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Request for Information (RFI): NIH Effort to Advance Racial Inclusion in Biomedical Research

Posted by on March 8th, 2021 Posted in: NLM/NIH News


Purpose

This Notice is a Request for Information (RFI) inviting feedback on the approaches NIH can take to advance racial equity, diversity, and inclusion within all facets of the biomedical research workforce, and expand research to eliminate or lessen health disparities and inequities.

Review of this entire RFI notice is encouraged to ensure a comprehensive response is prepared and to have a full understanding of how your response will be utilized.

Background

The ability of NIH to remain at the forefront of biomedical research and to ensure that scientific discoveries truly benefit all depends upon diverse skill sets, viewpoints, and backgrounds. Events of the past year sparked a national discourse around social justice and systemic racism, and have brought into focus ongoing inequities in biomedical research and healthcare – from training and recruitment to funding to the support and administrative functions, in addition to shaping the type of research supported. The notions of recruitment, training, and advancement equally apply to the support and administrative staff that sustain the research enterprise, without whom NIH could not achieve its mission. Further, COVID-19 has amplified existing systemic challenges regarding prevalence, diagnosis, and treatment of illness within historically marginalized and under-resourced communities, as the disease is disproportionally affecting under-resourced and vulnerable populations, particularly those from Black/African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Hispanic/Latino populations. As a global leader in biomedical research, NIH carries a weighted responsibility to address the systemic challenges and barriers affecting the NIH workforce and NIH-supported biomedical community that hinder the progress necessary to support true health equity. Enhancing workforce diversity and equity across the biomedical enterprise are critical steps to achieving progress. NIH acknowledges the experiences of those affected by race-based discrimination and is committed to eliminating racial and ethnic inequities within our workplace, the NIH-supported external scientific workforce, and the NIH-funded research portfolio. NIH leadership established the UNITE initiative, a new effort that involves all 27 NIH Institutes and Centers and the Office of the Director, to promote and advance racial equity, diversity, and inclusion. Ultimately, NIH strives to foster a biomedical research community and an NIH workplace that are free from hostility and discrimination grounded in race, sex, or other federally protected characteristics. In addition, NIH seeks to promote research to inform and address the breadth of health disparities/inequities, which continue to contribute to increasing morbidity and mortality. The current priorities of the UNITE effort are outlined below:

Priorities

  • Listen, learn, and articulate findings
  • Engage internal and external communities
  • Change culture to promote equity, inclusivity, and justice
  • Improve policies, transparency, and oversight
  • Strengthen career pathways, training, mentoring, and the professoriate
  • Ensure fairness in review and funding deliberations
  • Enhance funding and research support for diverse institutions and historically under-resourced research areas

Request for Comments

To ensure that the broad perspective of the biomedical research community informs the development of and aligns with NIH’s future plans and approaches, this RFI invites stakeholders throughout the scientific research, advocacy, clinical practice, and non-scientific communities, including the general public, to comment. In particular, NIH is interested in comments from higher education administrators, undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scientists, biomedical faculty (especially early stage), scientific societies and advocacy organizations, community partners, academic institutions (especially Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other institutions that have shown a historical commitment to educating students from underrepresented groups), and racial equity organizations on strategies to enhance equity, diversity, and inclusion within the scientific workforce and advance health disparities research.

Specifically, with this RFI, NIH seeks input on practical and effective ways to improve the racial and ethnic diversity and inclusivity of research environments and diversity of the biomedical research workforce across the United States, to the extent permitted by law. This RFI will assist NIH in identifying, developing, and implementing strategies that will allow the biomedical enterprise to benefit from a more diverse and inclusive research workforce and a more robust portfolio of research to better understand and address inequities in our existing system. While it will be important to understand further the fundamental and systemic barriers, the primary focus of this RFI is on the actions and solutions – through policy, procedure, or practice – NIH should consider in order to promote positive culture and structural change through effective interventions, leading to greater inclusiveness and diversity. Please also include potential metrics for evaluating success of the suggested actions or solutions, where possible. Input is requested on approaches and strategies that can be implemented in the short-term (e.g., within the next three to six months), as well as those that can be implemented within the next one to three years.

The NIH seeks comments on any or all of, but not limited to, the following topics:

All Aspects of the Biomedical Workforce

  • Perception and reputation of NIH as an organization, specifically as an employer (e.g., culture), with respect to support of workforce diversity and as an overall advocate for racial and gender equity in NIH-funded research
  • New or existing influence, partnerships, or collaborations NIH could leverage to enhance its outreach and presence with regards to workforce diversity (both the internal NIH workforce and the NIH-funded biomedical research enterprise); including engagement with academic institutions that have shown a historical commitment to educating students from underrepresented groups (especially Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other institutions), racial equity organizations, professional societies, or other federal agencies
  • Factors that present obstacles to training, mentoring, or career path (e.g., training environments) leading to underrepresentation of racial and ethnic groups (particularly Black/African Americans) in the biomedical research enterprise throughout the educational and career continuum and proposed solutions (novel or proven effective) to address them
  • Barriers inhibiting recruitment and hiring, promotion, retention and tenure, including the barriers scientists of underrepresented groups may face in gaining professional promotions, awards, and recognition for scientific or non-scientific contributions (e.g., mentoring, committees), and proven strategies or novel models to overcome and eliminate such barriers
  • Successful actions NIH and other institutions and organizations are currently taking to improve representation, equity, and inclusion and/or reduce barriers within the internal NIH workforce and across the broader funded biomedical research enterprise

Policies and Partnerships

  • Existing NIH policies, procedures, or practices that may perpetuate racial disparities/bias in application preparations/submissions, peer review, and funding, particularly for low resourced institutions, and proposed solutions to improve the NIH grant application process to consider diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity to participate in research (e.g., access to application submission resources, changes to application submission instructions/guidance, interactions with and support from NIH staff during application process)
  • Best practices or proven approaches to build new or enhance existing partnerships and collaborations between investigators from research-intensive institutions and institutions that focus on under-resourced or underrepresented populations but have limited research resources

Research Areas

  • Significant research gaps or barriers to expanding and advancing the science of health disparities/health inequities research and proposed approaches to address them, particularly those beyond additional funding (although comments could include discussion of distribution or focus of resources)

Further Ideas

  • Additional ideas for bold, innovative initiatives, processes or data-driven approaches that could advance the diversity, inclusion, and equity of the biomedical research workforce and/or promote research on health disparities

NIH encourages organizations (e.g., patient advocacy groups, professional organizations) to submit a single response reflective of the views of the organization or membership as a whole.

How to Submit a Response

All comments must be submitted electronically on the submission website.

Responses must be received by 11:59:59 pm (ET) on April 9, 2021.

Responses to this RFI are voluntary and may be submitted anonymously. You may voluntarily include your name and contact information with your response. If you choose to provide NIH with this information, NIH will not share your name and contact information outside of NIH unless required by law.

Other than your name and contact information, please do not include any personally identifiable information or any information that you do not wish to make public. Proprietary, classified, confidential, or sensitive information should not be included in your response. The Government will use the information submitted in response to this RFI at its discretion. Other than your name and contact information, the Government reserves the right to use any submitted information on public websites, in reports, in summaries of the state of the science, in any possible resultant solicitation(s), grant(s), or cooperative agreement(s), or in the development of future funding opportunity announcements. This RFI is for informational and planning purposes only and is not a solicitation for applications or an obligation on the part of the Government to provide support for any ideas identified in response to it. Please note that the Government will not pay for the preparation of any information submitted or for use of that information.

Inquiries

Please direct all inquiries to: UNITEInitiative@nih.gov

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