NSF Issues New Framework for Identifying Broader Impacts; NSB Seeks Additional Guidance

On March 18, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE) released a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 21-059) offering guidance to proposal writers for shaping their broader impacts arguments. The notice makes no changes to NSF’s existing merit review criteria, which currently considers a project’s intellectual merit and broader impacts potential. Rather, it offers a framework for SBE researchers to consider “to develop and communicate their projects’ broader impacts more effectively” and “for connecting fundamental research outcomes to quality of life improvements for others.” The framework includes three guiding questions for principal investigators to consider:

  • Who can the scientific opportunities and communicative products empower?
  • Whose quality of life can the empowerment improve?
  • What actions make these broader impacts more likely?

Additional details are available here.

Separately during its February meeting, the National Science Board (NSB) passed a resolution directing the use of broader impacts expertise on NSF Committees of Visitors (COV). COV panels provide external evaluations of NSF’s existing programs and processes, making recommendations to the agency and the NSB for ways to improve programs and agency functions. Recent COV reviews noted significant disparity in how proposal review panels discuss intellectual merit and broader impacts, often with broader impacts receiving much less attention. In response, the NSB has directed the agency to develop a plan for ensuring that broader impacts expertise is included on all future COV panels. This is meant as a first step toward addressing concerns about uneven application of intellectual merit and broader impacts criterion on review panels. A recording of the NSB meeting is available here.

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Posted in Issue 7 (March 30), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

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