NSF SBE Advisory Committee Meeting Focuses on Covid-19 Response, CISE Collaboration

June  2020

On June 4, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Sciences Advisory Committee met virtually for updates on the current and future work of the SBE Directorate.

SBE Assistant Director Arthur Lupia kicked off the meeting by providing updates on how SBE has adapted to the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic. Lupia highlighted providing as much flexibility as possible for both current grantees and grant proposers. On the latter, Lupia indicated that the end of the 2020 fiscal year, on September 30, limits the ability to extend deadlines for proposals. He also highlighted the RAPID Research Response program and noted that SBE projects receive the second-highest amount of funding among the NSF directorates.

Several SBE leaders also provided updates on programs. Kellina Craig-Henderson, deputy assistant director for SBE, highlighted the Build and Broaden program, which seeks to increase capacity for social and behavioral science research in minority-serving institutions. Marc Sebrechts, division director of the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, discussed preliminary details of a new Strengthening American Infrastructure program, which would apply findings from social and behavioral science research to tackle areas such as machine learning and bias. 

Daniel Goroff, division director of the Division of Social and Economic Sciences, highlighted NSF’s partnership with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine for the Societal Experts Action Network, which serves as an intermediary to various stakeholders seeking input on Covid-19-related questions. The network includes a Covid-19 survey archive, with a weekly summary of public polling and other survey data.

William Riley, director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spoke to the SBE Advisory Committee on the social and behavioral science research that NIH is supporting related to Covid-19, including research on social isolation. He noted how previous research from the SARS and MERS pandemics has informed evidence-based mitigation strategies that are being used currently. Riley also highlighted the NIH-wide response, including urgent competitive grant funding and the development of a survey item repository.

The SBE Advisory Committee met with the NSF’s Computer, Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Advisory Committee to discuss areas of potential collaboration between the two directorates discussed at a recent workshop. Some of the future areas where CISE and SBE expertise could be involved in multidisciplinary work include sustainable research infrastructure, education and training, and examining center models as opposed to funding individual programs. The joint workshop also highlighted the need for guidance on data ethics and related areas such as updating IRB protocols.

The SBE Advisory Committee plans to hold its next meeting in the fall.