NSF Broader Impacts

All NSF proposals are evaluated through the use of two merit review criteria:

  • Intellectual Merit (the potential to advance knowledge)
  • Broader Impacts (the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desire societal outcomes)

Although NSF does not provide a quantitative comparison of value of each criterion, the NSF Grant Proposal Guide states, “both criteria are to be given full consideration during the review and decision-making processes; each criterion is necessary but neither, by itself is sufficient. Therefore, proposers must fully address both criteria.” The Project Description must contain a separate section within the narrative that discusses the broader impacts of the proposed activities.

NSF Goals for Broader Impacts

The NSF Grant Proposal Guide also states, “Broader impacts may be accomplished through the research itself, through the activities that are directly related to specific research projects, or through activities that are supported by, but are complementary to the project. NSF values the advancement of scientific knowledge and activities that contribute to the achievement of societally relevant outcomes. Such outcomes include, but are not limited to:

  • Full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (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; and
  • Enhanced infrastructure for research and education.”

How NSF Reviews Broader Impacts

“When evaluating NSF proposals, reviewers will be asked to consider what the proposers want to do, why they want to do it, how they plan to do it, how they will know if they succeed, and what benefits could accrue if the project is successful.”  Since January 2013, NSF reviewers will consider the same five elements to review BI as well as Intellectual Merit (source):

  1. What is the potential for the proposed activity to benefit society or advance desired societal outcomes?

  2. To what extent do the proposed activities suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?

  3. Is the plan for carrying out the proposed activities well-reasoned, well-organized, and based on a sound rationale? Does the plan incorporate a mechanism to assess success?

  4. How well-qualified is the individual, team, or organization to conduct the proposed activities?

  5. Are there adequate resources available to the PI (either at the home organization or through collaborations) to carry out the proposed activities? 

NSF requires the Authorized Organization Representative (UCSC Office of Sponsored Projects) to certify that there is organizational support for the proposal, including the portion of the proposal developed to satisfy the Broader Impacts Review Criterion.