Title of proposed idea: NIH Global Research Administration and Training Networks (GRAT-Net)
Nominator: NIH Institutes/Centers
Major obstacle/challenge to overcome:The NIH has dramatically increased its funding of scientific and research training programs in developing countries to tackle a wide variety of global health challenges. Evidence-based solutions to address these challenges require establishing a research infrastructure in resource-poor organizational settings that can employ the best research practices – both methodologically and administratively. While many foreign investigators are trained in the newest scientific theories and research technologies, they and their home institutions may have little direct knowledge of, or experience with, best practices for project management, research oversight, data management, and fiscal accountability. Advancing research and improving the health of all of the world’s people will demand not only investments in the best science, but also investments in a sustainable research enterprise that can effectively and efficiently use and monitor research resources. It takes collaboration and communication between skilled individuals from various functional backgrounds, with access to proper resources, to support the best research management practices.
Emerging scientific opportunity ripe for Common Fund investment: The increased NIH focus on global health only magnifies the need to develop networks of research administrative professionals and research-adept institutions within developing countries that can support and sustain investments by NIH and other funders over time. This initiative will use the NIH Common Fund and collaborative expertise to build Global Research Administration and Training Networks (GRAT-Net) to address this challenge. The GRAT-Net program would provide state-of-the-art information on grants/contracts management and policies and would train individuals from across the research enterprise to deal effectively with the evolving nature of research administration. GRAT-Net would also provide the newest technology for research administration and help to integrate research administrative capacity within and across institutions, while also forming a series of collaborative research networks in low- and middle-income nations.
Common Fund investment that could accelerate scientific progress in this field: The GRAT-Net program would build upon the success of the NIH International Extramural Associates Research Development Award (IEARDA), which uniquely targets administrative capacity building at public and private universities in sub-Saharan Africa and India. It would also build on the expertise and experience of other IC-related efforts, such as Fogarty International Center’s Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and its work with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Phase I of GRAT-Net awards would focus on establishing core research management teams at international institutions (“nodal institutions”) that would then network with local or regional institutions (see Phase II below). A Principal Investigator would head an initial team of several individuals to be trained, through residency or other programs, in research administration. The team would develop strategic plans for their own institution and a future GRAT-Net consortium to serve a specified geographic area. In addition, the team and home institution would be:
- Given resources to establish their own office of supported research.
- Expected to collaborate and integrate their new research management functions with existing functions in business and management, information technology, and academic programs in their home institutions. This would be facilitated by intra-institutional training seminars and workshops, hosted by the institution’s office of supported research.
- Expected to show direct or linked, multi-functional competencies in budget planning, financial and contracts management, scientific review, grants administration, overall research polices (COI, human subject protections, intellectual property, etc.), data management, development of research resources, and procurement. These competencies would be established through training, building collaborations, and acquisition of resources.
Phase I would also include:
- NIH developing new, or enhancing existing, research administrative curricula particularly suited for use in a variety of low- and middle-income countries and adapted to meet different cultural needs or new technologies. These materials would help support a wide range of train-the-trainer and knowledge-transfer activities.
- Extensive support to procure and develop the information infrastructure and data systems for research administration within the home institution and, eventually, the wider network. This would include ensuring the availability of compatible and appropriate hardware and software to support a full range of research administrative activities.
Phase II – Creating the GRAT-Net beyond the Nodal Institution
In Phase II, nodal institutions would be expected to develop working collaborations with institutions with varying levels of research capacity, locally or regionally. This could include:
- Train-the-trainer programs and other innovative activities to share expertise and develop research administrative capacity across functional areas. Joint course offerings, team courses, and use of social media would be encouraged.
- Inter-institutional mentoring programs and internships would be encouraged.
- Relationships would be furthered with multiple funders and community-based groups.
Potential impact of Common Fund investment: The GRAT-Net program would allow the NIH to reduce duplication of fiscal and human capital currently dedicated to international research and consolidate resources to ensure the ongoing success of global research investments. Ensuring sustainable and knowledgeable research administrative capacity will increase the number of institutions, in low- and middle-income countries, that can contribute to the research enterprise successfully. The initiative would also increase the efficient and productive spending of NIH resources, expand the number of geographic areas in which the NIH could invest successfully, and encourage a broader array of funders, including non-governmental organizations, to collaborate in research efforts. Most importantly, the program will help the NIH more confidently target its global health research investments, not only to great science, but also to international institutions in areas with the greatest health needs.