The NINDS Sustainable Transformation of Institutional Research Rigor (STIRR) Initiative aims to support the establishment of programs to enhance research rigor and transparency practices within academic and research institutions to promote a culture of high-quality neuroscience research.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Where can I find the notice of funding opportunity (NOFO)?
The NOFO and information about applying can be found here: NINDS Sustainable Transformation of Institutional Research Rigor (STIRR) Program (RC2 - Clinical Trial Not Allowed).
What is the purpose of this initiative?
This notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) aims to support the establishment of programs to enhance research rigor and transparency practices within academic and research institutions to promote a culture of high-quality neuroscience research. Attention to principles of rigorous study design and transparent reporting are essential to enable the neuroscientific community, as well as the biomedical community at large, to design and perform valid experiments and to assess the value of scientific findings. Awards are intended to support the implementation of innovative programs, strategies, and approaches at the departmental, inter-departmental, or equivalent intra-institutional entity level. These organizational entities will provide clarity of vision, comprehensive assistance, effective evaluation, and sustainable commitment to transforming the local scientific culture. Such transformation should improve demonstrably the scientific rigor and transparent reporting of neuroscience research studies performed by investigators within the organizational entity and encourage the adoption of similar measures by the broader research community.
Note that this initiative is intended to allow institutional entities to develop and pilot innovative approaches to improving research rigor and transparency through changes in community resources, policies, and/or practices (rather than to sustain programs long-term). Applicants should describe how they intend to ensure continuation of successful program activities to solidify culture change, including long-term support of evaluation and dissemination activities beyond the period of the award (i.e., after grant funding ends).
Where can I find videos or articles about the initiative?
2023 NINDS Concept Clearance
At the February 2023 National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NANDS) Council Meeting, Program Director in the NINDS Office of Research Quality, Devon Crawford, presented the concept for developing an initiative to change culture around rigor and transparency within institutions. You may watch the recording via NIH Videocast.
2023 NINDS Director's Message
In May 2023, NINDS Director Walter Koroshetz wrote a Director's Message entitled "New Activities and Resources for Enhancing Research Quality" about the launch of this initiative. See the Director's Message for more information.
2023 NINDS Informational Video
In August 2023, NINDS Program Director Devon Crawford created an informational video about STIRR with important details about the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). You may watch the video on the NINDS Youtube channel.
What is an "intra-institutional entity" or "organizational entity"?
Applicant entities may include departments, offices, libraries, inter-departmental collaborations, or equivalent intra-institutional organizational structures, but the program’s goals must include increasing rigor and transparency of neuroscience research performed by investigators within the institution or organization. The proposed activities must be implemented by and/or applicable to more than one laboratory or scientific group.
Application Logistics and Eligibility
Where and how do I apply?
When are applications due?
There are three receipt dates for this NOFO. The first due date for applications is October 17, 2023.
How many applications will be awarded?
NINDS intends to commit an estimated $3.5 million in direct costs annually for at least 5 awards. The number of awards is contingent upon the submission of a sufficient number of meritorious applications, the size and scope of the most meritorious applications, and NIH appropriations.
Can an applicant apply for more than one award?
Applicant organizations may submit more than one application, provided that each application is scientifically distinct.
Who is eligible to apply?
See the NOFO for eligibility criteria.
Are non-neuroscience departments eligible to apply?
Applicant entities must support or perform neuroscience research that is relevant to the NINDS mission, although the research does not need to be exclusive to these fields [e.g., a Cell Biology Department containing a critical mass (i.e., at least 25%) of faculty members working on neuroscience projects relevant to the NINDS mission would be eligible to apply]. Applicant entities may include departments, offices, libraries, inter-departmental collaborations, or equivalent intra-institutional organizational structures, but the program’s goals must include increasing rigor and transparency of neuroscience research performed by investigators within the institution or organization. Support from this NOFO should catalyze sustainable culture change at the level of the intra-institutional entity applying for the award and the cohort of researchers in the local scientific community targeted by the program. The proposed activities, therefore, must be implemented by and/or applicable to more than one laboratory or scientific group.
Are foreign (non-U.S.) applications allowed?
Non-domestic (non-U.S.) Entities (Foreign Institutions) and non-domestic (non-U.S.) components of U.S. Organizations are not eligible to apply. Foreign components, however, are allowed. See the NOFO for eligibility criteria.
Who can I ask about whether my application idea fits the NOFO?
You may direct any questions about scientific/research/programmatic content of the initiative here:
Who can I ask about grant policies, such as allowable costs?
You may direct any questions about grant policy here:
If my application is not funded, can I prepare a resubmission?
Yes. There are three receipt dates for this NOFO: October 17, 2023; October 17, 2024; and October 17, 2025. Unsuccessful applications may be revised and resubmitted for the next receipt date, subject to NIH policies.
What is the maximum project period that can be proposed?
The maximum project period is 3 years. Note that some activities under this NOFO are expected to continue after the award has ended, as described under "Scalability and Sustainability" in the Research Plan/Approach:
"Describe how the applicant entity intends to ensure continuation of successful program activities to solidify culture change, including long-term support of evaluation and dissemination activities beyond the period of the award (i.e., after grant funding ends). Include plans for sustained assistance, continual process improvement, and maintenance of buy-in from the local scientific community."
What format should the application follow?
Note that the following items should be addressed under the Research Strategy/Approach:
- Scalability and Sustainability
Who, if anyone, besides the Program Director(s)/Principal Investigator(s) (PD(s)/PI(s)) should be listed as “key personnel?”
Key personnel include any other individuals who contribute to the development or execution of a project in a substantive, measurable way whether or not they receive salaries or compensation under the grant. Typically, these individuals have doctoral or other professional degrees, although individuals without such degrees may be considered senior/key personnel if they have extensive expertise in relevant disciplines and their involvement meets this definition. Consultants may be considered senior/key personnel if they meet this definition. Senior/key personnel must devote measurable effort to the project whether or not salaries or compensation are requested. "Zero percent" effort or "as needed" are not acceptable levels of involvement for those designated as senior/key personnel. See Grants & Funding- Senior/Key Personnel FAQs for additional information on the use of key personnel in your application.
What is the maximum budget that can be proposed?
Application budgets need to reflect the actual needs of the proposed project; however, it is anticipated that most awards will be between $150,000-$800,000 direct costs per year, commensurate with the scope of the proposed program.
What should I include in my budget?
All instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide must be followed. The following modifications also apply:
- Include all personnel other than the PD(s)/PI(s) in the Other Personnel section, including clerical and administrative staff.
- Participant support costs, consultant costs, equipment, supplies, travel for key persons, and other program-related expenses may be included in the proposed budget. These expenses must be justified as specifically required by the proposed program and must not duplicate items generally available at the applicant institution.
- Budget categories should not include inflationary escalation for recurring costs in out years.
Should the budget depend directly on the scope of activities being proposed?
Although there is no specific budget cap for each component of a proposed program, applicants should include an estimate of costs that is commensurate with the number and complexity of activities that are being proposed. The budget must reflect the actual needs of the proposed project.
Programs of variable size, focus, or scope are encouraged: from highly focused, smaller programs to broader, more comprehensive activities, based on the demonstrated needs of the institutional entity applying and the ability to commit resources to the program. Smaller, more focused programs, which will have commensurately smaller budgets, will likely implement less resource-intensive activities (e.g., simple policy changes, small prizes, part-time personnel commitments) and/or involve a smaller scientific community in the program. Broader, more comprehensive programs, which will have commensurately larger budgets, are expected to pursue more resource-intensive activities (e.g., new infrastructure, large personnel investments) and/or involve a much larger scientific community.
What kinds of activities should I consider including in the proposed program?
Awards are intended to support the implementation of innovative programs, strategies, and approaches at the departmental, inter-departmental, or equivalent intra-institutional entity level. Such transformation should improve demonstrably the scientific rigor and transparent reporting of neuroscience research studies performed by investigators within the organizational entity and encourage the adoption of similar measures by the broader research community.
Program activities should be generally applicable to a wide variety of scientists and projects and should aim to change scientists' knowledge, behavior, and culture around scientific rigor and transparency. Examples of activities responsive to this NOFO include, but are not limited to:
- Implementing recognition or awards to promote awareness of best practices in rigor and transparency (e.g., prizes for publication of null results, special opportunities for researchers who champion better research practice)
- Hiring or appointing dedicated personnel to integrate new rigor and transparency practices into research workflows (e.g., statisticians, data managers, research methodologists, quality control specialists)
- Restructuring trainee program requirements to incentivize high-quality research over novelty and quantity of research outputs
- Modifying hiring, promotion, and tenure criteria to emphasize research rigor, transparency, and quality and to deemphasize bibliometrics and journal impact factor
- Developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) and incorporating new infrastructure to support good research practice (e.g., error reporting software, electronic lab notebooks, quality management systems)
- Updating policies to better enforce rigor and transparency (e.g., minimal reporting standards for publication submissions, required dissemination of null results to reduce publication bias, course releases for time spent on championing rigor or replicating important experiments)
- Creating comprehensive educational and/or professional development programs on the principles of rigorous research for trainees, faculty, and other scientific staff
- Partnering with external organizations to provide transformative rigor and transparency-focused services to research personnel within the institution and improve how the applicant entity operates
This NOFO is not meant to support:
- Replication or simple expansion of existing programs at applicant institutions (e.g., increasing the number of participants in current training programs)
- Specific research projects within laboratories (e.g., reagents, animal housing costs, specialized scientific equipment)
- Research integrity activities focused on ethics related to animal use, human subjects, or research misconduct [e.g., training and activities already required under NIH Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) policies]
- Large multi-institutional or field-wide initiatives to develop best practices that are implemented during the award period beyond the applicant institution (e.g., new common data elements, recommendations for publishers or funders, national or international networks)
- Programs focused on activities that could be supported through other NIH funding mechanisms
Can I include previously developed or already-existing activities in the proposed program?
If building upon previously implemented activities, provide clear justification for how the proposed program offers a novel, innovative, and/or substantially modified approach to solving the identified gap or area of need within the local scientific community.
Should I propose a larger, comprehensive program or a smaller, more easily implemented program?
Programs of variable size, focus, or scope are encouraged: from highly focused, smaller programs to broader, more comprehensive activities, based on the demonstrated needs of the institutional entity applying and the ability to commit resources to the program. Smaller, more focused programs, which will have commensurately smaller budgets, will likely implement less resource-intensive activities (e.g., simple policy changes, small prizes, part-time personnel commitments) and/or involve a smaller scientific community in the program. Broader, more comprehensive programs, which will have commensurately larger budgets, are expected to pursue more resource-intensive activities (e.g., new infrastructure, large personnel investments, multiple simultaneous activities of the scope listed in the examples above) and/or involve a much larger scientific community.
Programs of differing sizes or scopes are expected, in aggregate, to provide proofs-of-concept for balancing scalability (i.e., easier implementation) with greater impact (i.e., more extensive or effective behavior change), thereby providing valuable information to other entities looking to adopt successful programs. Therefore, projects with smaller scope and higher scalability potential are considered valuable to the overall program (and not just more comprehensive programs with a larger scope).
Why do I need to target neuroscience research with my program?
Applicant entities must support or perform neuroscience research that is relevant to the NINDS mission, although the research does not need to be exclusive to these fields [e.g., a Cell Biology Department containing a critical mass (i.e., at least 25%) of faculty members working on neuroscience projects relevant to the NINDS mission would be eligible to apply]. Although programs related to enhancing rigor and transparency are expected to be broadly applicable across scientific disciplines, programs are expected to affect laboratories within NINDS areas of focus in order to ensure relevance to the NINDS mission.
Why do I need to propose activities that go beyond the period of support?
This initiative is intended to allow institutional entities to develop and pilot innovative approaches to improving research rigor and transparency through changes in community resources, policies, and/or practices. The objective of this NOFO is to provide resources to create model programs for the broader neuroscience community to evaluate, modify, and emulate.
A successful applicant will demonstrate clear commitment to the overall goals of the NOFO, including plans for sustaining successful activities beyond the period of the award and for identifying barriers and/or enablers to scaling beyond the applicant entity. This includes disseminating data on the effectiveness and longevity of the intervention(s) and sharing lessons learned and best practices with the wider scientific community (both during and beyond the funding period) to ensure that successful programs can be replicated or modified by other institutions or organizations.
Effective programs, regardless of size or scope, will be characterized by measurable culture change that lasts far beyond the period of financial support, whereby the scientific community associated with the applicant entity successfully obtains the necessary resources (e.g., education, infrastructure, financial support, policy change) for implementing the desired behavior change(s), improves in awareness and execution of research rigor and transparency, receives positive reinforcement for these behaviors, and displays enthusiasm to champion and sustain continual improvement in this area.
What are milestones and where should I put them?
Milestones are clear, quantifiable goals that can be achieved by the applicant over the course of the project period. They should be in the Research Plan/Approach as described under “Milestones” in the NOFO:
"Provide a table or chart with key milestones to be achieved throughout the RC2 program period. Include a timeline and metrics to document progress toward achievement of the ultimate goals, including clear benchmarks and quantitative criteria for success. Milestones must include major implementation, evaluation, dissemination, and sustainability goals, including those that extend beyond the period of funding. Applications lacking this information will be considered incomplete and will not be reviewed."
Should I submit letters of support?
Yes. For this NOFO, a letter of institutional commitment must be attached as part of the Letters of Support. Appropriate institutional commitment should include the provision of adequate staff, facilities, and other tangible resources to support the proposed program during and beyond the period of the award. Such letters should be provided by institutional representatives committed to the long-term success of the program in a manner commensurate with the scope of the program, such as department chairs, deans, or provosts. Applications lacking a letter of institutional commitment will not be reviewed. If appropriate, include letters describing planned contributions from or collaborations with additional entities or individuals outside of the applicant entity for the proposed program.
Who can I ask about the review process?
You may direct any questions about the review process here:
How will applications be reviewed?
Review will be by a special emphasis panel organized by the NINDS Scientific Review Branch. Reviewers will be instructed to evaluate each application according to the review criteria listed in the NOFO under Section V.
Will smaller, more focused programs and larger, more comprehensive programs be reviewed together?
All applications will be reviewed according to the review criteria listed in the NOFO under Section V. Because programs of multiple sizes, focuses, and/or scopes are expected to apply, reviewers are expected to calibrate critiques of impact to the proposed resources, goals, and potential scalability of each program.
Why might my application not be reviewed?
Applications that are incomplete will not be reviewed. The following are considered non-responsive or incomplete for this NOFO:
- Applications without an Institutional Commitment Letter of Support
- Applications without milestones included
- Applications without a Resource Sharing Plan
- Applications outside the scope of the RC2 program
- Applications proposing multi-institutional, national, or international programs
- Applicant entities without a demonstrated relationship with multiple laboratories performing research in the NINDS mission space
- Proposals to support or expand currently available programs without substantial modification or innovation to those programs
- Applications without explicit plans for program evaluation, dissemination, and sustainability
What is the estimated timeline for application review and award?
Applications will be reviewed by a scientific review group (study section) around March, undergo a second level of review by the National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NANDS) Council in May, and be awarded around July.
Can I appeal the review of my application?
No. Therefore, be sure to inform NINDS of any potential reviewer conflicts in a cover letter included with the application at the time of submission.