NIH funding opportunities (2) – Innovative Approaches to Studying Cancer Communication in the New Media Environment (R01, R21)

May 17, 2016 by School of Medicine Webmaster

The following description was taken from the R01 version of this FOA.

This Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) invites applications that seek to apply one or more innovative methodologies in communication research across the cancer control continuum, from prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship, to end of life.  Applications to this FOA should utilize one or more of the following analytic approaches, methods, and data sources, including but not limited to social media data mining, Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques, online social network analysis, crowdsourcing research tools (e.g., mTurk), online search data, Ecological Momentary Assessment, neuroscience and biobehavioral approaches to communication, and geographic information systems.  Studies should assess outcomes related to cancer prevention and control (e.g., knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, perceived risk, decision making in screening and treatment, information inequalities, social support, shared decision making, persuasion, caregiving, behavioral intentions, preventive behaviors, and policy support, among others).


The New Communication Landscape: The cancer communication landscape is rapidly changing, as characterized by a rapid diffusion of mobile technologies, Internet penetration, online communities, social media, wikis, and a host of other participative channels. These changes have dramatically altered the way we conceptualize and carry out health communication research, including the way we approach  intervention development, media effects research, dissemination research, and real-time monitoring of public discourse related to cancer, individual health behavior, and population health. The new landscape also offers many new levers for intervention that must be informed by updated conceptual models and new sources of empirical data. New conceptual models are especially needed to accommodate a shift from the traditional communication platforms of the previous decades to the always-on, ubiquitous support platforms prevalent in the new media landscape.  Likewise, new empirical methods are needed to integrate and synthesize the digital traces made available in the new media landscape, from passive sensors in mobile and wearable devices, to online discourse in social media channels, to the integrated measurement of patient outcomes recorded through patient portals.  The “hypodermic needle” communication approach, characterized by delivering, diffusing, and disseminating information from a central source to individuals, patient groups, communities, or the general public at the receiving end, has shifted toward multi-directional, participative discourse, whereby individuals and communities are exposed to and participate actively in communication about topics relevant to cancer control.  This paradigm shift necessitates the development of research agendas that align with the changing, participative media landscape. There is a pressing need to consider a new set of research questions, sampling strategies, measurement techniques, and conceptual frameworks to ensure the continued relevance and adaptation of communication research to address critical behavioral targets across the cancer control continuum.

Since 2000, computerized methods for data collection have become integral to public health research, with Internet-based and mobile platforms being used for health surveys, and increased mining of electronic medical record (EMR) data and personal health record (PHR) data used for collecting both objective and self-reported data points. However, these approaches provide only a partial account of a person’s or patient’s experience, without taking into account the larger social context (e.g., family, friends, community networks) and the public information environment to which individuals are exposed and from which they receive and create health-related information. Recognizing this limitation, investigators have suggested that data from non-traditional domains, such as mobile apps, social media, and online forums, will provide a more complete view of individual- and population-level exposures and trends. These participative communication technologies enable users to interact and collaborate to generate content and data, in contrast to more traditional communication endeavors (e.g., health education campaigns, videos, static Web sites, and text message systems) where users passively consume content.

Addressing Communication Inequalities and Disparities: The growth of new media offers unique opportunities to address communication inequalities and the digital divide as they relate to cancer health disparities. Several studies have suggested that racial and ethnic minorities and underserved groups are using social media and mobile platforms at the same rate as their White counterparts – thus reversing traditional notions of the digital divide.  On the other hand, there remain socioeconomic, geographic (rural/urban) and other disparities that predict access to, trust in, and differential use of online health communication channels, and those disparities warrant further investigation.

Communication Surveillance: The new communication landscape also offers unique opportunities for public health and communication surveillance efforts.  The terms “infodemiology” and “infoveillance,” coined in 2009, describe large-scale monitoring and data mining in public health and health communication efforts.  Iterative development is needed to improve the precision of estimates and to determine the utility of these data for surveillance and prediction in public health generally and cancer control specifically.  To date, none of these efforts have been cancer-specific, with the exception of small studies that have used Web analytics to gauge public interest in a few cancer-related topics, and some examples of how big data can be leveraged to inform surveillance techniques for sun safety and tobacco control. Investment is needed to determine whether these approaches can inform cancer control surveillance and intervention targets such as obesity and HPV vaccination, among others. There is an opportunity to leverage this rapidly evolving, participative media environment to inform cancer communication surveillance, and to develop and test frameworks and models to explore the mechanisms by which the new communication landscape affects individual behavior and population health, as well as to explore opportunities for leveraging innovative approaches and technologies in intervention research.

As a primary funder of cancer-related behavioral research, NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences is seeking opportunities to support the use and integration of non-traditional data collection and analytic techniques in cancer communication science.  These methods tend to be more nimble and able to accommodate the changing communication landscape; they may include, but are not limited to social media data mining, Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques, online social network analysis, crowdsourcing research tools (e.g., mTurk), online search data, Ecological Momentary Assessment, neuroscience and biobehavioral approaches to communication, and geographic information systems, among others.  These methods, adopted from a diverse set of behavioral, cognitive, and social science disciplines, will complement traditional approaches to assessing exposure to cancer information, media effects, and intervention effects.

Research Objectives

This FOA is intended to encourage research projects in three distinct domains related to cancer communication: 1) utility of new communication surveillance approaches, 2) development and testing of larger scale interventions using innovative methods and designs, and 3) development and testing of new cancer communication conceptual models. Applicants should apply communication science approaches to the investigation of behavioral targets related to cancer prevention and control.  These include but are not limited to effectively communicating risks for cancer; affecting positive behavior change relevant to cancer control (e.g., tobacco use, diet, physical activity, alcohol use, sun protection); enabling effective utilization of cancer treatment and navigation of the health care system; offering informational, social, and psychological support for decision making in cancer screening and treatment; and maximizing quality of life for survivors and their caregivers, including the utilization of palliative care – all leveraging the participatory nature of new media. Multi-level approaches are encouraged. Intervention studies should consider applicability across multiple contexts (e.g., health systems, family- or community-based settings, or virtual/online communities). Applications that target low socioeconomic status and/or rural populations are encouraged.

Deadlines:  October 11, 2016; June 13, 2017; October 11, 2017; June 13, 2018; October 11, 2018, June 13, 2019


Filed Under: Funding Opportunities