Director’s Update – October 2015

Every month, the CTSI Stories Blog will post excerpts from ongoing conversations with the institute’s co-directors. This month, Karl Kieburtz looks back on the grant-writing process and discusses the advantages to including so many people.KarlKieburtz

First, congratulations on being done!

Thank you! Yes, we’re done, and we’ve submitted the CTSA renewal grant application to NCATS.

This grant involved work from more than 50 people. Why did you feel it was important to include so many of us? I’m guessing that must have made it harder in some ways.

Well, I’ll answer that by giving a little background first, because what we’re actually tasked with here in the CTSI is tricky. First, we’re an institute and we’re supposed to do certain things – we’re supposed to train people, help foster collaborations, get people moving in certain research directions, and so on. And we’re supposed to do that in an organized and structured fashion.

At the same time, we’re supposed to innovate. Innovate is an easy thing to say, but innovation really requires discovery, and discovery is only possible, in my view, when you cease to be enamored with what you know. You can be standing next to someone, seeing the same thing they’re seeing, but they’re looking at it in a different way and so they make a discovery and you don’t. That’s why most innovation organizations are small. It’s a group of guys and gals off somewhere else, disconnected from a mainline organization, fiddling around.

But that perspective – not being enthralled with the rules and trying to forget what we already know – is antithetical to being structured and delivering on things that we say we’re going to deliver on. So that puts us in a difficult position of needing to deliver in an organized way, while also needing to suspend some of the rules.

So that’s tricky. We have an infrastructure grant to provide education, collaborative interaction, and  funding, but it’s tough to innovate infrastructure. I think the only way you can do it is by involving a lot of people and embracing the perspectives of others.

The easiest thing in the world to do is to write down everything you already know. The hardest thing is to listen to what everyone has to say and find a way to express the views of every person. The grant could have been written by a small handful of people just deciding what it is we should do. But, obviously, that’s not what we did.

Did it pay off? Would you do it this way again?

We came up with about a dozen innovative programs beyond what we’re doing now. And these programs weren’t prompted by the grant. They came from people talking to us – at the CTSI retreat, at the Town Hall meeting – about the new things we could try to do.

Ultimately, the actual core text and references was about 190 pages, broken into 10 different sections. Each of those sections had two or three pieces, and each of those pieces had a team of four or five people working on it. That’s what gave us that varied perspective.

If it was just Martin, Nana, and I sitting in a room, that never would have happened. It would have been easier, yes, but not as diverse.

When do you expect to get an answer from NCATS as to whether the CTSI grant will be renewed?

It should be in the next several months. Thanks to all the hard work we did, we think we’re in a good position.

Previous Director’s Updates:

September 2015 Martin Zand discusses the CTSI’s research subject engagement efforts.
August 2015Nana Bennett talks about the renewal grant that the CTSI is pursuing.
July 2015 – Karl Kieburtz seeks feedback in the wake of the CTSI Town Hall meeting.
June 2015 – Martin Zand gives an overview of what will likely be different about the next CTSA renewal application.
May 2015 – Nana Bennett discusses the enhanced role of the Strategic Leadership Group.
April 2015 – Karl Kieburtz talks about how the leadership is preparing for the Clinical and Translational Science Award renewals.
March 2015 – Martin Zand introduces himself and discusses his interest in informatics and population-based research.
February 2015 – Nana Bennett discusses the CTSI’s Seminar Series on population health.
January 2015 – Harriet Kitzman reflects on her time as a CTSI co-director.

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