Social and Structural Influences of Health (SSIH) Pilot Award


CTSI requests applications for Pilot Awards examining Social and Structural Influences of Health (SSIH). The goal of the SSIH Pilot Award is to co-create research in collaboration with communities and/or community-based organizations that amplify community priorities and expertise. The structure of this award will include support from the CTSI Community PARTners Core, and we intend that built-in support will encourage applications from investigators who may not have prior experience with community-partnered methodology.

The social determinants of health (SDOH) framework outlined by Healthy People 2030 defines SDoH as “the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.” This award should address the SDOH frameworks by focusing on projects addressing social and structural influences on health. SSIH uses the term “influences” instead of “determinants” to underscore that social and structural forces can impact health outcomes but do not necessarily govern them.

Projects may address any social or structural influence on health including:  

  • economic stability
  • education access and quality
  • healthcare access and quality
  • neighborhood and built environment
  • social and community context
  • political context

Examples of projects that might be responsive to this request include

- Using community asset maps to determine how neighborhood-level resources can support healthy lifestyles
- A study of the impact of language inaccessibility on healthcare access and quality for immigrant and refugee communities
- Surveys or other methods to identify multilevel trustworthy sources of COVID-19 vaccine information in a specific community
- Social network analysis to identify community-level influencers who can decrease tobacco use
- Testing an intervention with families and schools to improve school attendance

We recommend proposals use a strengths-based, rather than deficits focused approach to projects (i.e., conducting asset mapping rather than needs assessments)

Program Requirements

Projects are required to conduct at least one Community Engagement Studio ( and to establish a meaningful partnership with a community group or organization. Budgets must include direct costs for studios and equitable compensation for community partners with whom the research is being co-created. Examples of ways to budget for community partners are stipends for attending meetings, yearly honoraria for community-based organizations, or hourly budgeting for involvement in the research project.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to work with the Community PARTners Core at CTSI during the development and planning of the projects. The Community PARTners Core is made up of Community Engagement Coordinators and Core Directors that are experts in community-partnered research methodologies. The PARTners core can also assist teams in how to budget for community partnerships in research.

Proposals should also describe how they will disseminate results to the community in engaging and accessible ways; support is available from the Community PARTners Core for applicants who need assistance with community-level dissemination. Applicants should also create a plan for maintaining these relationships and committing to ongoing community-engaged research.

CTSI Assistance (optional)

If you would like to request a consultation, please fill out this form. Select “Community Engagement Support” and make note of your intention to apply for the SSIH Pilot Awards in the additional information section.

Key Dates

Round 1 LOI Submission Deadline:
February 13, 2023, by 11:59:59 p.m. EDT

Round 1 Notification:
February 27, 2023

Round 2 Full Proposal Submission Deadline:
March 20, 2023, by 11:59:59 p.m. EDT (by invitation)

Round 2 Notification:
April 10, 2023

Earliest Anticipated Start Date:
June 1, 2023
(award must start within three months of notification)

Funding Information

Applicants can request up to $35,000 in direct costs, with a maximum funding period of one year.

The funding cycle will be for 12 months after the start dateno extensions of this award period will be made. Funding cannot start until any necessary regulatory approvals have been received (IRB, hSCRO, IBC, CORID, IACUC). Projects must start within 3 months of Notification of the Award. Projects that do not start within 3 months will be forfeited.

CTSI pilots do not have any mechanism for no-cost extensions; any funds that are not used during the award period will be forfeited.

This program is eligible for the Training Bonus Award (  Because community engagement is a core requirement of this program, this program is not eligible for the Community Engagement Bonus.  Applications that intend to apply for a Bonus Award should state that intent in the application according to the instructions for the Bonus.


The Principal Investigator (PI) must be a University of Pittsburgh faculty member; postdoctoral trainees and trainees in clinical training programs are not eligible to serve as PI. Faculty members on early-career training awards or clinical research scholars (i.e., recipients of K-series or similar career development grants) are eligible. New PIs are strongly encouraged, but submissions from established investigators will be accepted if there is clear evidence that the pilot project represents a distinctly new direction from their previously funded work.

Study teams that involve cross-disciplinary collaborations are strongly encouraged. Co-investigators may be from other universities; however, CTSI’s primary mission is to promote research at the University of Pittsburgh, so applicants should justify extensive off-campus collaboration.

Using the Pitt InfoReady Submission Platform

CTSI recently transitioned to using the Pitt InfoReady grant submission platform to collect and review all pilot project submissions. If applicants have not previously used this system, they should be aware that they will be required to create a new account before they are able to upload their PDF submission. Applicants will be required to register their project in the system by providing the following information:

  •  A title for their project (50-character limit)
  •  A brief project summary (500-word limit) that should match the abstract and scope of work provided in the Letter of Intent

These fields are used primarily for internal reference and can be edited after the project has been registered. 

If you have any questions while using the system or encounter any errors while submitting, please contact CTSI Pilot Funding Core at

Submission and Review Information

How to Submit

Round 1: Letter of Intent

Please submit a letter of intent that summarizes the proposed research. Each submission must include the following sections:

  1. Study Title: Include the title of the proposal at the top of the page, along with the PI name and contact email.
  2. Abstract and Scope of Work (500-word limit): Please provide a high-level overview of the study and the proposed work. Be sure to indicate how the study will focus on SSIH and how the proposal represents a new direction for the PI.
  3. Study Team: Please provide the names and affiliations of all members of the study team and a brief description of their roles (25-50 words per person).
  4. Suggested Reviewers: To facilitate the final round of review, please suggest two to three faculty members, not from your department, who may be qualified to serve as scientific reviewers. Include email addresses for each suggested reviewer.

Applications should be in the form of a single PDF document; please use Arial size 11 font with margins of 0.5 inches. All materials must be submitted before 11:59 p.m. on Monday, February 13. Additional or supplemental materials cannot be accepted after the deadline and will not be reviewed.

Round 1: Review Criteria

The review of letters of intent will be conducted by the faculty and staff of CTSI. Proposals will be evaluated based on the thematic emphasis on SSIH, the utilization of community engagement methodology, and perceived impact. The results of this evaluation will determine which investigators will be invited to submit a full proposal for the second round of Engage.

Round 2: Full Packet Submission

Applications should be in the form of a single PDF document; please use Arial size 11 font, with margins of 0.5 inches. All materials must be submitted before 11:59 p.m. on Monday, March 20.

Additional or supplemental materials cannot be accepted after the deadline and will not be reviewed.

Include the following sections, beginning each section on a new page:

A. Project Overview (one page): The first page should include the following:

1. Scientific Abstract (250-word limit): Briefly summarize the proposed work.
2. Emphasis on SSIH (100-word limit): Indicate which domains factor into the proposed work, and how the proposed work represents a new direction for the investigators.

B. Research Plan (three-page limit, including tables and figures): This section should include the following elements from a traditional NIH proposal to best allow reviewers to address the review criteria:

1. Specific Aims
2. Significance
3. Innovation
4. Approach

C. References (no page limit): Literature cited does not count toward the Research Plan's three-page limit.

D. Budget with Budget Justification (no page limit): Use PHS 398 Form Page 4 and Page 5. The budget justification should include sufficient detail for reviewers to assess whether appropriate resources have been requested.

Grant funds may NOT be budgeted for:

  • Salary support for the PI or faculty collaborators*
  • Effort for post-doctoral trainees or fellows
  • Routine office supplies or communication costs, including printing
  • Meals or travel, including to conferences, except as required to collect data
  • Professional education or training
  • Computers or audiovisual equipment (exceptions require clear justification)
  • Manuscript preparation and submission
  • Indirect costs

*Effort is required of the Principal Investigators and must be reflected on the budget page, cost-shared by the respective departments. Reviewers understand that this may be a very small proportion of effort given the size of this award but will be cautious if investigators do not appear to have sufficient time to complete a project. Please note, an applicant who is currently the recipient of a mentored career development award (e.g., K12, K23, etc.) or a foundation-supported career development award may subsume the effort devoted to the project under the career development award if the project proposed is consistent with the career development award.

Any salary support requested in a submitted budget should reflect the University of Pittsburgh’s fringe benefit rates for federally-funded projects If an award is made, a budget meeting will be held between principal investigators, their respective research administrators, and financial administrators from the CTSI. If necessary, minor adjustments to the requested budget will be made at that meeting.

E. Proposal Timeline (up to half a page): Describe milestones and timeline for completion of the project. These milestones are critical for the pilot program because all awards must be expended during the one-year award. The CTSI Pilot program does not have mechanisms to allow no-cost extensions. In the event an award is made, investigators should immediately confer with CTSI staff if any delay in initiation or completion of the project is anticipated.

F. Human and/or Animal Subjects (no page limit): NIH supported pilot awards must address Protection of Human Subjects, Adequacy of Protection Against Risks, Data and Safety Monitoring Plans, Inclusion of Women and Minorities, and Inclusion of Children.

Human Research Protection Office (HRPO) approval is encouraged but not required prior to submission. However, HRPO approval is required for all projects involving human subjects before NCATS will approve project funding. Likewise, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) must approve any projects involving animal subjects prior to final funding approval.

Applicants must describe any human and/or animal subject issues, as well as the sources of materials that will be obtained from human subjects. If human subjects are involved, provide a description of their involvement and characteristics, specific risks to subjects who participate, and protection against those risks. Reviewers may consider whether significant delays in approval are an anticipated barrier for project completion when selecting projects. Evidence of prior or ongoing HRPO / IACUC review is encouraged. Similarly, this section should discuss if other special regulatory approval is required prior to funding: Human Stem Cell Research Oversight (hSCRO), Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC), Committee for Oversight of Research Involving the Dead (CORID), Radiation Safety Office (RSO), etc.

G. NIH Biosketches (no page limit): Include biosketches for the Principal Investigator and key members of the research team. Use new biosketch formats as of September 2017.


Round 2: Review Criteria

It is a requirement that the review of CTSI pilot proposals addresses the NIH review criteria. Reviewers will score final applications on an NIH scale (1-9) in the domains of Significance, Investigators, Innovation, Approach, and Environment. Special emphasis will be given to a rating of the overall impact of the proposed project. Note that the review (based on the criteria below) will be adjusted to the pilot nature of the award.

NIH Review Criteria:

1. Overall Impact: The likelihood for the project to exert a sustained, powerful influence on the research field
2. Significance: Does the project address an important problem or a critical barrier to progress in the field?
3. Investigators: Are the PD/PIs, collaborators, and other researchers well-suited, sufficient, and able to conduct the project?
4. Innovation: Does the project shift current research or clinical practice paradigms using novel theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions?
5. Approach: Are the strategies, methods, and analyses well-reasoned and appropriate to accomplish the specific aims of the project?
6. Environment: Are the personnel, equipment, and other physical resources available to the investigators to perform the proposed research within the time frame allotted?

Program-Specific Criteria:

7. Emphasis on SSIH: Does the project appropriately address the scope of the RFA by meaningfully addressing one or more of the six SSIH domains?
8. Utilization of Community Engagement Methodology: Does the project have a clear plan to use community engagement studios and community partnerships?