On May 2, Dr. Arthur “Skip” Lupia, Assistant Director for the Social Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF) presented to the SBE Advisory Committee an overview of his plans to reposition the SBE portfolio.
Dr. Lupia joined NSF in September 2018. He is concerned about attacks on SBE funding in recent years, and negative perceptions about the overall importance of some SBE programs. To counteract this, Dr. Lupia is working to increase the public value of basic research in the social and behavioral sciences, and making the value of what SBE researchers do more apparent to the general public and policy makers.
To address these concerns, SBE is implementing a new strategy, which includes:
Realigning the portfolio
Creating new partnerships
The aim of the communications strategy is to develop content that is relevant to the core concerns of the target audience and to better convey the impact and value of SBE funded research in addressing societal problems. SBE is rolling out a new campaign slogan – “Your Life. Our Work. SBE.” – and collecting a series of “Iconic Human-scale Narratives,” or stories that include examples of how SBE research has allowed real people to overcome struggles. NSF encourages feedback and content ideas/stories through email@example.com.
The realignment of the portfolio aims to make the public value of SBE research more apparent. The realignment process is currently in the “predecisional” phase and has received extensive input and engagement from staff in SBE. Initial plans for the proposed realignment include changing the names of some SBE programs and increased focus on conveying broader impacts. The target date for the changes to SBE programs is September 3, 2019. SBE welcomes constructive feedback about the realignment. Outlined below are the initial set of proposed potential name changes or “rebranding” of SBE programs:
Political Science program would change to:
Security and Preparedness
Effective and Efficient Public Policy Provision
Resource Implementations for Data Intensive Research in the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (RIDIR) would change to: Human Networks and Data Science (human networks at all scales – neurons to populations)
Cultivating Cultures for Ethical STEM (CCE STEM) would change to Ethical and Reproducible STEM
Law and Social Science would change to: Law and Science
Science of Learning would change to: Science of Learning and Augmented Intelligence
Linguistics and Documenting Endangered Languages would change to Linguistics (expanded1)
Science of Organizations would change to: Organizations, Effectiveness, and Participation
Science of Science and Innovation Policy would change to: Innovation in Research OR Science of Science
Science, Technology and Society would change to: Science and Technology Studies
NSF is still considering if and what to change about the title of the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), but they do plan to change reporting structures to make findings more thematic and relevant.
In addition to name changes, some programs’ descriptions are expected to change as well. As a result of these changes, some social science researchers may fit better in programs they are not used to, but Dr. Lupia emphasized during his presentation that all SBE researchers would continue to have a home within the new organizational structure.
Finally, Dr. Lupia stated the vital importance that SBE proposals include a stronger focus on broader impacts, while maintaining expected scientific rigor. He highlighted that researchers need to do more to explain the potential societal value of work beyond addressing a gaps in literature.
Since arriving at NSF, Dr. Lupia has engaged with around 30-40 representatives from public and private philanthropies, industry, and other federal agencies for new research partnerships. While there are no details about new partnership opportunities at this time, new initiatives will likely be aligned with SBE’s newfound focus on use-inspired research and partnering aspects of convergence, in which SBE would join with diverse groups to help understand and address key needs for a range of stakeholders.
Theoretical examples discussed among the committee included partnerships with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), non-profits, and technology companies to address persistent questions about risks/benefits of technologies. Unlike similar partnerships, the research would lead to more actionable solutions, which would be of great interest to external partners. Dr. Lupia thinks it will get easier to form these partnerships after the SBE restructuring.
Dr. Lupia stated that, as whole, these changes aim to leverage additional support for SBE and create more opportunities for researchers. Lewis-Burke will continue to monitor these proposed reforms to help universities and research institutes engage and adapt as needed.