Help contribute to the NINDS Strategic Plan!

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!

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What Can NIH Do? What Can’t NIH Do? How Can We Work Together?

My recent column about post-acute COVID syndrome generated a lot of feedback, and one of the most common questions I got asked is, “Why don’t you tell Congress they need to allocate funding for [Disease X]?  It is so common, so disabling, so deadly, and so costly for patients, families, and society.  You need to tell them to allocate a fraction of their budget to conquer [Disease X].” 

This common question has a very, very simple answer: It is against Federal law for NIH or any Federal employee to lobby Congress.  We simply cannot advocate for ourselves, our scientific community, or specific patient and family constituencies.  We are permitted to educate members of Congress, but even that, only when asked to do so. 

Another question I am often asked is, “Why doesn’t NINDS just declare that, this year, we are going to spend our money on understanding, treating, and curing [Diseases A, B, and C] because they are so prevalent and so negatively impact  the lives of patients and families.”  Each NIH institute has a different way of making its funding decisions.  While Congress has allocated funds to some disease- or condition-specific programs that NINDS leads or co-leads, NINDS generally has not. 

This decision grows directly from our long-term vision and strategy.  Our vision sets its sights on easing the burden of patients with neurological disorders – not a specific type of patient or a specific neurological disorder, but all people affected by any and all neurological disorders. 

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Dream big with NINDS!

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 I am so excited to ask them to take a step out of the daily churn of keeping up with new discoveries, latest techniques, and fast-approaching deadlines to consider the bigger picture with me—to dream big about advancing our knowledge about the brain over the next five years. That is what the process of strategic planning is all about—a chance during your journey to climb the highest mast and see where you’ve been, where you’re going, and what storms you might have to weather as you follow (or, perhaps, adjust) the course you’ve set to reach your destination. The planning process will help to ensure that NINDS policies, practices and functions align with our mission, allowing us to better serve and anticipate the needs of all our stakeholders, including the research and patient communities, as well as the public. In short, this process will keep us moving (asymptotically, perhaps) to meet our mission. The timing, I believe, is exactly right; the recent decade has brought many exciting developments for our community, of which we must now take stock to identify our best ways forward.

In my experience, the journey of strategic planning is at least as important as the destination, if not more so. When executed thoughtfully and viewed as a continuing, dynamic, and adaptable sequence of ebbs and flows, it builds solidarity, consensus, unified vision and purpose, and teamwork.  The process I’m leading is designed to give everyone—our employees, researchers, collaborators, practitioners, advocates, and the interested public—the chance to have their voices heard and valued, while dedicated stewards keep us accountable for moving forward. In this case, the stewards who will help translate the input we gather into priorities and goals are my thoughtful and determined colleagues from across NINDS and NIH who live and breathe our mission every day.

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