Serving as an Efficient and Effective Steward of Public Resources
Setting Research Priorities
At the agency level, NIH sets research priorities by managing a dynamic balance among existing and emerging public health needs, scientific opportunities, budgetary considerations, and the range of science in its portfolio. At the institute level, priorities are outlined within the NIMH Strategic Plan for Research. At NIMH, a balanced portfolio starts with excellent science that includes diverse subject matter (basic, translational, and applied sciences), diverse timeframes (research with potential impact in the short-, medium-, and long-terms), and diverse study populations. NIMH research priorities are also informed by strategic planning. Strategic planning at NIMH is comprehensive, responsive, and adaptive to the often serendipitous nature of biomedical scientific progress. Planning also includes input from a variety of stakeholders, including NIMH leadership and staff, the National Advisory Mental Health Council, as well as federal and private partners, both domestic and global.
NIMH also sets priorities in accordance with trans-NIH strategic plans and research plans of partnering organizations. Such plans include the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan, the Advancing Science for the Health of Women: The Trans-NIH Strategic Plan for Women’s Health Research, the NIH Minority Health and Health Disparities Strategic Plan, the NIH Strategic Plan for Tribal Health Research, the Office of Disease Prevention Strategic Plan, and the NIH Strategic Plan for Data Science, among others. NIMH also has a substantial investment in supporting HIV research; this investment is guided by the NIH Strategic Plan for HIV and HIV-Related Research, coordinated through the NIH Office of AIDS Research. Additionally, NIMH has contributed to the creation of several strategic plans and reports that include more detail on specific topics, which also inform NIMH priorities. These documents include but are not limited to: the National Research Action Plan (NRAP); the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder; the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee Report to Congress; the Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health Initiative; A Prioritized Research Agenda for Suicide Prevention: An Action Plan to Save Lives, a collaboration with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention; and, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative strategic plan, BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, and Working Group reports and plans, including the BRAIN Initiative 2.0: From Cells to Circuits, Toward Cures and the BRAIN Initiative and Neuroethics: Enabling and Enhancing Neuroscience Advances for Society.
Monitoring and Measuring Programs
NIMH continuously reviews and evaluates its scientific research and training programs to ensure responsible management of public funds and measure progress toward accomplishing our mission. For example, NIMH regularly conducts portfolio analyses to identify research gaps and opportunities. NIMH’s monitoring and evaluation efforts continue to evolve to keep pace with changing methods to analyze information, and new requirements mandated by NIH, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Congress. Program monitoring and evaluation informs the development, implementation, and reporting of NIMH efforts and accomplishments.
Emphasizing Rigor and Reproducibility
Funding excellent science is essential to the research enterprise. As such, NIMH emphasizes the importance of both rigor and reproducibility. Research studies must have a sufficiently rigorous design and be sufficiently powered, such that they can be replicated. This means NIMH ensures the sample sizes within studies are appropriate so they are adequately powered for real-world effect sizes; ensures the statistical analysis plans included in grant applications contain sufficient information for reviewers to properly evaluate them; ensures expertise in review sections and program staff to properly assess statistical methodologies; and, encourages the use of data sharing platforms that can enable third-party confirmation and mega-analyses that consolidate data from multiple studies.
Fostering Resource and Data Sharing
Access to biospecimens and data sharing efficiently expands research capacity and maximizes NIMH’s investments by promoting hypothesis generation, increasing the potential for testing novel questions by integrating and harmonizing existing data, and encouraging reproducibility. NIMH continues to support programs that provide access to biospecimens, such as the NIH NeuroBioBank, a national resource for investigators utilizing human post-mortem brain tissue and related biospecimens. NIMH also strongly encourages investigators to use common data elements, such as those available in the PhenX Toolkit, and has mandated the use of a small set of common data elements in mental health research. NIMH expects investigators to share data through databases and repositories, such as the NIMH Data Archive.
Enhancing Oversight and Monitoring of Clinical Trials
NIMH is committed to responsible stewardship, accountability, oversight, and transparency of clinical trials. NIMH continues to enhance oversight and monitoring of clinical trials to strengthen clinical research, ensure compliance, uphold inclusion standards, and safeguard research participants and their data. For example, to ensure studies are meeting their recruitment goals, NIMH expanded the Policy for the Recruitment of Participants in Clinical Research to apply to all clinical trials, regardless of size.
Creating and Strengthening Partnerships
Collaborations and partnerships across the research pipeline are vital components of NIMH efforts to achieve its public health mission. NIMH collaborates with other NIH Institutes and Centers, as well as HHS (e.g., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Indian Health Service (IHS), the Administration for Community Living (ACL), the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), and other federal agencies (e.g., the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). NIMH also works with public, private, non-profit, and research partners, both domestic and international, including those in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. To broaden the dissemination and impact of research, NIMH works with external stakeholders – policymakers, advocacy groups, providers, and people with lived experience, including family members – who are also committed to the prevention, treatment, recovery, and cure of mental illnesses. Collaboration, communication, and coordination occur at various stages of research and continue to improve dissemination and implementation of evidence-based strategies, practices, and programs.
Management and Accountability
Cultivating a Respectful Workplace at NIMH
The contributions of each and every member of the NIMH community are vital to successfully improving mental health and reducing the burden of mental illnesses. An environment where people feel welcome, respected, valued, and heard is necessary for all individuals to contribute to their fullest potential. NIMH is committed to creating and maintaining a work environment that celebrates equity, diversity, and inclusion, and is free of harassment and other inappropriate conduct. Further, NIMH supports efforts, such as the NIH UNITE initiative, to identify and address structural racism within the NIH and across the biomedical research community.
The fields of science and technology are constantly evolving. Beyond scientific innovation, NIMH also embraces innovative administrative practices to ensure the Institute can adapt rapidly to changing needs and requirements while managing existing resources in a complex environment. In addition, NIMH is committed to encouraging a diverse research and scientific support workforce equipped with the knowledge and skills required to execute NIMH’s mission.
Enhancing Risk Management
NIMH proactively identifies and mitigates internal and external risks to support the Institute's mission. Working with HHS and NIH leadership, NIMH continues to improve procedures to develop standardized, automated, metric-oriented, and consistent business practices to mitigate risk. NIMH will leverage the values of collaboration, transparency, and accountability throughout our functional areas to proactively adapt risk-management mitigation procedures when confronted with emerging issues.
Reducing Administrative Burden
NIMH is committed to innovative and agile process improvement and aims to optimize, automate, and streamline business processes to ensure quality and consistency. As an example, NIMH regularly conducts internal workflow analyses to identify opportunities to reduce administrative burden. NIMH strives to implement business process management initiatives to support accountability. NIMH will also continue to support efforts aimed at leveraging data to manage the needs of the Institute and drive decision-making processes.
Promoting Workforce Development
To keep pace with advancing science, the NIMH workforce needs resources and training to ensure it has the knowledge, skills, and technologies to support its activities. NIMH encourages and supports the development of an inclusive, diverse, and well-trained research workforce. In addition, to preserve institutional knowledge, NIMH employs innovative approaches to encourage career development, retain expertise, and reward outstanding performance with an eye toward achieving equity.
Updated: July 2021