Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Toward the Assessment of Scientific and Public Health Impacts of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Extramural Asthma Research Program Using Available Data

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Toward the Assessment of Scientific and Public Health Impacts of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Extramural Asthma Research Program Using Available Data

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND: In the past 15 years, asthma prevalence has increased and is disproportionately distributed among children, minorities, and low-income persons. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Division of Extramural Research and Training developed a framework to measure the scientific and health impacts of its extramural asthma research to improve the scientific basis for reducing the health effects of asthma.

OBJECTIVES: Here we apply the framework to characterize the NIEHS asthma portfolio's impact in terms of publications, clinical applications of findings, community interventions, and technology developments.

METHODS: A logic model was tailored to inputs, outputs, and outcomes of the NIEHS asthma portfolio. Data from existing National Institutes of Health (NIH) databases are used, along with publicly available bibliometric data and structured elicitation of expert judgment.

RESULTS: NIEHS is the third largest source of asthma-related research grant funding within the NIH between 1975 and 2005, after the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Much of NIEHS-funded asthma research focuses on basic research, but results are often published in journals focused on clinical investigation, increasing the likelihood that the work is moved into practice along the "bench to bedside" continuum. NIEHS support has led to key breakthroughs in scientific research concerning susceptibility to asthma, environmental conditions that heighten asthma symptoms, and cellular mechanisms that may be involved in treating asthma.

CONCLUSIONS: If gaps and limitations in publicly available data receive adequate attention, further linkages can be demonstrated between research activities and public health improvements. This logic model approach to research impact assessment demonstrates that it is possible to conceptualize program components, mine existing databases, and begin to show longer-term impacts of program results. The next challenges will be to modify current data structures, improve the linkages among relevant databases, incorporate as much electronically available data as possible, and determine how to improve the quality and health impact of the science that we support.

KEY WORDS: asthma, children, evaluation methodology, health impact analysis, minorities, policy, pulmonary organ systems/disease processes, susceptible populations. Environ Health Perspect 117:1147-1154 (2009). doi:10.1289/ehp.0800476 available via http://dx.doi.org/ [Online 24 March 2009]

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Growing demand for performance measurement and accountability in public research funding has led to a shift in focus for research impact assessment (RIA) beyond publications to measure accountability of research investment in broader terms, such as human health and environmental improvements as well as economic benefits. Conventional bibliometric analysis, which assesses contributions to knowledge, may not be sufficient to assess public health impacts.

Recent critiques of approaches to evaluating government-funded research underscore the need for better models and stronger linkages between evaluation and decisions about funding allocations (Coryn et al. 2007). Trochim and colleagues (2008), for example, propose an extensive mixed-methods approach that draws from diverse data sources to evaluate a large research initiative of the National Cancer Institute. A more tightly circumscribed approach is reflected in the work of Kuruvilla and colleagues (2006), who developed a research impact framework to help researchers systematically identify impacts resulting from their work. The tool also provides a structured framework for comparing research impacts across projects and time but is limited in that it includes data from only one source, the researcher. These researchers did not develop a full logic model, but rather identified specific descriptive categories within four broad areas: research-related impacts, policy impacts, service impacts, and societal impacts. …

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