Yes, writing the innovation section (if you have a shred of humility) makes for an uneasy stomach. But it is possible to do, and feel proud of it.
First from the website (thus do not underestimate this section’s importance):
Significance and innovation are the peer review criteria reviewers use to assess the importance of your application.
Here are the questions that reviewers are told to ask:
Does the application challenge and seek to shift current research or clinical practice paradigms by utilizing novel theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions?
Are the concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions novel to one field of research or novel in a broad sense?
Is a refinement, improvement, or new application of theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions proposed?
Thus innovation is “newness” of methods, concepts, approaches, interventions. It can be a two-step thing: the application of an established method to a new problem.
But, its not just newness. It needs to be newness with a purpose and a potential. It needs to solve a problem in a new way. By definition one is asking a question that has not been asked before. But the project needs to be opening up a new way of thinking, a new way of approaching problems, that there is more than just the results will be new.
Do not get utility and innovation mixed up. There are lots of projects, that have not been done, that are potentially very useful. But they are not innovative.
Finally I leave you with the wisdom of Drug Monkey from three years ago:
I would suggest the “difficulty” reviewers have with the Innovation criterion is not confusion over what it really means. Rather it is *resistance* to the notion that Innovation should be more important than Approach and Significance. They just are not on board with this top-down emphasis of the NIH. So they strive to djinn up Innovation compliments for apps that are obviously lacking innovation because they like the approach and/or significance. …
The idea that NIH funded science should be all Innovation, all the time is idiocy. In the extreme. We’d never get anywhere without people doing the unglamorous work to follow up, verify, utilize, translate, generalize, extend and connect with the most innovative science.
Of course, this doesn’t excuse you from writing this section and doing the best you can with it.