NIH Council of Councils Common Fund Evaluation


Initiated in 2004 as the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research and re-named in the 2006 NIH Reform Act, the Common Fund (CF) supports research in areas of emerging scientific opportunities, rising public health challenges, and knowledge gaps that deserve special emphasis and would benefit from strategic coordination and planning across the NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs). To this end, CF programs tackle major challenges in biomedical research that affect many diseases or conditions or that broadly relate to human health. Collectively, CF programs address challenges and opportunities that have been identified as being among the highest priority for the scientific research community and the NIH. The CF is managed by the Office of Strategic Coordination (OSC) within DPCPSI.

An evaluation of the CF was conducted as it reached its 10th year. In September 2013, the NIH Director established a Common Fund Evaluation Working Group (CFEWG) to evaluate the principles and processes used to manage the CF, review evaluative information from a subset of CF programs to assess the impact of CF-supported science, and provide recommendations on how to optimize the success and impact of the CF as it enters its second decade. The NIH asked the CFEWG to provide recommendations to be considered by the NIH Council of Councils (CoC) at their meeting on June 20, 2014.

The CFEWG's overarching goal was to assess and advise on the processes used to manage the CF, including those used to plan and implement/oversee programs, by examining two major questions:

1. Are planning processes optimal for identifying program areas that meet the CF criteria?

2. Are management/oversight processes optimal for achieving program goals?

The CFEWG carried out its charge through a close examination of documents provided by OSC and results of surveys conducted in 2005 and in 2014. The CFEWG also conducted interviews with IC Directors, OSC staff, Program Working Group members, Grants Management Officers, Budget Points of Contact, Executive Officers, Planning and Evaluation Officers, and members of the Extramural Program Management Committee. It delivered 47 recommendations in a report dated June 19, 2014. This report was discussed and approved by the CoC and transmitted to the NIH Director who accepted the Council’s recommendations on July 7, 2014.

The OSC engaged IC staff to develop a Response, which addresses CF planning and management in separate sections. The recommendations included cross-cutting themes of enhanced communication and transparency in decision making and expanded opportunities for engagement by IC Directors and by the CoC. Responses to these cross-cutting themes are addressed in each section. This response plan was presented to the CoC on January 30, 2015 (View the presentationto the CoC).

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