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Stewardship: Promoting Scientific Integrity, Social Responsibility, and Public Accountability in Nursing Science

NINR serves as the primary federal supporter of nursing research in the United States. As stewards of the public trust, NINR leadership and staff plan and manage research and training programs and initiatives that are focused on achieving the Institute’s mission of solving pressing health challenges and informing practice and policy—optimizing health and advancing health equity into the future. NINR strives to establish and follow best practices in setting research priorities, managing science, and assessing progress, all with the goal of funding the best science with the greatest potential impact on improving health and health equity. NINR conducts comprehensive, ongoing planning and analysis activities to assist in developing new initiatives and evaluating current programs. These data- and results-driven processes help determine the areas of science in which the Institute will solicit research applications, and ensure that we support research and training in areas of science that are consistent with NINR’s guiding principles and that apply the perspective of at least one of the five research lenses. NINR will continually assess urgent and emerging health challenges to identify new strategic imperatives and to solicit new research in response.

This strategic plan represents what some may consider a change in approach for NINR-supported science, and the plan itself may look somewhat different than strategic plans from other research agencies. The plan describes five broad research lenses—health equity, social determinants of health, population and community health, prevention and health promotion, and systems and models of care—each of which is a perspective by which we encourage applicants to approach their research questions when developing applications for funding. Each of the lenses represents areas in which the nursing research community has had long-standing interests, expertise, and success. The plan, however, does not list or prioritize specific areas of research under each lens. This overall change in approach was deliberate and made with the recognition that the persistence and magnitude of health inequities in the United States calls for an approach that fully leverages the strengths of nursing research, which excels at cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral approaches that utilize nursing’s expertise in biological, behavioral, social, and public health sciences; nursing’s long-standing values of social justice, holism, coordination, and collaboration; and nursing’s contextualized perspective of people’s lived experiences. Although NINR’s past strategic plans have focused narrowly on a few topics, continuing to do so would limit the opportunities that nurse scientists have to make a difference and prevent the field from realizing its full potential to achieve significant impact. Instead, we want to give investigators the space to propose new and innovative research ideas that, as viewed through the research lenses, have the potential to solve our nation’s most pressing health challenges, rapidly respond to emerging health issues, and improve the health, lives, and living conditions of all individuals, families, communities, and populations.

This strategic plan will be a living document. In the coming months and years, the plan may change and adapt to respond to new challenges as the need arises. On an ongoing basis, NINR will identify and assess pressing health needs and emerging areas of interest where we believe NINR-supported science can make a difference. These strategic imperatives will be added to the strategic plan, and they will serve as the basis for new NINR research and training initiatives. In identifying new strategic imperatives, NINR will regularly engage internal and external stakeholders, including the National Advisory Council for Nursing Research. New imperatives may also emerge from the NIH Strategic Plan and NIH leadership, the HHS Strategic Plan, Administration priorities, and importantly, through collaborations with other NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices.

NINR’s overall research priorities will balance scientific opportunities and public health needs. In considering extramural research applications for support, NINR is informed by first-level peer review by Scientific Review Groups, second-level review from the Advisory Council, and the input of NINR staff. Meritorious research and training applications will be funded based on priority scores or percentile orders, strategic priorities, advancement of diverse perspectives, and availability of funds.

Across all NINR programs and areas of focus, training the next generation of nurse scientists has been and will continue to be an essential Institute priority. To truly prosper as a science, we must work to create a strong, innovative, and diverse nursing research workforce fully positioned to address any upcoming challenges or opportunities. NINR is committed to supporting the training of nurse scientists in methodologies, strategies, and research approaches consistent with NINR’s guiding principles and research lenses. This training would build on NINR’s ongoing investment in this area—22% of NINR’s budget focuses on National Research Service Awards for pre- and post-doctoral training—and could include but would not be limited to: individual and institutional research fellowships; career development awards; scientific seminars, workshops, and symposia; and short courses in relevant research methodologies.

The principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) are fundamental to the research and training supported by NINR, as well as to the management and functions of the Institute. Nursing science cannot achieve its full potential without a diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and life experiences of the scientists and trainees conducting research, and of the participants and partners in that research. For example, NINR is currently exploring new strategies for training a nursing science workforce that represents the diversity of communities where the research is conducted as well as of the nation as a whole. In addition, we are focused on enhancing the diversity and inclusion of participants in NINR research. DEIA is also essential within NINR, where we are committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workforce and climate that will be a model to other agencies and organizations in the scientific community.

In formulating this plan, NINR has been committed to engaging with the scientific community and other partners to gather input on future research directions. The input we received was vital in developing the guiding principles and lenses that appear in the final plan. However, this commitment does not end with the plan’s publication. NINR will continue to foster research and community collaborations and partnerships across NIH, other federal agencies, and with external groups. Within our research programs, we will also encourage our funded investigators to develop new community partnerships across multiple sectors to facilitate the dissemination, implementation, and translation and uptake of new research findings.

NINR will continually assess and monitor the implementation of the strategic plan, gathering and analyzing metrics related to the guiding principles, research lenses, as well as the strategic imperatives. Findings will be integrated to inform and refine the direction of the plan over time. NINR will continue to use multiple communications vehicles, including the NINR website and social media accounts, to keep our community informed of Institute research and training opportunities, new advances in NINR-supported science, and other news and information regarding Institute activities and events.

In all aspects of NINR’s operations, the Institute is committed to responsible management and accountability in performance. In managing both our extramural and intramural scientific programs, NINR staff will continue to use portfolio analyses and evaluation strategies to monitor the effectiveness of NINR-supported research, with an emphasis not only on monitoring outputs (e.g., scientific publications) but also on assessing the impact of the research on health and well-being. In assessing our training programs, NINR will examine the success of NINR-supported fellows and trainees in beginning and sustaining research careers, and the challenges they encounter along the way. In our own workforce, NINR is committed to holding leadership and staff accountable: for good performance and stewardship of public funds; for ensuring that data and evidence are the primary drivers of decision-making; for ongoing professional development of the NINR workforce in leadership, scientific, administrative, and technical skills; and for creating and maintaining a workplace that values and benefits from respect, inclusion, and diversity of backgrounds and thoughts in advancing NINR’s mission.

NINR is organized into four main areas that report to the Office of the Director.

  • The Division of Management Services supports NINR programs and activities through its coordination of administrative, financial, information technology, and management policy analysis services.

  • The Division of Intramural Research conducts science that complements NINR’s overall research mission by integrating a multilevel understanding of the impact of health determinants, from the community level to the laboratory bench.

  • The Division of Extramural Science Programs serves NINR’s extramural research community and NINR by overseeing policy and management for grants and contracts to support NINR research and training.

  • The Division of Science Policy and Public Liaison oversees NINR’s communication activities, disseminates information to partners and the general public, and is responsible for NINR’s science policy, planning, and reporting functions.

NINR’s statutory authority was established on November 20, 1985 by Public Law 99-158, the Health Research Extension Act of 1985, which authorized the National Center for Nursing Research at NIH. The National Advisory Council for Nursing Research was established in 1986 with members appointed by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. On June 10, 1993, P.L. 103-43, the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993, elevated the Center to an NIH Institute.