NIH All about Grants Podcast

Safety Plans for Conferences


>> Kosub: Hello and welcome to another virtual edition of NIH’s All About Grant's podcast. I'm your host, David Kosub, with the NIH’s Office of Extramural Research. And today we have a very important topic for those who are interested in seeking funding from NIH to support your conferences, and that is the development of safety plans as part of your application. This goes alongside some other related parts of your application, including the diversity plan that are also required as part of an application. And today, I'm glad to say that we have two guests from the Office of Extramural Research to discuss this topic. First, we have Dr. Liza Bundesen. She's the deputy director for the Office of Extramural Research. And we also have Dr. Paula Goodwin. She is a program administration officer for the NIH. And I welcome you both to the show. So we will jump right in. Maybe, Liza, you can take this first one. Why are we even requiring safety plans as part of conference apps?


>> Bundesen: Thanks, David. So this is part of a larger coordinated effort at NIH to promote safe and inclusive environments in the context of NIH funded work. In 2019, the NIH Advisory Committee to the director issued a report called Changing the Culture to End Sexual Harassment with a series of recommendations to NIH, one of which was that NIH supported conference organizers should establish codes of conduct. And so, unfortunately, we know that professional misconduct, including harassment, bullying and discrimination, can occur at scientific meetings and conferences, and there can be power imbalances among attendees. And individuals may not be aware of the conference's code of conduct. So furthermore, at conferences, the targets of harassment don't have access to the same resources that they would have at their home institution. And given that the harassment may involve someone who's not from the target's home institution, the reporting channels may not be clear. And harassment can negatively affect the ability of attendees to participate in the conference. And they may lose valuable learning opportunities, networking opportunities and just the ability to exchange scientific ideas with their colleagues. And so to address these concerns moving forward, all NIH conference grant applicants must submit a pre award plan to promote safe environments or what we call a safety plan. And the organizers are required to describe their strategies to communicate safety plans to the attendees and describe how they will document allegations and resulting actions. Now, having a safety plan in place prior to the conference event is a proactive strategy meant to convey to all attendees a commitment to fostering a safe environment and to alert potential violators that inappropriate behaviors won't be tolerated. Now, this has always been an expectation, per the NIH grants policy statement that NIH’s support of conferences have safe and inclusive environments. But now we're just asking grantees to show us the written plan.


>> Kosub: Great, great. Thanks for that. Actually, it's kind of build on One of the point you made. Can you talk a little bit more and maybe Paula can join as well about kind of what are the kind of elements of these safety plans?


>>Bundesen: Sure. So the basic elements are a statement of commitment to provide a safe environment. Expectations of behavior, including a list of behaviors that are considered harassing. Instructions on how to confidentially report alleged violations of the expectations of behavior to the conference organizers. And a description of how the organizers will assess the allegations and the consequences for those who are found to violate the expectations of behavior.


>> Goodwin: And so in addition to that, we also want to make sure that these safety plans include our other communication channels and how to report allegations. So we have these should have information about the HHS Office of Civil Rights, as well as NIH’s own portal for our reporting grantee harassment. So we want to make sure that they both include all safety plans include good instruction in that information also.


>> Kosub: All right. Great. Thank you for that. Are there any strategies or other considerations that you can provide for our applicants as they're thinking about putting these applications together?


>> Goodwin: Sure. So I'd like to say, in addition to the plan that you will submit to us, the plan that will be shared with conference attendees, we are also asking you to share with NIH the strategies to communicate the plan, because the plan is only effective if people know that it exists, they know how to report and if potential violators know the consequences of violating those expectations of behavior. So we're asking that you provide us with strategies of communication as well as any other strategies that you're going to employ at the conference to help ensure safety of all attendees. So when we think about strategies to communicate, we really want applicants to move beyond sort of a chat box. When you register, there is the plan and you just check that knowledge that you've actually seen or read the plan. We really want to think about really creative ways to make sure that everyone who's attending the conference is well aware of the safety plan. So some strategies or examples that we came across in the literature are people having it as part of the opening plenary session where they actually go over expectations for behavior, where they communicate, how you can report? There are also folks who may be volunteers to identify themselves with special badges as folks that they could contact and report allegations to. So we really want people to think really hard about how to make sure that everyone who attends the conference knows of the safety plans, knows how to report it, know that that is available at the conference. So really to use it very actively, strategically to ensure.


>> Kosub: So when someone is thinking hard about these safety plans, as you said, you know, like what does it actually look like? Like on the ground? What does it look like as part of my application? What exactly am I putting together?


>> Goodwin: Yeah. So what do you think about when drafting a safety plan? Is the intended audience and the audience is the conference attendees. So you want a plan that's concise, that's very clear, so that everyone who is a target of harassment, that they know exactly where to report, how to report, that it's confidential. People clearly understand what is the expectations of behavior. So when you're writing that you want to think about, you know, we often get the question of how long should it be? It should be long enough to convey the information, but concise enough that people can easily uptake the information and aware of what's in the strategy. So those are things that you should be thinking about is the intended audience is not engaged, but it's actually the conference attendees that you're writing the safety plan for.


>> Kosub: Thank you for that. And unlike a diversity plan for conferences, these aren't required when someone puts together or submits their application. It’s required just as part of just in time materials. And so I guess the kind of the question is like how much thought should I be putting into these safety plans, you know, from the outset, as opposed to just thinking about it? And maybe if I'm going to be notified that I might be getting an award. So just in time.


>> Goodwin: So as Liza indicated, safety plans or the expectation that you provide a safe and inclusive environment has been a long standing expectation of conference grantees. So it's actually part of the grants policy statement in our civil rights laws that are required to maintain safe and inclusive environments. So what we are requiring now is that you show us your plan. So just as you've been developing your proposals for conferences in the past, you should think about how are we going to make sure that we assure safety and inclusiveness at these conferences? So this should be in your mind as you're preparing the application, thinking about what resources may be needed in order for you to ensure safety. So the answer to that direct question is yes, it should be considered in like I said, we're only asking now that before funding is awarded that you actually show us that going in and communicate your strategies to us prior to getting the award. But you should always think about that activity in how to ensure safety and inclusiveness.


>> Kosub: Great. Thanks for that, Paula. And before we close, I love to bring Liza back into this conversation as well and actually address this question. Any final thoughts, any last minute things that we haven't touched on that you feel are critically important to for, you know, our community to know about safety plans for conferences.


>> Bundesen: Well, I think we just want to reiterate that that fostering safe, respectful and inclusive environment is very important to NIH. And we take concerns about harassment extremely seriously and will continue to work with the extramural community on this effort, as well as on other initiatives to end the culture of harassment in research.


>> Goodwin: Yes. And I'd just like to reiterate that, you know, this is part of the process to change the culture. So this plays a role in that we have clear expectations at our NIH funded conferences about what the behavior should be and that we are able to take some action to help ensure the safety of all so that all can participate in the conference. So we think that this is a large step in getting to the point of changing the culture so that we can end sexual harassment and other forms of harassment.


>> Kosub: Great. I totally agree. Thank you very much for that, Liza  and Paula, for telling us more about safety plans as part of an application. For those interested, please do check out the R13 and U13 page on our NIH grant site to learn more about conferences. There's a wealth of information, including frequently asked questions and much more for those who are interested. Again, this has been David Kosub with NIH’s all about grants. Thank you.