Rock Talk, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) blog on extramural research policy, debuted two years ago as a way to enhance transparency about how the federal agency develops policies and present data that influence such decisions.
In a commentary published yesterday in Nature, Sally Rockey, PhD, deputy director for extramural research at the NIH, discusses her motivation for launching the blog and how it has increased dialogue with constituents about science policy. She writes:
We learned a lot about our constituents’ interests and needs through the blog, and we have been able to highlight behind-the-scenes data, actively engage the community in policy-making and provide insight into our decisions. Without public input, effective and impactful policy cannot be created. My blogging experience has convinced me that using social-media platforms is one effective way for science-funding agencies to successfully support research.
The blog is not the official vehicle for communicating policy changes. We have the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts for that. And we have official channels for soliciting public feedback — through requests for information in the NIH Guide, for example. But the blog allows me to extend that conversation to people worldwide, many of whom I would not be able to reach in other ways. People are sometimes concerned that offering a dissenting opinion to NIH officials might affect their chances of getting funding. Although that is absolutely not the case, one advantage the blog does have over some other channels is that it allows people to remain anonymous if they wish.
In addition to fostering conversations on policy, Rockey offers examples of how the blog has allowed her team to provide real-time updates during national emergencies, such as Hurricane Sandy, and debunk urban myths about NIH-supported research.