NIH Makes Big Strides Toward Funding Clarity, But Still Could Be Better!

06 November
2009

Apples to oranges comparison

Image via Wikipedia

The NIH has rolled out their new RePORT (Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool) web site for information on funding, grants, and NIH research. As someone who works on government grants and contracts, I’m happy with this new level of transparency and clarity as to what topics (and who!) is being funded. It is a big upgrade from the incumbent system, which was hard to navigate and understand.

The most useful area of the site to me is the categorical spending section. It really gives you an idea of NIH’s funding priorities—it offers over 200 categories of funding.

However, it still has ample room for improvement. Currently it is an alphabetical list that contains items that are hard to compare. Here are some example categories that are not equivalent in scope:

Some are very specific (hay fever), some are broad (cancer), some are ambiguous (cardiovascular), some take a completely different approach than the dominant disease/condition approach (American Indians/Alaska Natives), and some seem to be repetitive.

With a bit of work, this information could be turned from its current flat list expression into a multilevel taxonomy that allows users to slice it up in the ways that appeal to them (conditions or target populations, for example). Silverchair does this for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality on their PSNet patient safety clearinghouse. A small amount of classification work can go a long way in creating valuable new features—NIH has proven that with their RePORT upgrade, but I’d like to see them go farther.

I’d be happy to help out with the NIH site, but I’m not sure what category that would be funded under…

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