The University of Arizona

Broader Impacts

Increasingly, funding agencies are emphasizing the need to demonstrate a proposed research program's "broader impacts" or potential to benefit society. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has been the most forthright agency as it includes "broader impacts" as part of its merit review criteria (the other is "intellectual merit" or the potential to advance knowledge) for all proposals. In fact, in addition to the inclusion of the "intellectual merit" and "broader impacts" sections of the NSF Proposal Summary, the Project Description now requires a section dedicated to "Broader Impacts of the Proposed Work". Many investigators are able to clearly articulate their scientific research but struggle with the broader impacts requirement.

This page is a work in progress (initiated March 2015) to help UA faculty and researchers develop strong knowledge of the broader impacts requirements as well as present some ideas on developing a competitive broader impacts statement. The page will continue to expand as additional resources are identified.

Broader impacts are a way to have fun and be creative with your proposal. Many of the things that you are currently doing may be appropriate for further development within a broader impacts statement, particularly if you add an outcomes driven evaluation or assessment program. For example, are you currently participating in outreach to the community as a college or departmental activity; why not build upon this by creating a program specifically for your area of research? Do you regularly work with a museum or science center; how about creating a new exhibit? Are you engaged in your professional society; why not leverage this engagement locally, regionally, or nationally? These are just a few quick examples of how you can utilize current practices and build a broader impacts statement.

It is important to remember that the broader impacts activities should complement your research activities and be scaled appropriately for the proposed project or program. In addition, linking your broader impacts to evidence-based models, best practices, literature and theory provide context and support that your proposed broader impacts are achievable. 

A few questions to ask when developing your activities (adapted from UA's NSF CAREER Grant Preparation Program's Broader Impacts: Writing Strong Statements, March 5, 2015):

  • What is the scientific significance of your work? And what discoveries will result from your research?
  • Are your activities replicable?
  • How will you measure outcomes (not outputs)? How will you know that you are successful?
  • How are we (as a society) going to be better off because of your science?
  • What may change due to your scientific discoveries?
  • Who else benefits? (think locally, nationally, globally)
  • What happened as a result of your project that would not have otherwise happened?

UA's NSF CAREER Grant Preparation Program hosted a session on NSF broader impacts. You can view the session "Broader Impacts: Writing Strong Statements" slides and video (March 5, 2015) using UA's Box system. A UA Enterprise Box account is required to view these files. If you do not have a Box account, you can register for free at https://account.arizona.edu. If you already have a free Box account, you can upgrade to the UA Enterprise system by contacting the 24/7 IT Support Center at 520-626-TECH (8324).

Useful On-Campus Resources & Links 

  • Biosphere 2 - UA's unique resource for research, outreach, teaching and life-long learning about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe. B2 hosts more than 100,000 visitors per year and over 10,000 K-12 students.
  • College of Science, Office of Undergraduate Research - encourages undergraduates to reach beyond traditional classroom learning and enhance their education by participating in hands-on learning through a research experience.
  • Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium - changing exhibits through the year focus on biology, energy, optics and more, weaving in the ground-breaking UA research and revealing the world of science careers for budding scientists. In addition to the rotating exhibitions and planetarium, Flandrau is home to the UA Mineral Museum with more than 26,000 specimens. Flandrau offers Science Camp-ins, Star Parties, Portable Planetarium shows, Science Cafes, and Laser Light Shows.
  • Laboratory of Tree Ring Research, Outreach Program - committed to promoting public awareness and understanding of science and making informal contributions to science education. Strives to inspire new connections and nurture existing connections among the greater Tucson community including visitors and residents and K-12 educators and students. 
  • Office of Instruction and Assessment - provides assistance in course development, curriculum design, program and classroom assessment and evaluation, instructional strategies and learning technologies.
  • Office of Global Initiatives - provides access to international institutional partners and information on global opportunities.
  • STEM Learning Center - works to ensure broad access to high-quality STEM learning throughout Southern Arizona. The Center leads the coordination of STEM resources, expertise and best practices in order to catalyze excellence in STEM-related education, outreach and workforce development; identify, link and leverage STEM learning initiatives within the University and region; coordinate and support STEM grant/funding opportunities across disciplines with the University, and expand the impact of PK-20 STEM teaching and learning.
  • Undergraduate Research Opportunities Consortium (UROC) - administers five undergraduate research programs along with affiliated programs - primarily NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) - to provide undergraduates the opportunity to gain research and presentation experience in preparation for graduate school.
  • Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) - aims to increase interest and diversity in the fields of social and natural science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine by offering a variety of outreach programs and student engagement opportunities.

Useful External Resources & Links

  • NSF, Perspectives on Broader Impacts, 15-008. This document presents highlights of the Broader Impacts Infrastructure Summit, held in Arlington, VA, in April 2014 which brought together more than 120 professionals from 80 higher education institutions and nonprofits for wide-ranging discussions on broader impacts. The summary includes NSF perspectives and institutional perspectives on institutional infrastructure in support of broader impacts as well as examples of broader impacts activities focused on education/outreach, that are intrinsic to the research itself, and in which educational/outreach efforts are interwoven or closely conjoined with the research.
  • 2014 Broader Impacts Infrastructure Summit Webpage. This page provides an overview of the 2014 event, including the full program, digital posters, and videos from the event.
  • NSF Director, Dr. France A. Cordova, keynote address at the Broader Impacts Infrastructure Summit, April 17, 2014.
  • NSF Office of International and Integrative Activities Webpage dedicated to Broader Impacts: Improving Society.
  • NSF Grant Proposal Guide, Merit Review Principles and Criteria, 15-001. NSF utilizes a merit review process that incorporates both the technical aspects of a proposed project and its potential to contribute more broadly to advancing NSF's mission. The technical aspects, or intellectual merit, encompasses the potential to advance knowledge, while the broader impacts criterion encompasses the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.
  • Frechtling, Joy, et. al., 2010, The 2010 User-Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation. The NSF supported handbook was developed to provide project directors and principal investigators working with NSF with a basic guide for evaluating NSF's educational projects. It is aimed at people who need to learn more about both the value of evaluation and how to design and carry out an evaluation, rather than those who already have a solid base of experience in the field. It builds on firmly established principles, blending technical knowledge and common sense to meet the special needs of NSF and its stakeholders.
  • Watts, Sean M, Melissa D. George, and Douglas L. Levey, Achieving Broader Impacts in the National Science Foundation, Division of Environmental Biology, BioScience, February 25, 2015.