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NSF Criteria: Communicate Your Broader Impacts Successfully

The concept of “broader impacts” is tricky for most researchers to understand — much less communicate it effectively in their NSF grant proposals.

The agency even admits that broader impacts is a tough concept for researchers. “Experience shows that while most proposers have little difficulty responding to the criterion relating to intellectual merit, many proposers have difficulty understanding how to frame the broader impacts of the activities they propose to undertake.”

Mainly, the concept of broader impacts has different meanings for different people and disciplines, experts say. Although intellectual merit has always been at the heart of research, integrating broader impacts is much more of a cultural shift.

Another challenge is figuring out how impact enhances — or undermines — intellectual merit. And because broader impact is a somewhat recent concept, you’re facing non-standard approaches to what it means.

One of the universal hurdles for broader impacts is that the NSF requires that you communicate impacts but doesn’t fund all the activities related to achieving these impacts.

So to overcome these challenges, as well as to identify and effectively communicate broader impacts in your NSF grant proposal, you must first understand what the NSF is looking for. Then, you need to write the impacts into your proposal and clearly indicate why reviewers must choose your proposed project over another.

Must-have, step-by-step expert guidance includes:

  • Define Your Broader Impacts — What the NSF Really Wants (page 5)
  • Communicating Impacts: Identify Your ‘Impact Change’ (page 10)
  • Quick Reference Tool: Identify Your Project’s Impacts (page 13)
  • Illustrate Your "Impact Chain" (page 14)

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The informational products above are brought to you as training tools by the Principal Investigators Association, which is an independent organization. The products presented and their contents are not connected with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF), nor are they endorsed by these agencies. All views expressed are those personally held by the author and are not official government policies or opinions.