Almost two years ago, I assumed the task of leading a new strategic planning effort to help the institute determine what directions to take over the next 5 years. A daunting task to be sure. But, after much dedication and deep thought, we have developed a draft strategic plan and are now seeking to gather your thoughts on the plan and how we should go about implementing it.
Our draft Strategic Plan is posted for public comment, and I encourage you to submit comments on it , including high priority issues we should focus on first. Please submit your comments online via the webform at https://www.ninds.nih.gov/NOT-NS-21-021. We set an original submission deadline of March 15th (Thanks to all of you who have already sent in your comments!) and have already begun considering submitted suggestions for incorporation into the final document. But we will keep the submission interface open and will monitor it indefinitely. Our Strategic Plan is, after all, a living, evolving document!
You might wonder why NINDS needs a strategic plan. NINDS has already played a pivotal role in supporting in discoveries that have shaped our understanding of how the nervous system functions and have either directly or indirectly contributed to the development of life altering and life-saving treatments and prevention strategies.
But what if we could go even further? What if we could not just replace missing or broken genes, but get them only to the specific parts of the brain where they are needed? What if we discovered not only what cells in the brain or spinal cord or nerves or muscles degenerate in a particular disease, but could induce those cells to divide and regrow as healthy cells?
During my short time at NINDS, the dedication of our staff to our institute’s mission and their clarity of thought and depth of knowledge have repeatedly exceeded my expectations. That is why, from the beginning of this process, I turned over much of the information gathering and idea-generating to them. I organized staff taskforces and told them that we needed to develop goals and strategies for the research that NINDS supports, research training, diversity, communication, and workforce culture. With this in mind, they asked for public feedback through a Request for Information (RFI), held a series of discussion panels to get expert opinions, and conducted in depth reviews of the current landscape. We also presented preliminary recommendations to the NINDS Advisory Council, participants at the 2020 NINDS Nonprofit Forum, and at several other venues to get additional feedback as the strategic planning process progressed.
The draft strategic plan has six main scientific goals:
- Understanding the Brain, Spinal Cord, Peripheral Nerves, and Neuromuscular System
- Understanding the Basic Mechanisms of Neurological Disorders
- Seeing More Precisely –Biomarkers and Outcome Measures
- Improving Treatments
- Preventing Neurological Disorders
- Advancing Health Equity
These goals will be achieved by fostering rigor and transparency, investigator-initiated research, diversity and inclusion, team science, neuroethics, patient engagement, technology access, models for neuroscience research, data sharing and data science, collaboration and partnership, and the NINDS intramural research program.
The draft strategic plan also has three additional goals that will be crucial for NINDS achieving its mission.
- Training and Diversity: Fund and conduct neuroscience research training and career development programs to ensure a vibrant, talented, and diverse neuroscience work force. To do this will require supporting scientific training, diversity and inclusion, mentorship, and professional development.
- Communications: Promote dynamic communication and diverse stakeholder engagement to accelerate scientific progress and reduce the burden of neurological disorders. NINDS will do this by expanding the reach and impact of NINDS’s communication effort, by explaining in a timely, clear, and transparent manner how the institute operates and makes decisions, and disseminating research results that will create broad appreciation for the value of neuroscience research.
- Workforce Culture: Create and sustain a supportive work culture for the NINDS workforce that becomes the model for biomedical research and the neuroscience community. NINDS will establish effective performance management measures, promote communication and collaboration, and support policies that enhance employee work-life satisfaction.
We are so grateful to our many partners who have already contributed to our draft Strategic Plan (https://bit.ly/Draft_NINDSStrategicPlan2021-2026). We now invite your input (https://www.ninds.nih.gov/NOT-NS-21-021) to our penultimate draft. And please, share these links with others who may be interested in responding. The wide array of experience and perspectives of our diverse community of scientists, health care providers, trainees, patients, advocates, and policymakers will help us better serve the needs of our community.