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OPP Office Advisory Committee —
Working Group1 on Implementation of Review — Criterion #2

February 7, 2001


The National Science Board approved revised criteria for evaluating National Science Foundation proposals in March of 1997. These criteria, which are designed to be relevant across NSF’s many different programs, were implemented on October 1, 1997.

The two new merit review criteria are listed below. Following each criterion are issues reviewers may wish to consider. Not all suggestions apply to all proposals.

Criterion 1: What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

  • 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 to conduct the project?
  • 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 activity?

  • 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?


The report that follows focuses exclusively on Review Criterion #2 and is an initial step in addressing some of the concerns raised in discussions of the OPP advisory committee. It provides specific examples of activities appropriate for review under Criterion #2. The examples are not meant to be exhaustive or directive; the goal in providing them is to stimulate creativity on the part of the community.

Advanced Discovery and Understanding While Promoting Teaching, Training, and Learning


Integration of research and education is one of "three core strategies that guide [NSF] in establishing priorities, identifying opportunities, and designing new programs and activities... . Effective integration of research and education at all levels infuses learning with the excitement of discovery and assures that the findings and methods of research are quickly and effectively communicated in a broader context and to a larger audience" (NSF GPRA Strategic Plan 2001 - 2006).

Examples of Suggested Activities:

  • Integrate research activities into teaching of graduate students, undergraduate science majors, and general education students at all levels.
  • Integrate research activities into guest lectures, case studies, and problem sets.
  • Develop research-based educational materials and contribute to databases (e.g. K-16 digital library) useful in teaching.
  • Partner with educators to research effective means of incorporating research into learning and education.
  • Establish special mentoring programs for undergraduates, graduate students, and technicians conducting research.
  • Involve graduate and post-doctoral researchers in undergraduate teaching activities.
  • Develop links to special programs such as REU or TEA. REU is particularly relevant, providing a platform where promising undergraduates can participate directly in cutting edge research projects. The TEA program allows teachers to experience field research and relate these experiences to students and other teachers through the web, through their own lectures and through guest lectures by the sponsoring PI. The Schoolyard project allows investigators involved with the LTER program to work one-on-one with students and teachers at local schools.
  • Give science presentations to the broader community/promote life-long learning: e.g. at museums, and libraries, on radio shows and with other venues that reach broad audiences.
  • Develop, adopt, adapt and implement effective models and pedagogic approaches.

Broaden Participation of Under-represented Groups


One of NSF’s five-year strategies is to "broaden participation and enhance diversity in NSF programs. At present, several groups, including underrepresented minorities, women, certain types of institutions, and some geographic areas, perceive barriers to their full participation in the science and engineering enterprise. NSF is committed to leading the way to an enterprise that fully captures the strength of America's diversity." (NSF GPRA Strategic Plan 2001-2006).

Examples of Suggested Activities:

  • Partner with members of under-represented groups at the researcher’s home institution in research, education and outreach activities.
  • Partner with members of under-represented groups from other institutions — for example, those serving minority groups or women.
  • Make campus visits and presentations at colleges and universities that serve underrepresented groups.
  • Establish collaborations with underserved groups, institutions and geographic regions in order to encourage new entrants into student and proposal applicant pools.
  • Establish research and education partnerships with faculty and students at RUI and EPSCoR institutions.
  • Develop partnerships with community colleges, which serve approximately half of all U.S. undergraduates and close to half of every minority and ethnic group.
  • Mentor early-career scientists who are submitting NSF proposals for the first time.
  • Document the impact of research in terms of relevance to under-represented groups.
  • Participate in developing strategies that involve new approaches, such as use of information technology and connectivity, to engage underserved individuals, groups, and communities in science and engineering.
  • Participate in conferences, workshops and field activities where diversity is a priority.

Enhance Infrastructure for Research and Education


The NSF Act of 1950 authorizes and directs the Foundation "to foster and support the development and use of computer and other scientific and engineering methods and technologies, primarily for research and education in the sciences and engineering... NSF investments provide state-of-the-art tools for research and education, such as instrumentation and equipment, multi-user facilities, ... telescopes, research vessels and aircraft, ... Internet-based and distributed user facilities, ..., research networks, digital libraries and large databases." (NSF GPRA Strategic Plan 2001-2006).

Examples of Suggested Activities:

  • Stimulate and support the development and dissemination of next-generation instrumentation, multi-user facilities, and other shared research and education platforms.
  • Maintain, operate and modernize shared research and education tools such as science and technology centers, engineering research centers, and other facilities that house telescopes, mass spectrometers, electron microprobes, ion probes, accelerators, etc.
  • Upgrade the computation and computing infrastructure, including advanced computing resources.
  • Develop/upgrade new types of tools, such as large databases, networks and associated systems, and digital libraries; contribute to development of new types of facilities such as environmental observatories and collaboratories.
  • Develop activities which ensure that multi-user facilities are not only sites of technological breakthroughs in instrumentation but also sites of research and mentoring for many science and engineering students.
  • Identify and establish collaborations between disciplines and institutions, among the U.S. academe, industry and government, and with international partners in order to enable optimal development of large infrastructure projects.

Broad Dissemination to Enhance Scientific and Technological Understanding


"NSF advocates and encourages open scientific communication. It expects significant findings from supported research and educational activities to be promptly submitted for publication... . It expects PIs to share with other researchers, at no more than incremental cost and within a reasonable time, the data, samples, physical collections and other supporting materials created or gathered in the course of the work. It also encourages grantees to share software and inventions ... and otherwise to make the innovations ... widely useful and usable."

Examples of Suggested Activities:

  • Publish in the peer-reviewed scientific literature in a timely manner.
  • Make available data in a timely manner by means of databases, or other venues as CD-ROMS and provide data and other information for digital libraries.
  • Publish in diverse media (e.g. technical and non-literature, websites, CD-ROMS, presskits) to reach broad audiences.
  • Identify venues for presenting research results in easy-to-use formats that are useful to members of Congress, policy-makers, and broader audiences.
  • Participate in multi- and interdisciplinary conferences, workshops, and research activities.
  • Integrate research with education activities in order to communicate in a broader context.

Benefits to Society


NSF is committed to fostering connections between discoveries and their use in service to society. The knowledge provided by NSF funded research projects provides a rich foundation for its broad and useful application. For example, projects may contribute to understanding the environment, commercial technology, public policy, health or safety and other aspects of the public welfare.

Examples of Suggested Activities:

  • Demonstrate the linkage between discovery and societal benefit by providing specific examples and explanations regarding the potential application of research results.
  • Partner with other academic scientists or staff at federal agencies to integrate research into broader programs and activities of national interest.
  • Partner with the private sector (e.g., consulting firms) on both technological and scientific projects to develop products that will benefit society.
  • Analyze, interpret, and synthesize research results in formats understandable and useful for non-scientists.
  • Provide information for policy formulation by Federal, State or local agencies.

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1Working Group Members
Stephanie Pfirman, Chairperson and 1999 OAC Chairperson

OAC Members
Mary Albert, 2000 OAC Chairperson
John Carlstrom
John Priscu

NSF Staff Members
Maryellen Cameron
Julie Palais
Jane Dionne

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2Paragraphs 1 and 2 are taken directly from the NSF Grant Proposal Guide (NSF 00-2).

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