OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR
September 20, 1999
National Science Foundation Merit Review
Merit review is a critical component of the National Science Foundation’s
decision-making process for funding research and education projects. Two
years ago, NSF announced changes in its merit review criteria (Important
Notice No. 121, New Criteria for NSF Proposals, July 10, 1997). The
changes reflected extensive analysis and discussion, with community input.
Recommendations were considered to simplify the merit review criteria and
harmonize them with the NSF strategic plan, in order to weigh a proposal’s
technical merit, creativity, educational impact and its potential benefits to
society. This process resulted in the two criteria now in effect, which
address the intellectual merit of the proposed activity and its broader
We want to ensure that the criterion relating to broader impacts is
considered and addressed in proposals and reviews. We ask you -- as
principal investigators who develop and submit proposals, and as experts who
review proposals -- to consider both intellectual merit and broader impacts
in preparing and evaluating proposals for NSF. At the same time, we will
continue to strengthen NSF’s internal processes to ensure that both criteria
are appropriately addressed when making funding decisions.
Through use of rigorous, competitive merit review, NSF maintains high
standards of excellence and accountability. It enables investments in
projects that couple the best ideas from the most capable researchers and
educators, with the advancement of discovery and learning and the enrichment
of the science and engineering resources. The full text of the two merit
review criteria and supporting explanations, from the upcoming revision to
the NSF Grant Proposal Guide (NSF 00-2), are provided in the attachment.
Rita R. Colwell
NSF MERIT REVIEW CRITERIA
NSF merit review criteria are listed below. Following each criterion are
potential considerations that the reviewer may employ in the evaluation.
These are suggestions and not all will apply to any given proposal. Each
reviewer will be asked to address only those that are relevant to the
proposal and for which he/she is qualified to make judgments.
Criterion 1: What is the intellectual merit of the proposed
How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and
understanding within its own field or across different fields? How well
qualified is the proposer (individual or team) to conduct the project? (If
appropriate, the reviewer will comment on the quality of prior work.) To
what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative and
original concepts? How well conceived and organized is the proposed
activity? Is there sufficient access to resources?
Criterion 2: What are the broader impacts of the proposed
How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while
promoting teaching, training, and learning? How well does the proposed
activity broaden the participation of underrepresented groups (e.g., gender,
ethnicity, disability, geographic, etc.)? To what extent will it enhance the
infrastructure for research and education, such as facilities,
instrumentation, networks, and partnerships? Will the results be
disseminated broadly to enhance scientific and technological understanding?
What may be the benefits of the proposed activity to society?
PIs should address the following elements in their proposal to provide
reviewers with the information necessary to respond fully to the
above-described NSF merit review criteria. NSF staff will give these
elements careful consideration in making funding decisions.
Integration of Research and Education
One of the principal strategies in support of NSF’s goals is to foster
integration of research and education through the programs, projects and
activities it supports at academic and research institutions. These
institutions provide abundant opportunities where individuals may
concurrently assume responsibilities as researchers, educators, and students,
and where all can engage in joint efforts that infuse education with the
excitement of discovery and enrich research through the diversity of learning
Integrating Diversity into NSF Programs, Projects, and Activities
Broadening opportunities and enabling the participation of all citizens --
women and men, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities --
are essential to the health and vitality of science and engineering. NSF is
committed to this principle of diversity and deems it central to the
programs, projects, and activities it considers and supports.