Broader Impacts Review Criterion
The National Science Foundation employs two criteria in the merit
review of proposals: What is the intellectual merit of the proposed
activity? What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?
While most researchers know what is meant by Intellectual Merit,
experience shows that many researchers have a less than clear understanding
of the meaning of Broader Impacts.
Grant Proposal Guide uses a series of questions to
illustrate the Broader Impacts criterion: “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? “
These questions help to assess the potential of the proposed activity
- beyond the research, per se - to benefit the Nation.
Thus, the Broader Impacts criterion speaks directly to the mission
of the National Science Foundation, “To promote the progress
of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare;
and to secure the national defense.” (NSF Act of 1950).
It may be helpful to illustrate the kinds of activity that are
appropriate to each of the questions above. Caveat lector -
the following list is neither prescriptive nor exhaustive and should
not be read in ways that constrain the creativity of researchers
in proposing activities with broader impact. However, in all instances
a proposal must be specific in how it addresses the Broader Impacts
Advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching,
training, and learning, for example, by training graduate
students, mentoring postdoctoral researchers and junior faculty, involving
undergraduates in research experiences, and participating in
the recruitment, training, and professional development of K-12
mathematics and science teachers.
Broaden participation of under-represented groups, for
example,by establishing collaborations with students and faculty
from institutions and organizations serving women, minorities,
and other groups under-represented in the mathematical sciences.
Enhance infrastructure for research and education, for
example, byestablishing collaborations with researchers in industry
and government laboratories, developing partnerships with international
academic institutions and organizations, and building networks
of U.S. colleges and universities.
Broaden dissemination to enhance scientific and technological
understanding, for example, bypresenting results of
research and education projects in formats useful to students,
scientists and engineers, members of Congress, teachers, and
the general public.
Benefits to society mayoccur, for example, when
results of research and education projects are applied to other
fields of science and technology to create startup companies, to
improve commercial technology, to inform public policy, and to
enhance national security.
Further examples of broader impacts can be found in the NSF document Merit
Review Broader Impacts Criterion: Representative Activities. Of
course, not every proposal must demonstrate impact in each
of these pre-defined areas. Rather, activities with significant
broader impact will emerge from the nature of the proposal
and the authentic interests of the proposer.
Director, Division of Mathematical Sciences
National Science Foundation