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High-Priority Topics: Concepts and Initiatives Questions and Answers

Table of Contents

What are initiatives?

Initiatives are requests for applications (RFA), program announcements (PA), and solicitations that NIAID issues to stimulate research in high-priority or high-opportunity areas of science. RFAs and PAs are called funding opportunity announcements in

For some areas, we publish an initiative because the research is mandated by law. In other cases, the research community may identify a need, or research may be needed to respond to a public health event.

Initiatives encourage investigators to apply because, for some, NIAID uses set-aside funds to award grants or contracts, and for others, NIAID funds some applications beyond the payline.

For an overview of this topic, see Choose Approach and Find FOAs in the Strategy for NIH Funding. Also see the following SOPs:

Where can I find NIAID's initiatives?

We post requests for applications (RFA) and program announcements (PA) that NIAID sponsors or co-sponsors at NIAID Funding Opportunities List. You can see other NIH initiatives in the NIH Guide. You can find NIAID Extramural R&D Solicitations at

How do initiative types differ?

While requests for applications and solicitations generally have money set aside to fund the research, program announcements may not. However, even for PAs that do not have set-aside funds, NIAID may fund applications with percentiles or overall impact/priority scores beyond the payline.

Another key difference is that most RFAs have a single due date, so all applications for an RFA are reviewed at the same time by a single scientific review group convened by NIAID.

Most PAs use regular NIH due dates and are reviewed by NIH's Center for Scientific Review study sections.

One advantage to applying under an RFA is if your application is not funded you can submit the same project again as a new investigator-initiated application.

However, some are program announcement with special receipt, referral and/or review considerations (called a PAR), which are reviewed by special emphasis panels, often in institutes.

For more information and links to advice, go to Choose Approach and Find FOAs in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Is knowing Institute priorities the key to getting a grant?

No, though it may help. Whatever route you go, be sure to choose a topic that 1) is in your area of expertise and 2) can make a strong impact in its field. Your expertise, achievement of Specific Aims from a previous grant, and career level are the key factors in getting any grant.

Read Choose Approach and Find FOAs in the Strategy for NIH Funding, as well as Five Steps to Finding NIAID's High-Priority Areas.

What are concepts?

Concepts are initiatives in their planning stage; they can signal our plans a year or two ahead of time. Whether you apply for an initiative or not, concepts can be useful to you. Read more in the next question and at Concepts May Turn Into Initiatives.

Go to Concepts: Potential Opportunities to see concepts cleared at recent Council meetings.

For tips on using NIAID concepts to your advantage in read Choose Approach and Find FOAs in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Should I wait for a concept to become an initiative before I write an application?

Not really. Consider whether your expertise lends itself to any of the research topics and, if it does, contact the relevant program officer for further discussion.

Investigator-initiated applications in high-priority areas may qualify for above-the-payline funding even if NIAID does not publish an initiative. If we do publish the initiative, your application will be ready.

Read more in Concepts May Turn Into Initiatives and Choose Approach and Find FOAs in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Does Council have to approve a concept before NIAID can publish an initiative?

Yes. For more information on how NIAID approves initiatives, see:

Do concepts compete with each other for dollars?

Yes. Many concepts never develop into initiatives because the number of concepts for potential initiatives usually exceed the amount of money NIAID plans to spend on initiatives in a given year.

NIAID determines an initiative's level of funding based on its relative priority and scientific needs. For more information, go to:

How does NIAID plan for scientific initiatives?

We identify promising topics with the extramural research community, develop these concepts and present them to our main advisory Council, and revise them based on Council's input. Council must approve a concept before we can publish it as an initiative. Read more in Planning Research Opportunities.

Where do NIAID program officers get ideas for concepts?

Program officers find areas of opportunity for initiatives by reading the scientific literature, participating in workshops and conferences, and communicating with investigators, health care professionals, and other experts.

How do NIAID managers determine priorities?

To evaluate and prioritize concepts and initiatives, NIAID holds two annual retreats, the Summer Policy Retreat and Winter Program Review. NIAID also uses other groups, including its Executive Committee, to prioritize initiatives. For more information, see NIAID Funding Opportunity Planning and the Budget Cycle.

How long does it take to develop an initiative?

Budget and planning is a two- to three-year process. It starts with ideas that may be developed into concepts that NIAID staff present to our advisory Council. After Council approval, we may issue an initiative, depending on budgetary and programmatic factors.

For an overview, see NIAID's Budget and Concept Planning Flowchart.

For more on initiative planning, see NIAID Funding Opportunity Planning and the Budget Cycle and Lock icon: This link will not work for public visitors.Concept Development SOP.

Does NIAID use a major portion of its budget for initiatives?

We spend most of our research dollars on investigator-initiated research, which includes program announcements. Targeted research, funded through RFAs, is a small proportion of the total dollars NIAID spends. Each year, we set aside a certain amount of money for RFAs and program announcements with set-asides as part of our financial management plan. For details, go to our Financial Management Plan on Paylines and Funding and the Financial Management Plan SOP.

What if my question wasn't answered here, or I'd like to suggest a question?

Email with the title of this page or its URL and your question or comment. We answer questions by email and post them here. Thanks for helping us clarify and expand our knowledge base.

Last Updated April 18, 2016

Last Reviewed April 18, 2016