Most funding agencies hope that the work they support will bring tangible benefits to society. The National Science Foundation (NSF) values the advancement of scientific knowledge and activities that contribute to the achievement of societally relevant outcomes.The 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 in NSF's Grant Proposal Guide Chapter II Section C.2.d.i.Content.
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, implement, and evaluate the broader impact components of their NSF research proposals.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.
A strategic objective in support of NSF’s mission is to foster integration of research and education through the programs, projects, and activities it supports at NSF grantee organizations. These organizations recruit, train, and prepare a diverse science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce to advance the frontiers of science and participate in the US technology-based economy.
NSF’s contribution to the national innovation ecosystem is to provide cutting-edge research under the guidance of the Nation’s most creative scientists and engineers.
NSF also supports development of a strong STEM workforce by investing in building the knowledge that informs improvements in STEM teaching and learning.
NSF’s mission calls for the broadening of opportunities and expanding participation of groups, organizations, and geographic regions that are underrepresented in STEM disciplines, which is 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.
Guidance on How Broader Impacts Can Be Accomplished
Through the research itself (i.e., research that has potential to lead to breakthroughs in certain industries or contribute to solutions to societal problems)
Through the activities that are directly related to specific research projects (e.g., using the research project as a training ground for students or early-career scientists)
Through activities that are supported by, but are complementary to, the project (e.g., running an educational workshop for high school students on your research topic)
Examples of Target Outcomes for Broader Impacts Activities
- Full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in STEM
- Improved STEM education and educator development at any level
- Increased public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology
- Improved well-being of individuals in society
- Development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce
- Increased partnerships between academia, industry, and others
- Improved national security
- Increased economic competitiveness of the United States
- Enhanced infrastructure for research and education
Examples of successful broader impacts projects
The NSF Broader Impacts webpage showcases examples of successful broader impacts projects, along with a twitter feed where news of newer projects can be found.