The National Science Foundation (NSF) receives approximately 50,000 proposals for research funding each year. Because there are more worthy proposals than NSF can fund, the foundation evaluates proposals through a merit review process that incorporates two criteria:
- Intellectual merit
- Broader impacts
For the NSF, "intellectual merit" is about the potential to advance knowledge, and "broader impacts" refers to the potential for a research effort to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific societal outcomes. All proposals must address each of the two criteria fully and in separate statements.
NSF reviewers consider what 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 a project is successful. Broader impacts may be accomplished through:
- The research itself (for example, research that seeks to use statistics to improve predictions of severe weather)
- Activities that are directly related to specific research projects (such as projects that provide research opportunities for high school and undergraduate students)
- Activities that are supported by, but are complementary to the project (for example, novel semiconductor research that provides interdisciplinary research experiences for undergraduate and graduate students and also targets underrepresented high school students)
Proposals must include a statement on the broader impacts of the proposed research in order to be considered for funding. According to NSF, a well-written broader impacts section "should include activities that are clearly described; have a well-justified rationale; and demonstrate creativity or originality, or have a basis in established approaches. The proposer should have a well-organized strategy for accomplishment of clearly stated goals; establish the qualifications of those responsible for the activities; and demonstrate sufficient resources for support. A plan should be in place to document the results."
Here are suggestions for developing a broader impacts plan as well as some sample statements. For more information on guidelines and expectations for broader impacts, read NSF's Broader Impacts special report and Frequently Asked Questions on merit review. In addition, the National Alliance for Broader Impacts offers numerous resources for building networks and incorporating broader impacts into research projects.
Resources at Georgia Tech
At Georgia Tech, there are a number of resources available to researchers seeking to incorporate and/or demonstrate broader impacts in their proposals and projects:
- Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) partners with Georgia Tech faculty, future faculty, and teaching assistants to design, implement and assess state of the art evidence-based teaching and learning methodologies.
- Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics & Computing (CEISMC)
enhances pre K-12 and post-secondary STEM education by drawing upon the expertise and scholarly contributions of the Georgia Tech community. CEISMC advocates for and leads systemic changes to increase STEM interest and achievement for all students, especially those underrepresented in STEM. CEISMC’s research efforts allow for identification and promotion of evidence-based best practices in STEM education.
One of CEISMC’s goals is to facilitate interactions and partnerships between members of the Georgia Tech community and the local school systems. We coordinate numerous programs that lend themselves to participation by faculty, staff, and students, and we encourage faculty to consult with us as they develop their educational outreach plans. As more granting agencies require evidence of the broader impact of scholarly work, CEISMC can assist faculty in crafting education plans that are tailored to individual research and outreach interests. A small sample of some of CEISMC’s programs include:
- Georgia Intern Fellowship for Teachers (GIFT) is a collaborative between Georgia-based universities, businesses and K-12 school districts providing K-12 (STEM) teachers paid summer internships in research laboratories and companies. Teachers spend 4-7 weeks in research laboratories designing and conducting experiments, interpreting data, and communicating findings. Teachers gain hands-on industry experience applying science and math concepts to workplace problems while also learning about skills needed for STEM careers. Here's a 2015 highlight video.
- GIFT's Research, Experiment, Analyze, and Learn (R.E.A.L.) program provides summer research opportunities for high school students from populations that are under represented in STEM fields. Students spend five weeks in campus laboratories conducting research under the supervision of their high school teachers and Georgia Tech researchers. Averaging 25 to 30 students a summer, approximately 300 high school researchers have participated in R.E.A.L. since its inception in 2004.
- Please visit https://ceismc.gatech.edu/broaderimpact to learn about other programs.
- Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain helps faculty connect their research and teaching to on- and off-campus partners working on issues related to “creating sustainable communities,” in Atlanta and around the world. SLS’ work focuses on issues such as urban agriculture, energy equity, environmental justice, civic innovation for sustainability, climate change, smart cities – and more. Partners come from the nonprofit, community, government, and industry sectors. SLS also facilitates collaborations with other centers on campus, including the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business in the Scheller College of Business, Westside Communities Alliance in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, CEISMC, Student Engagement, Community Relations, and CTL, as well as with Institute Diversity and student organizations.
- Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) unites undergraduate education and faculty in a team-based context. Undergraduate VIP students earn academic credit, and faculty and graduate students benefit from the design/discovery efforts of their teams.
Historically Black Colleges & Universities/Minority Institutions Outreach Initiative (HBCU/MI) offers resources for GT faculty to help identify appropriate faculty at HBCUs/MIs to collaborate on research proposals. The initiative helps GT faculty 1) create more diverse proposal teams, 2) establish new partnerships/relationships for faculty and students, 3) leverage and strengthen previous experiences with HBCUs/MIs and 4) generate additional funding for innovative research.
- Office of International Education provides leadership in advocating for, supporting, and pursuing the university's goals for international education and exchange.
- Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) is available to answer questions and discuss strategies for communicating the value of research and projects.
- Office of Research Communications provides guidance and connects faculty with the resources available to help communicate research more effectively to technical and non-technical audiences. The team also offers advice to researchers interested in developing unique and creative communication methods targeted to specific audiences. From traditional public relations activities to strategy development, social media, multimedia and more, the team is here to help researchers maximize their communication efforts.