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Chapter 3. Responding to the Challenges: A Thematic Research Agenda

The five themes introduced at the end of Chapter 2 frame an agenda for the research enterprise that reflects the concerns, insights, and experiences of a wide range of stakeholders. This chapter discusses the five themes and presents key research questions for each.

Understanding the multiple-value propositions that stakeholders bring to the enterprise and how they are aligned, are complementary, or conflict.

Value propositions and interests are central to the way stakeholders and decision makers participate in and attempt to influence the grants-making process. These value propositions involve different priorities given to knowledge building, ethical behavior, financial accountability, relevance to societal needs, and inclusiveness in decisions. The enterprise must be sensitive to where stakeholders agree about these values and where they do not. It must recognize where conflicts must be resolved, avoided, or accepted, and where consensus forms a foundation for action. Moreover, individual stakeholder groups are seldom homogeneous in their views or priorities, so research on value propositions should include attention to value differences both within and across the relevant organizations and stakeholder groups.

Grants-making policies and award decisions involve a wide range of potentially competing value propositions and interests. These include propositions about what rules and priorities should govern the grants-making process; what questions, institutions, disciplines, or styles of research should receive more or less funding; who should participate in review and allocation decisions; and who should decide grant policies and priorities. Exploring the dimensions of seemingly competing values, for example, is a strategy for discovering real or perceived differences. Identifying and sharing these value propositions as part of joint problem solving can allow members of the enterprise to understand competing values in a multifaceted way. For example, in an effort to respond to its own need for budget accountability and grantee interest in budget flexibility, and a shared interest in reducing administrative burden NIH established a new policy that provides for budget blocks. NIH budgets are now submitted in blocks of $25,000. Grantees report budget categories and aggregate amounts within those categories. Their policy enables the accountability that NIH is interested in, provides flexibility to grantees within budget categories, and frees both from the level of effort associated with line item budget preparation and review.

Better knowledge about stakeholder values and interests could also help us evaluate the benefits of research by identifying outcomes most highly valued by critical stakeholders. Better understanding of these interests and value propositions could also be useful in identifying the terms of discourse most likely to communicate effectively about the value of research to the range of relevant stakeholders. Information about the benefits of biomedical research, for example, can be framed to communicate effectively with patients and health care advocates, as well as with scientists or clinicians.