Notice of Intent to Publish Program Announcement with Special Review to Support Projects Using Systems Science Methodologies to Protect and Improve Population Health

Notice Number: NOT-OD-08-068

Key Dates
Release Date: May 5, 2008

Issued by
Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR), Office of the Director, NIH (

The NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, in collaboration with several NIH Institutes/Centers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), plans to issue a Program Announcement using the R21 funding mechanism with special review (PAR).  The PAR is scheduled to be issued in the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts in June 2008 with an earliest start date in July 2009. The announcements will follow standard NIH application due dates (for a complete list of dates, see ) and the PAR will remain active for three years with the first application receipt date in October, 2008.

There is growing recognition that many of the seemingly intractable and most challenging problems in public health are so because they are complex in nature.  For example, tobacco use and successful cessation are influenced by genetic predisposition, peer influence, media exposure (both tobacco promotion and health messages), cultural norms, prior tobacco exposure, pharmacotherapy availability and usage, history of quit attempts, workplace smoking bans, and a host of other factors.  These problems have typically been approached using correlation based analytic methods (e.g., regression), which are useful for identifying linear relationships but are by themselves, insufficient, because of their inability to set up and test a web of causal relationships.  Systems science methodologies are expressly useful for identifying and testing causal structures and theories, and not surprisingly, these very approaches have been called for to address public health problems. Systems science methodologies provide a way to address complex problems, while taking into account the “big picture” and context of such problems. The focus of this PAR is to encourage and foster the development of a new science that applies these methods in the behavioral and social sciences to examine the dynamic interrelationships of variables at multiple levels of analysis (e.g., from cells to society) simultaneously (often through causal feedback processes), while also studying the impact on the behavior of the system as a whole over time.  The subject of proposed projects should be relevant to real-world problems facing public health policy decision makers. Systems dynamics modeling, agent based modeling, discrete event simulation, and network analysis are a few of the specific methods, but there are many others. 

There is a vast array of obdurate chronic diseases and risk factors for which systems science approaches would enhance our understanding and decision making (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, eating behavior, physical activity, smoking, drug and alcohol use).  It is the purpose of these announcements  to encourage the application of one or more system science methodologies to these and other public health problems and contribute knowledge that will enhance effective decision making around the prioritization of policies, interventions, and programs, especially where resources are limited and only a limited number of programs/policies/interventions can be implemented.  Applicants should plan projects that tackle “policy resistant” health problems (i.e., ones in which the effects of planned interventions tend to be delayed, diluted or defeated by responses of the system to the intervention itself) using a systems science methodology .  Projects will require transdisciplinary teams comprised of scientists with expertise in systems methodologies as well as health and medical sciences to articulate the health-related outcome of interest and to formulate the methodological approach . 

This Funding Opportunity Announcement reflects several of the priority areas (“core elements”) detailed in the OBSSR strategic prospectus (which can be found at ), including interdisciplinary research, systems thinking approaches to health, and research that has population impact.


For further information regarding this potential PAR, please contact:

Patricia L. Mabry, Ph.D. (Patty)
Health Scientist Administrator/Behavioral Scientist
Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research
Office of the Director, NIH
31 Center Drive, Building 31, Room B1-C19; MSC 2027
Bethesda, MD  20892-2027
Phone:  (301) 402-1753

Weekly TOC for this Announcement
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