Funding for Decision Science Research: Negotiating the Maze

Finding money for research can sometimes seem like negotiating a maze. That's especially true in the decision sciences, which cover both generic and applied decision-making, encompass many diverse fields, and for which there are numerous sources of funds. To help you through the maze, ScienceCareers details some of the grant funding programs in the decision sciences.

Funding for generic decision science research

Investigators can find funding for studies of decision-making processes and techniques from both public and private sources. In the government sector, the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Decision, Risk and Management Sciences (DRMS) program supports research into decision-making by individuals and groups, as well as organizations and societies as a whole. This NSF program comes under its Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, and, according to its Web site, funds research into areas of "judgment and decision-making; decision analysis and decision aids; risk analysis, perception, and communication; societal and public policy decision-making; management science and organizational design."

The DRMS program funds full research studies in decision-making, with proposals due on 18 August 2006, with the following deadline for proposals set for 18 January 2007. Jacqueline Meszaros, Ph.D., program director for DRMS, says the program awards grants to about a fifth of proposals received.

The program accepts proposals for Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants that provide funds for travel, special equipment, and event participation. The next submission deadline for these programs is 11 August 2006. DRMS can also fund smaller projects under NSF's Small Grants for Exploratory Research program that supports preliminary inquiries, as well as studies taking unconventional approaches to the subject matter.

Meszaros suggests that researchers in decision sciences should also consider the special Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) program, a special interdisciplinary competition that …

aims to increase our collective ability to anticipate the complex consequences of change; gain a better understanding of the dynamics of human and social behavior as well as the cognitive and social structures that create and define change; and help people and organizations better manage profound or rapid change.

One of the areas emphasized by HSD in 2006 is decision-making, risk, and uncertainty, which includes studies of risk perception, responses to hazards and extreme events, and the role played by educational systems in that response. Meszaros says that these are large grants (up to $750,000) and are intended for interdisciplinary teams.

NSF funds more quantitative and algorithmic research in the decision sciences as part of its Operations Research (OR) program. This program falls under NSF's Engineering directorate. These studies focus on the tools and technologies of decision science rather than the behavioral aspects, which would fall under DRMS. More details of the OR program will be available on 1 September 2006, with proposals due on 1 October 2006.

Outside government, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation funds research into the functioning of business organizations, which includes studies of businesses' decision-making processes. Although the research it funds may reach into the details of organizational behavior, the foundation expects the findings to have broader implications for understanding the nature of businesses and their impact on workers, investors, and society at large. The foundation, according to its Web site, favors "empirical studies of real organizations and people, especially studies that employ field work and direct observation."

In 2005 and 2004, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation funded economic research on alternative corporate governance models, namely the principal/agent and team production models, and their ability to explain both the legal and economic behaviors of public companies. Also in 2004, the foundation funded several studies of international outsourcing, called "offshoring," and the factors that went into the offshoring decisions in the medical imaging and semiconductor industries. These projects involved economists and sociologists.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation accepts research proposals at any time, with grants awarded by the foundation's trustees four times a year. The foundation recommends first sending a preliminary letter of inquiry before investing the considerable time and effort in preparing a full proposal. The foundation also funds smaller grants, called officer grants that do not need trustee approval. These grants are often used for planning or exploratory studies, or to support events such as workshops.

Another nongovernment source of funding in decision sciences is the Russell Sage Foundation, which is both a research center and a source of funding for social science research generally. The foundation awards major grants for research in its four main topic areas: Future of Work, Immigration, Cultural Contact, and Social Inequality. The Russell Sage Foundation has smaller programs in trust and behavioral economics where research in decision-making may also be relevant.

In 2005, the Russell Sage Foundation awarded a grant to social psychologist Samuel R. Sommers on the impact of race and gender diversity on group decision-making, which ScienceCareers featured in a May 2006 article. Also since 2003, the foundation has funded socioeconomic studies on scheduling of entry-level retail jobs and case studies of decisions to hire unregulated ("off-the-books") workers in New York and Chicago. Other recent research supported by the Russell Sage Foundation includes studies of time decisions and cognition and economic decision-making.

The foundation's application procedures call for detailed proposals, but they encourage a preliminary letter of inquiry before starting a full proposal. The organization's board of trustees reviews proposals twice a year, with deadlines for proposals in mid-March and mid-August of each year.

Funding for applied research in decision sciences

Making decisions better and faster is a goal found across the spectrum of disciplines, and in some cases, researchers can find funding for their investigations when they focus on particular subject areas. Researchers investigating decision-making in health care quality and defense, for example, will find significant interest and funding from U.S. government agencies.


To the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the decision-making process is a central research focus, according to Francis D. Chesley, M.D., director of AHRQ's Office of Extramural Research, Education, and Priority Populations. AHRQ, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for improving the quality of healthcare in the U.S. Chesley's office oversees much of AHRQ's external research awarded through grants and small-business contracts.

Workshop on Grant Funding for Decision Science

Q. B. Chung of Villanova University, who advised ScienceCareers on this article, and Godwin Udo of University of Texas, El Paso, will lead a workshop on grant writing for decision science research. The workshop takes place at the 2006 annual meeting of the Decision Science Institute.

Chesley says decision science research "is particularly useful in studies of the outcomes and effectiveness of care and quality." Another area where decision science plays a vital role is in the field of health information technology, also an AHRQ focus. To underscore the importance of decision science to AHRQ's agenda, he adds that AHRQ has a separate peer-review panel to review proposals on healthcare technologies and decision-making.

Chesley notes that "AHRQ's funding is more oriented toward applications than bench science," and the agency's current priorities give greater focus to researching the needs of sicker patients. In the federal government's fiscal year 2006 (beginning 1 October 2005 through 30 September 2006), AHRQ plans to fill gaps in knowledge about patient care dealing with complex conditions, such as multiple diseases and risk factors. Chesley says the emphasis on multiple diseases "is a signal to the research community that this is an area where the agency plans to commit resources."

AHRQ shares the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant application and review processes, including those for research studies (e.g. R01, R03), training (K-series), and small business. The agency posts its funding announcements on its own Web site as well as, the government's central funding portal.

Researchers studying decision-making and health care should also keep an eye on announcements from NIH. Although NIH does not have a separate program devoted to decision-sciences, the subject will occasionally play a key role in a larger undertakings that the agency funds. For example, a program announced in March 2006 funds research into decision-making processes affecting healthy lifestyles.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has an extensive program of funding basic and applied research supporting the Department of Defense's mission, which covers a wide array of disciplines. Part of DARPA's research agenda is devoted to improving the decision-making capability of forces at both the tactical and strategic levels.

For example, DARPA seeks to apply science and technology to improve decision-making capabilities in operations involving urban regions, where 60% of the world's population now resides. As spelled out in DARPA's strategic plan, these capabilities include behavioral and cultural factors studied by social scientists:

For pre- and/or postconflict stabilization operations, DARPA seeks advanced concepts and technologies to give U.S. forces capabilities to quickly and accurately understand and deal with changing social and environmental circumstances that could undermine a combatant commander's objectives. Capabilities are needed that rapidly prepare soldiers for missions in new cultural environments; improve command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in stabilization operations; and improve U.S. Forces' situational awareness of changing social and environmental circumstances. Combined, these efforts will enhance stabilization by enabling a limited number of U.S. Forces to achieve operational objectives through virtual force multiplication.

DARPA bundles many of its research needs into single solicitations it calls Broad Agency Announcements. BAAs spell out specific research and technology needs, but they often encourage more innovative and cross-disciplinary solutions. DARPA also updates BAAs occasionally as new requirements emerge.

A current BAA for DARPA's Defense Science Office, entitled "Defense Sciences Research and Technology" (BAA06-19), seeks the following capabilities related to decision-making:

Novel Technologies to Improve the Human Consequences of Transformation:
Specific areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • New approaches for training individuals and teams, including embedded training and simulation;

  • Understanding and improving team performance; and

  • New approaches to improve rapid decision-making in chaotic or data-poor environments.

Part 1 of the BAA gives the technical topic areas covered in the announcement and part 2 spells out the proposal procedures. DARPA encourages submission of preliminary white papers (up to eight pages) describing a proposed research approach. The deadline for proposals under this BAA is 9 February 2007. Like AHRQ, DARPA also posts its funding announcements on

Other sources

The two areas described above, healthcare and defense, are examples of applied fields where agencies fund research in the decision science. Researchers can follow developments in other industries by subscribing to newsletters from industry associations or using news alerts generated by search engines. And don't forget GrantsNet, ScienceCareers' research funding database, which has broadened its coverage of social science funding opportunities.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Grant No. SES-0549096. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Alan Kotok is Managing Editor of ScienceCareers.

Comments, suggestions? Please send your feedback to our editor.

Follow Science Careers

Search Jobs

Enter keywords, locations or job types to start searching for your new science career.

Top articles in Careers