Broader Impacts

Most funding agencies hope that the work they support will bring tangible benefits to society. The National Science Foundation (NSF) especially emphasizes the need for applicants to justify not only the intellectual merit of proposed research, but also its broader impacts. While intellectual merit refers to the potential to advance knowledge and encompasses the scientific goals, rationale, and method of the project, in a broader impacts statement, applicants address the actions they will take to enhance the potential of the research to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes (as defined, for example, in NSF's Grant Proposal Guide Section III.A.2).

A number of other funding agencies also promote activities related to broader impacts, such as programs that promote research translation, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, diversity of the science workforce societal impact, and public understanding.

This section provides information and links that researchers can draw on to design and implement the broader impact components of research proposals.

NSF-Specific Guidance

There is no boiler-plate.  Each broader impacts component must be tightly integrated with the specific project being proposed, and needs to stand out for impact compared to the other proposals in the competition.  Researchers are encouraged to address at least a couple of the following broad domains in each proposal requiring the demonstration of broader impacts.

  • Building STEM Talent, including broadening participation of underrepresented groups
  • Innovating for the future, for example by advancing discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning
  • Improving our society
  • Reaching beyond borders
  • Engaging a wider audience, with broad dissemination of findings and methods

An NSF webpage using these categories showcases examples of successful broader impacts projects, along with a twitter feed where news of newer projects can be found.  

For more information, or consultation on your own broader impacts component, please contact Barbara Pearson, Broader Impacts Specialist at bpearson@research.umass.edu or (413) 545-5023.

Infographic from the National Alliance for Broader Impacts summarizing ways to fulfill NSF's BI criterion:  

Related Links

National Alliance for Broader Impacts, (NABI) a national group funded by an NSF Research Coordination Network grant.

NABI Broader Impacts Guiding Principles and Questions (new!), brief detailed overview of factors to consider in making a BI section 

Broader Impacts Wizard - Provides a quick and easy five-step process that will produce an outline of important points to include in your BI statement and will help frame discussions with your BI partners.

Researchers can find examples of community projects supported by the Public Service Endowment Fund (PSEG), an internal funding program to support community engaged research and outreach projects.