding Strategies for Fiscal Year 2017

Frequently Asked Questions

These FAQs have been developed to assist the NICHD research community in understanding recent changes to NICHD’s funding guidelines. We have attempted to anticipate questions that could arise after reading the “Director’s Corner,” Supporting the Best Science:  Using Priorities to Drive Funding Decisions.   

What does “Supporting the Best Science” mean?

The essence of this question centers on how “best” is defined—different facets contribute to what “best” means.  In a payline-driven system, “best” tends to mean “best scoring.”  However,  there is a tremendous amount of excellent science beyond what NICHD’s recent paylines have been.  With more flexibility to fund beyond this somewhat artificial cut point, “best” can take on multiple meanings.  It could include that the application addresses pressing scientific need, is particularly innovative or high-risk/high-reward, is likely to have high impact, fills a critical gap in the portfolio, addresses an emerging public health need, and/or other high program priority implications.

What is meant by stating these changes could “channel resources toward newly defined goals?”  What are the newly defined goals?

Science is constantly evolving, and therefore, research topics, methods, and priorities shift over time.  NICHD seeks to fund research that addresses the most current and important needs and gaps in knowledge across our broad mission.  All of our scientific branches have identified the most current needs and priorities in their science; these are listed on the NICHD website.  As the scientific landscape changes, so too, may goals and priorities change, driving shifts in research investments.

How were the research priorities for each branch identified?

Many factors contributed to identifying current branch priorities.  Staff analyzed their scientific portfolios to assess balance, gaps, and opportunities.  The Scientific Vision served as a backdrop for sorting out key gaps in knowledge, promising opportunities, and steps needed to push our science forward.  Workshops held by NICHD frequently identify research priorities; these also informed selection of current key priorities.

How do these changes relate to the NICHD Scientific Vision?

The NICHD Vision is intended to serve as a guide to identifying the most promising opportunities across NICHD’s mission, to help inform future directions.  Branches considered relevance to the Scientific Vision when identifying priorities.  As science changes, it is expected that priorities will change.  The new flexibility in funding decisions allows NICHD to be more agile in responding to emerging scientific trends.

Will existing lines of research historically funded by NICHD now lose their funding?

No.  NICHD remains committed to funding meritorious research across our mission.  The identification of priorities should not be taken to mean that NICHD will not continue to fund high impact research on all topics relevant to our mission.

If my area of research is not included in a Branch’s listed priorities, does that mean it will not be funded?

No.  NICHD remains committed to supporting research across our mission, which includes much more than the specific priorities listed.  Highly meritorious applications on any topic within our mission will still be considered for funding. 

Does program discretion in funding decisions make peer review irrelevant?

No.  NICHD believes strongly in the peer review system and remains committed to funding research that is deemed highly meritorious by peer review.  The issue we are addressing is that many applications that fall beyond our historical paylines are highly meritorious.  It is important to remember that the input from peer review is more than a numerical priority score, but also includes reviewers’ written comments, criterion scores, and committee recommendations.  Recommendations from the second level of review by NICHD council are also considered when making funding decisions.

What does it mean that there is no payline for certain mechanisms? 

Eliminating a firm payline means that NICHD staff will have more discretion in funding decisions. It also means that applicants with highly meritorious applications that scored beyond what the historical payline has been (e.g., ~9th percentile for R01s) could be more often considered to be in the “fundable range.” 

What factors are considered when making funding decisions under the new policy?

As always, funding decisions will be made based on:  1) scientific and technical merit of the proposed project as determined by scientific peer review; 2) availability of funds; and 3) relevance of the proposed project to program priorities. 

Which grant mechanisms will retain the payline approach?

Every mechanism with investigator initiated applications other than the R01, R03, R13, R15, and R21 will retain a payline approach to funding decisions.

Why not extend the new policy to all mechanisms?

As this is a new approach, it was felt to be prudent to start small and assess the process and outcomes before applying the new methods to all mechanisms.  In addition, for several other mechanisms, such as individual Careers applications, there are NIH-wide goals related to success rates for particular activity codes that currently are pursued through the use of differential paylines.  As we utilize this new approach, it could be expanded in the future to other mechanisms.

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