Perspectives on Broader Impacts

Each year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) receives about 50,000 proposals for funding. Because there are far more meritorious proposals than NSF is able to fund, the foundation distinguishes among those proposals through a merit review process that incorporates two criteria:

  • Intellectual merit — the potential to advance knowledge, and
  • Broader impacts — the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.

NSF’s mission is to fund innovative science, and so the foundation does not want to be prescriptive about what qualifies as “broader impacts.” The foundation states that “NSF projects, in the aggregate, should contribute more broadly to achieving societal goals. These broader impacts may be accomplished through the research itself, through activities that are directly related to specific research projects, or through activities that are supported by, but are complementary to, the project.”