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Vol. LXI, No. 6
March 20, 2009
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Creative Model Offers Bird’s-Eye View
New Biennial Report Hits the Streets

On the front page...

Dividends from the NIH Reform Act of 2006 keep coming. The latest is a 565-page Biennial Report of the Director, released in print earlier this year. Unlike prior documents that offered an institute-specific view of the agency’s work, the new report shows how the 27 institutes and centers, along with various other NIH components, work together across IC lines on the nation’s largest medical research enterprise.

“This is a new model for trans-NIH reporting,” says Anne Scanley, a program analyst in the Office of Science Policy and primary lead for producing the report.

Continued...


The revamped Biennial Report of the Director, National Institutes of Health is available in print, via flash drive and online at http://report.nih.gov/biennialreport/. An earlier CD version was distributed to Congress last year.

More than 18 months in the making, the document was mandated in January 2007 by Congress as part of Public Law 109-482 (NIH’s first omnibus reauthorization since 1993). The new law spelled out specific requirements about what the report should contain, and one thing was clear: the old way of assembling the data would not work. IC reporting had to undergo a complete overhaul. That also meant writers had to start from scratch, on a tight deadline.

“The planning and evaluation community really rolled up their sleeves and tackled this,” explains Scanley. “I have never been prouder to be part of a committee. They did a lot of creative thinking and met the deadlines. It was really remarkable.”

Once upon a time, reports on NIH research activities were sent to Congress regularly by individual ICs, Scanley recalls. The Health Research Extension Act of 1985 called for a consolidated biennial report to be submitted by the NIH director and “written, edited and organized in a manner that will assist the Congress in oversight responsibilities.” The NIH director prepared the document, with ICs continuing to chip in their individual parts. Still, the reports failed to capture the true interinstitute, cross-boundaries nature of 21st century NIH.

By the Numbers
In the Belly of the Biennial

Collecting a huge volume of information on all of NIH’s research activities and recasting it for public consumption is not a job for wimps. Just ask Anne Scanley, a program analyst in the NIH Office of Science Policy and veteran of large-report development who led the team that revamped the massive publication NIH must give to Congress every 2 years—the Biennial Report of the Director, National Institutes of Health.

“I sometimes call it the ‘B-monster,’” she jokingly admits.

Below is a look at the report by the numbers:

  • More than 140 people crafted the report, not including those who contributed data or other information;
  • 15 teams (representing the 27 institutes and centers, the Office of the Director and such OD components as the Office of Research on Women’s Health and the Office of AIDS Research) wrote the topic sections;
  • 7 broad disease and 8 other categories contain summaries of NIH research activities;
  • 40+ sets of internal NIH clearance comments were received following the first draft;
  • 2 fiscal years—2006 through 2007—are covered in the report;
  • 6 appendices add documents or excerpts of documents that further support the report.
With its endorsement of then-NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni’s vision of a more integrative, collaborative research enterprise, Congress asked for a report that reflects the new trans-NIH spirit.

More than 140 people working in about 15 teams outlined the framework of the report and drafted its contents. Then came clearance and edits—from each IC and component and from the Department of Health and Human Services. A preliminary version was printed and burned onto CDs and sent to Capitol Hill last June. The final, including a detailed index and attractive layout, hit the streets in January 2009.

In softcover book format, the 2-color report has a few photos and graphs, but is mostly dense with data divided into five broad chapters. It also contains an introduction and overview of NIH—with an assessment of the state of medical and behavioral research by Zerhouni—in-depth sections on six congressionally mandated centers of excellence, and appendices. Information is described in terms of disease category, research approach or resource—not IC.

Scanley says one of her favorite features is the comprehensive index that is based on the same medical subject headings that the National Library of Medicine uses for its searchable online literature databases. The biennial report, too, can be found on the web at http://report.nih.gov/biennialreport/. Owing to the nature of online documents, the report’s web version is enhanced with several clickable sections and links that further organize the huge amount of data in digestible chunks. In addition to the printed version, the report is also available on flash (thumb) drive.

So, now that the report is finished, can it serve as the biennial template ever after? In a word, no. The same reauthorization law that called for the new report also asked NIH to develop a different way to provide funding information about the research the agency supports. Scanley explains that the birth of RCDC—Research, Condition, and Disease Categorization, the new sorting mechanism that also debuted earlier this year—means the biennial report will have to be reconfigured yet again. With the structure of RCDC now in place, Scanley says, report writers are hoping that the data collection phase of the report, at least, goes much easier and faster. NIHRecord Icon

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