A staff member talks about an exhibit with Hefner Museum visitors. The walls of the museum are filled with the stuffed heads of various grazing animals.

NABI steering committee member delivers workshop on Broader Impacts

Professor Burcin Bayram stands at the front of a lecture hall. First graders fill the student seats. Various science instruments are arranged on a table behind Bayram. The projection screens behind her have pictures of light traveling through various media. They are labeled: "Light Travels in a Straight Line," "Light Reflects," and "Light Refracts."
Burcin Bayram, professor of physics demonstrates lasers for first graders from the Talawanda School District as part of Miami University’s Science Week.

In May, Liz Nysson, a member of the steering committee for the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI), delivered a workshop on the NSF Broader Impacts (BI) criterion for Miami University faculty. During the workshop, she shared information about BI and tips for designing BI activities and addressing BI in proposals.

Defining Broader Impacts

Nysson explained that Broader Impacts is the merit review criteria that NSF uses when reviewing grant proposals that specifically addresses the societal impacts associated with the proposed activities. Largely, Broader Impacts are intended to improve society and increase the country’s STEM workforce. According to the most recent legislation guiding NSF’s review of Broader Impacts (the 2017 American Innovation and Competitiveness Act), appropriate BI activities are those that help demonstrate meet one or more of the following goals:

  • Increase the economic competitiveness of the U.S.*
  • Improve the health and welfare of individuals in society*
  • Improve national security*
  • Enhance partnerships between academia and industry*
  • Improve PreK-12 STEM education and teacher development and undergraduate STEM education and instruction to develop a globally competitive American workforce
  • Increase scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology in the U.S.
  • Expand the participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in STEM

The goals marked with an asterisk (*) in the above list are ones Nysson said may be inherent to the research outcomes of some proposed projects. science of some disciplines. In those cases, the potential societal impacts of the research intrinsic to the results, products, and other activities should be clearly outlined discussed as such in the proposal.

It is not necessary for an individual PI’s BI activities to address all of the established goals. In fact, Nysson said that proposing to do too much in terms of BI could undermine a proposal by raising a question in reviewers’ minds about the PI’s ability to follow through on the proposed work.

Making Broader Impacts work for the PI

Treating BI as more than an afterthought is key to addressing this review criterion effectively in proposals. Nysson’s said in her experience PIs’ perceptions of BI fall at various points on a continuum that is anchored at one end by “burden” and at the other by “opportunity,” with the notion of BI as a “box-checking” exercise occupying the center. She urged workshop participants who might fall closer to the “burden” end of the continuum to reorient themselves so that they might find opportunities to enhance their research programs through effective BI.

Such opportunities can be achieved, Nysson suggested, by choosing BI activities that are important not just to society, but also to the PI. Research by Julie Risien at Oregon State University suggests the optimal situation is for PIs to work to identify the overlap between themselves, their capacity, their field, and society, between what they would love to do, what they can do, and what they should do.

Nysson recommended the following resources for researchers working to develop an effective BI plan:

She also offered the following specific examples of BI activities as models:

Additional tips from Nysson include:

  • Starting BI planning early
  • Integrating BI activities with research activities
  • Selecting BI activities that are directly related to the proposed project, either supported by it or complementary to it
  • Considering partnerships with schools, clubs (e.g., scouts, 4-H, Girls Who Code), or other organizations (e.g., museums, LSAMP programs)

Nysson cautioned that starting early is especially important for researchers who want to partner with schools, clubs, or other organizations. Coordinating with those groups to ensure that activities benefit their constituents and are effectively implemented can take longer than many PIs realize.

Addressing Broader Impacts in the proposal

Although many PIs think of the Project Description as the only section of a proposal concerned with BI, Nysson said a BI message should be clear and present throughout the proposal in various ways. Doing so reinforces the message that the BI activities are integrated with the research and integral to the project. Section by section, her advice was as follows:

  • Project Summary: Include a distinct section for BI
  • Project Description: Include a distinct section for BI
  • Biographical Sketches: Be sure to mention any diversity and inclusion training personnel participated in and include any collaborations that demonstrate BI
  • Budget and Budget Justification: Ideally, the budget should include costs for BI activities, but if it doesn’t, the reason should be explained in the budget justification
  • Special Information and Supplementary Documentation
    • Postdoctoral Researcher Mentoring Plan: Take special care to address BI, as this section is reviewed under the BI criterion
    • Data Management Plan: Include BI as appropriate
    • Letters of Collaboration: Include letters from any BI collaborators (be sure the letters follow the strict format provided in NSF’s Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide)
    • Other sub-sections: Include BI as appropriate

Nysson reminded PIs that they will want to include BI activities in their Annual, Final, and Project Outcomes Reports.

Finally, Nysson recommended that PI make sure they reserve enough room in their narrative to explain and justify their activities. Specifically, she said the narrative should:

  • Explain how BI activities are innovative (new programs) or effective (existing programs)
  • Present a well-organized strategy for accomplishing clearly stated BI goals
  • Establish the qualifications of those responsible for BI activities
  • Demonstrate sufficient resources to support BI activities
  • Communicate a plan to assess and document the results of BI activities

In the case of activities related to broadening participation, Nysson said it is important to collect (anonymous) demographic information on participants to demonstrate fulfillment of this BI goal.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Hefner Museum photo by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services. Physics lab photo by Jeff Sabo, Miami University Photo Services.

NSF Biological Sciences Directorate discusses broader impacts

We’re pleased to reblog this Bio Buzz post.  Bio Buzz is the blog of the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences, Office of the Assistant Director.

Are you looking for information about the Broader Impacts merit review criterion? Not sure what qualifies as a Broader Impacts activity? Check out these resources and then take a quiz to test your Broader Impacts smarts!

Here’s where to find information about Broader Impacts:

The NSF Office of Integrative Activities Broader Impacts web page: http://go.usa.gov/3MdBV

Screenshot from NSF Office of Integrative Activities Broader Impacts web page. Text: Home. Funding. Awards. Discoveries. News. Publications. Statistics. About NSF. FastLane. National Science Foundation. Office of Integrative Activities (OIA). Quick Links. Search. Broader Impacts. Improving Society. Workforce.

Scroll down on the OIA page and you’ll see a list of related web pages.

Screenshot from bottom of NSF OIA website broader impacts page. Text: Related Websites: Broader Impacts. Perspectives Brochure. 2014 Broader Impacts Infrastructure Summit. NSF Director Dr. France Cordova's speech at the 2014 Broader Impacts Infrastructure Summit. NSF Office of Integrative Activities. Share your stories about broader impacts at broaderimpacts@nsf.gov.

The Broader Impacts Perspectives brochure can be downloaded as a .pdf. The brochure includes highlights from the Broader Impacts Infrastructure Summit and examples of broader impacts activities.

Cover of Broader Impacts Perspectives brochure. Text: Perspectives on Broader Impacts. National Science Foundation.

If you are planning to submit a proposal to NSF, be sure to follow the instructions in the Grant Proposal Guide (“GPG”). The current (as of 10/2/2015) GPG is NSF 15-001 (aka 15-1) dated December 26, 2014: http://go.usa.gov/3Mdqm.

The GPG includes important information about the Broader Impacts and Intellectual Merit merit review criteria in a few different places: the Project Summary section (IIC2b), the Project Description section (IIC2di), and the Merit Review Principles and Criteria section (IIIA).

Screenshot from NSF Grant Proposal Guide web page. Text: National Science Foundation. Where Discoveries Begin. Quick Links. Search. Home. Funding. Awards. Discoveries. News. Publications. Statistics. About NSF. FastLane. PAPPG - Introduction. A. About the NSF. B. Foreward. C. Acrnonym List. Definitions. NSF Organizations. PAPPG - Table of Contents. Grant Proposal Guide. NSF 15-1 December 26, 2014. GPG - Table of Contents. GPG - Printable Version. Significant Changes and Clarifications to the PAPPG. Pre-Submission Information. NSF Proposal Preparation and Submission. NSF Programs and Funding Opportunities. Categories of Funding Opportunities. Dear Colleague Letter. Program Description.

Review the resources above and come back and take our Broader Impacts quiz!
(Click images to enlarge.)

Quiz slide. Text: True or False? Your research itself must fulfill the broader impacts merit review criterion.


Quiz slide. Text: True or False? Broader Impacts activities must include one or both of the following: engagement with K-12 classroom teachers and/or students. Inclusion of women and/or minority undergraduate or graduate students or postdocs in the research project.


Quiz slide. Text: True or False? Mentoring activities provided to postdoctoral researchers supported on the project are evaluated under the Broader Impacts review criterion.


Quiz slide. Text: True or False? Your Data Management Plan cannot be considered under the Broader Impacts review criterion.


Remember to share your stories about Broader Impacts activities with your Program Officer and via email to broaderimpacts[at]nsf.gov.

Source: Broader Impacts

Image by rdh via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Workshop targets NSF broader impacts

Concentric circles in water show the ripple effect.

Creativity is the key to a broader impacts statement that makes an NSF proposal stand out from the crowd, says Joyce Fernandes, professor of biology at Miami University and a former program officer with the NSF.

Fernandes, who led an October 14 workshop on NSF broader impacts statements hosted by OARS, also says it’s not enough to talk about teaching and mentoring undergraduate students because those are things most applicants do. “You have to think outside the box to leverage the proposed research to include ‘value-added’ activities,” she says.

Becoming familiar with the details of the NSF broader impacts review criterion is an obvious starting point for researchers seeking to strengthen their proposals. These details reveal the NSF’s focus on three areas: research, education, and the public. Therefore, says Fernandes, the broader impacts section of a proposal generally includes discussion of the following:

  • Impacts on the broad research field
  • Integration of educational activities with the proposed research
  • Public outreach

Demonstrating an impact in at least two these three areas of NSF emphasis is desireable, Fernandes says, because it demonstrates accountability in the use of taxpayer dollars.

To provide evidence of past success in broader impacts activities, Fernandes says researchers must figure out how to quantify their accomplishments. One suggestion she offered is for researchers to document their students’ publications and conference presentations to illustrate the impact their mentorship has had on students.

Other suggestions include discussing the interdisciplinarity or diversity of the research team (when relevant) and explaining how unique aspects of a particular academic environment will be leveraged.

Fernandes made this last point in response to a workshop participant’s question about how to address the participation of postdoctoral researchers at Miami, an institution where such positions are not common. “Show how that’s a positive,” Fernandes advised. “Miami may be a non-traditional choice for a postdoc, but we do offer experiences and interactions a young researcher wouldn’t get anywhere else.”

Another strategy Fernandes suggests is to explain how an individual lab’s work is integrated with the work going on within the larger community – the department, the institution, and the region. Demonstrating how broader impacts activities are aligned with institutional and regional goals shows that the work is culturally ingrained, and also helps speak to the issue of sustainability.

Examples of broader impacts activities discussed at the workshop include K-12 outreach in the form of teacher training and participation in the development of curriculum modules, post-doctoral mentoring, data analysis in classes, partnerships with HBCUs, and institutional summer programs. She said games and trading cards that get students excited about learning science are among the most engaging broader impacts deliverables she’s seen included in NSF-funded projects.

Fernandes also pointed out some broader impacts often overlooked by researchers, including fostering interdisciplinarity, visualizing data, and contributing to workforce development.

While broader impacts are very important in NSF proposals, Fernandes cautions researchers not to focus on them at the expense of the research’s intellectual merit. “A proposal will not fare well if it has excellent intellectual merit, but a minimal discussion of broader impacts,” she says. “But the reverse is also true. A proposal with excellent broader impacts must have a solid and sound research plan to be competitive.”

Intellectual merit and broader impacts must also be well-integrated. “You can’t divorce broader impacts from your research goals,” Fernandes says. A workshop participant with experience as a proposal reviewer seconded this advice, saying that doing that is “a proposal killer.” In that same vein, Fernandes says it’s also important to be cognizant of how budget allocations support broader impacts.

Upcoming workshops led by Joyce Fernandes:

  • November 4
    “Funding opportunities for STEM education”
    RSVP here.
  • November 11
    “NSF resubmission: how to decipher the panel summary”
    RSVP here.
  • November 18
    “Communicating with the NSF program officer: how, why, do’s and don’ts”
    RSVP here.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director & Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Water drop image by Harold de Smet via Flickr. Ripple image by Roger McLassus (improved by DemonDeLuxe) via Wikimedia Commons.  Both used under Creative Commons license.