What Are Broader Impacts?

It is an ethical imperative to consider and communicate the broader impacts of your research and a growing expectation of the organizations that fund your work.

Broadly defined, the broader impacts of your research are the societal impacts, or benefits to society.

It is an ethical imperative to consider and communicate the broader impacts of your work.  And, increasingly, it is an expectation of the organizations that fund your work (particularly when the source of those funds is the public, who rightfully wants to understand how its money is being used, and what it can expect as a return on its investment).

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has long discussed the importance of broader impacts, but its emphasis was underscored in 1997, when it simplified its proposal review criteria to two:

  • Intellectual Merit – The potential to advance knowledge
  • Broader Impacts – The potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.

The NSF further clarified its thinking on broader impacts in 2011 when it issued a report stating that broader impacts “may be accomplished through the research itself, through activities that are directly related to specific research projects, or through activities that are directly supported by, but are complementary to, the project” and that all broader impacts activities must be meaningfully assessed and evaluated.


Broader Impacts Guiding Principles

For a clear and concise overview of the NSF’s expectations with respect to broader impacts, please see Broader Impacts Guiding Principles and Questions, published by the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI).  For a more detailed discussion of the NSF’s review criteria, please see their Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide.

It is worth noting that while the NSF is currently the only federal funding agency in the US that has an explicit broader impacts requirement for their proposals, most sources of funding (federal agencies and private foundations) expect a proposal to discuss the impact, significance or relevance of the proposed work.  At the BIRC, we feel strongly that every proposal is made stronger and more compelling by a discussion of the broader impacts of the proposed work.