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About 2 years ago (which in dog years is about 14 years), I started my new job as the Deputy Director of Health Services Research and Development (HSR&D). Having begun my professional career in VA research many moons ago, I already knew that the heart and soul of HSR&D, or any research group, are the investigators! Hence, one of the first things I wanted to do as part of my learning curve was to visit with as many of our wonderful researchers as possible. Since I had limited time and travel funds, it was suggested that I start with Centers of Innovation (COINs) since I could meet with a group of investigators with diverse research interests and experiences.
At each COIN, I asked everybody what kinds of new programs or funding changes they would like to see within HSR&D? Interestingly, the most common response was that they wanted the opportunity to be innovative, creative, try new ideas, take chances, and have the flexibility to make course changes in the research if needed. Most importantly, they wanted to make a difference in the lives of our Veterans in big bold ways. I don't know why this surprised me as these were Centers of Innovation!
Two years later, in response to the requests of our investigators, we are finally ready to release a brand new Innovation Initiative Request for Application (RFA) that will provide a unique opportunity to support and promote innovative, high-risk, high-impact research that contributes to meaningful transformations in Veteran care while also making substantial contributions to the field of health services research. We are planning to release this RFA in late August or early September of this year. The Innovation RFA will support big, bold, novel ideas that address national VA priorities where researchers will be rewarded for thinking outside the box and trying new ideas. We're also trying to be innovative in our funding methods, including the use of a phased approach so investigators can plan and test out their innovation ideas before they begin the full process of investigation. During the planning phase, investigators can test the feasibility of the innovation idea, check out new and interesting partnerships, investigate innovative design approaches, and identify and address implementation challenges.
The new Innovation RFA also will involve larger awards to test out big bold ideas and permit some flexibility in changing course if the innovation idea needs to be modified. We will use a cooperative agreement approach to support the innovation projects so that investigators, funders, and operational partners can work closely together to leverage new information, disseminate and implement findings and products earlier, and quickly adapt to changes in a dynamic, complex learning healthcare system. This is a major paradigm shift from our current funding process, as reviews within HSR&D and VA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) often give more weight to elements that are easier to assess such as the experience of the study team, the existence of preliminary data, and the rigor of the study design, rather than the level of innovation of the study question and the ultimate impact of the idea on healthcare outcomes, practice, and policy.
Lastly, the Innovation Initiative constitutes an experiment for HSR&D that will enable us to encourage and support big, bold, novel ideas and to permit flexibility in the implementation of those ideas that will improve the lives of Veterans. As with anything new, there is a bit of anxiety of the unknown, but the excitement of starting a new funding venture, especially one that promises to result in changes in healthcare practices and policies that are truly innovative and impactful for our Veterans will be the ultimate goal for HSR&D and ORD.