Broader Impacts

All funding agencies hope that the work they support will bring tangible benefits to society.  But no agency (in the world) has articulated this hope as clearly as the US National Science Foundation (NSF).  Since 1997, NSF will not even consider a proposal unless it explicitly includes activities to demonstrate the project's 'broader impacts' on science or society at large [from Nature article, below].  This section of the Research website is being created to help faculty design and implement the education, diversity, and outreach "broader impact" (BI) components of their research proposals.

The NSF review criterion *was* typically divided into five areas:
1. Integrating research and education,
2. Broadening participation of underrepresented groups,
3. Enhancing infrastructure for research and education,
4. Broad dissemination of scientific ideas and methods (general scientific literacy), and
5. Direct benefit to society.  

In 2013, NSF added these further non-exhaustive examples of things it "values" for BI:

6. Increased partnerships between academia, industry, and other
7. Improved national security,
8. Increased economic competitiveness of the U.S.

Pointers to NSF documents with explanations and examples, including the 2010 America Competes Act,  and wording from the 2013 new Grant Proposal Guide can be found here.  A 2011 report (12/12/2011) to the National Science Board revised some of the categories.  The wording of the review criterion remains the same, but the categories and examples have been dropped as being "too prescriptive." Two principles are intact: 1) PIs need to collect data, when possible, to evaluate the effectiveness of projects, and 2) the institution and the individual need to "shoulder the responsibility" for BI together. Implications of the new 2013 wording for "mechanisms to assess success" are found below under "II."

Prospective PIs might think of the now 8 "areas" above like a Chinese menu, from which one can choose one activity from each of two or three categories.  The categories, while not exhaustive, may still be helpful. I use an excel spreadsheet to keep track of suggestions for a particular project.  You might like to download a Word version, and see if it's helpful.

Finding or creating mechanisms for institutional support for broader impacts has emerged as a national issue.  Representatives from universities and informal science venues around the country convened in 2013 and formed a national Broader Impacts Network. As a founding member, I have found it quite helpful and share suggestions in this website, when appropriate.  For example, check out "Broader Impacts 2.0": 7 pages of Frequently Asked Questions that were actually asked by 150 or so scientists from grad students to established researchers attending a series of public forums.  Also, be sure to visit the BI Wizard created by the same people help you develop a broader impact statement that will satisfy NSF Criterion II and fulfill your interest in communicating your science. The quick and easy five-step process will produce an outline of important points to include in your BI statement and will help frame discussions with your BI partners. (giving credit)

BELOW:  The bullets below are to local resources to facilitate projects once you settle on the broad categories that are most appropriate for your subject matter and capabilities.

I. Pointers to Broader Impacts Resources at UMass Amherst:

This website is trying to gather information on materials specific to the sciences and engineering and mathematics, but there's lots more going on at UMass Amherst.  And your projects may want to build on a program that is not currently geared at STEM.  More general campus resources can be found at these two databases (new in 2013--and still growing): 

UMass Worldwide: A web portal for general access to what the campus is doing in the community, nearby and not-so-nearby.  It is easy to navigate and search by program type, impact area, or by community, and includes a browsable map of campus engagement.

Volunteer UMass: (may need to scroll down on their website to find it) This database focuses on matching up student volunteers and organizations looking for student volunteers, as part of the Student Life area.

Below, Broader Impacts Resources more specific to STEM (or your BI).

A. Outreach/ Diversity Resources (on-campus entities)

  • For access to minority serving institutions 
  • Partnerships with community colleges
  • Resources for minority candidates at UMA
  • Programs oriented to women and girls in science 

B. Outreach/ Diversity (off-campus, community partners)

C.  (Unconventional/ nonSTEM) Campus Allies for Broader Dissemination
C2. Campus Initiatives for Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning.

D. Database of Community Contacts Search by community, colleague, program type, start with Impact Area "Science and Technology"

E. Collaborations with Other Universities

F. Diversity Funding (for PIs)

G. Women in Science campus connections

H. "Sample Language" and other aids for NSF CAREER proposals  

I. Archived materials from Broader Impacts Workshops (2011 through 2015)

J.  Letters of collaboration--guidelines and samples

K. Help with other "non-intellectual merit" parts of proposals:

II. Evaluating your BI project: Did it work?

New for 2013.  The 2013 revision of the NSF Grant Proposal Guide Chapter II C.2.d. includes this easily missed phrase:  "Intellectual Merit *and Broader Impact* activities must be described in two separate sections in the summary of 'Results from Prior NSF Support.'"  I think it's safe to say that most reports of results from prior NSF support have not included a separate section on Broader Impacts.  However, starting in 2013, you will need to 1) have documented what you did and 2) be in a position to say how effective it was.  It won't need to be long and involved--but it is something everyone will need to plan for.  Therefore, we provide these suggestions for evaluation, and invite you to contact the Office of Research Development for a consultation. 

--Evaluation Resource Pages

III. Philosophical and practical discussions about BI here and elsewhere

BI and its counterparts at other funding agencies are undergoing changes in their philosophy and implementation.  Here is a recent article from Nature that summarizes some of the current discussion.
The IOS directorate at NSF has started to feature discussions of broader impacts in their newsletter/blog. The article (by Matt Rutter at the College of Charleston) at this link spotlights an example of a project that is particularly good at *integrating* the BI and IM.  That is more of an option for some topics than others, but even for people who do "basic science," the perspective might be helpful.  All projects can use the strategy of partnering, which is a particular strength for the research Rutter presents.

The Nature article refers us to a 2009 issue of the journal Social Epistemology (vol. 23, nos. 3 & 4) which is devoted to a 2007 Colorado School of Mines-NSF workshop on “Making Sense of the Broader Impacts of Science and Technology.”  The journal is available through our library, but I have posted one article, "Implementation of NSF's "Broader Impacts": Efficiency Considerations and Alternative Approaches" by biologist (and dean) Warren Burggen of the University of North Texas.  I feel he lays out NSF's dilemma with helpful insight. (There's also my summary of the high points, the "Cliff Notes" version, at the link.) 

Also, an article in Change (May/June 2009) describes a model, implemented at U Wisconsin-Madison and a handful of other schools, to build the infrastructure in the university for "Leveraging the NSF Broader-Impacts Criterion for Change in STEM Education." One goal is joining a network of similar programs whose main mission is to enhance individual efforts through a strong institutional commitment.

Finally, if you want yet another perspective, here is a link to a 2011 doctoral dissertation by a degree candidate in English rhetoric, David Christensen of Utah State on Career applications.  He makes the assumption that almost all applicants are capable of excellent science, but asks what textual, content, rhetorical and "systemic" factors distingush funded proposals from unfunded ones.

We anticipate that the campus' support for "BI" will be constantly progressing and changing, so we plan to keep these pages growing and changing, too.

--Maintained by Academic Liaison, Barbara Pearson, of the Office of Research Development (8/2015)
     (Check out our Broader Impacts tri-fold brochure.)