Broader Impacts / Education and Outreach

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and other federal agencies are increasingly emphasizing the need for applicants to justify both “Intellectual Merit” (potential to advance knowledge) and “Broader Impacts” (potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes) of the proposed research. Here, we provide resources that define and discuss key principles underlying the broader impacts criterion, along with information about how NSF review panels use it to judge the merits of competing proposals.

Email us at brdo@berkeley.edu if you have questions about NSF's broader impacts criteria/expectations, or would like help with your broader impacts plans, activities, or potential partners.

What are Broader Impacts?

Intellectual merit and broader impacts are the two merit review criteria that NSF uses to evaluate all proposals. NSF's merit review principles and criteria are described in the NSF Proposal Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG, Chapter III.1).

The PAPPG (Chapter III.C.2.d.i) specifies that broader impacts may be accomplished through:

  • the research itself,
  • activities directly related to specific research projects, or
  • activities supported by, but complementary to the project.

A 2018 report, Current State of Broader Impacts: Advancing Science & Benefitting Society by the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI), seeks to document the state of broader impacts in a national context and to illuminate some aspects of the review criteria that are not well understood.

Merit Review of Broader Impacts

During the proposal review process, NSF reviewers are required to address the following questions with respect to both the intellectual merit and the broader impacts of each proposal:

  • What is the potential for the proposed activity to: a) advance knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields (intellectual merit); and b) benefit society or advance desired societal outcomes (broader impacts)?
  • To what extent do the proposed activities suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?
  • 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?
  • How well qualified is the individual, team, or organization to conduct the proposed activities?
  • Are there adequate resources available to the proposer (either at the home organization or through collaborations) to carry out the proposed activities?

For more on the merit review process, see the NSF Merit Review page and NSF's FAQs on Merit Review.

Types of Broader Impacts

According to NSF's Perspectives on Broader Impacts, “With some projects, broader impacts are intrinsic to the research itself. In others, the focus may be on education in STEM, and both intellectual merit and broader impacts are inherent in the educational work. Investigators are encouraged to envision an integration of their research with education, so that broader impacts are interwoven throughout.”

Potential Broader Impact Outcomes

NSF's broader impacts criterion promotes societally relevant outcomes beyond scientific knowledge (PAPPG, Chapter III.C.2.d.i). Such outcomes may include, for example:

  • full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in 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; 
  • enhanced infrastructure for research and education.

NSF specifically states that the above examples are not comprehensive and are simply included as one indication of the vast array of possibilities for creatively addressing the criterion.

Guidance for Developing a Broader Impacts Plan

Developing a Broader Impacts Plan for Your NSF Proposal (BRDO): A user-friendly guide with perspectives and advice garnered over more than a decade of working with UC Berkeley faculty on broader impacts for their proposals. Contents include general characteristics of high-quality broader impacts plans; simple steps to help you develop one; a suggested structure for writing up your plan; and guidance on budgeting for broader impacts.

Other pages within this website that contain potentially relevant information include: Resources for Broader ImpactsPotential Partners for Broader Impacts; Evaluation Resources; and Data & Statistics for Proposals.

[back to top]