Broader Impact Support

Broader Impacts

Students check to see if their egg broke!

Students check to see if their egg broke!

The National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF) requirement) increasingly has emphasized the need to justify not only the “intellectual merit” of proposed research, but also its “broader impacts.” Broader Impacts refers to the potential of the proposed project to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.  Proposal development support is available for faculty both through the Office of Research Administration and Finance.

The following information and resources are designed to  provide faculty additional support in their grant application process and to make science and engineering more accessible and meaningful to the broadest community possible.

  1. What are Broader Impacts? 

All NSF grant proposals are evaluated using two merit review criteria: 1) The intellectual merit of the proposed activity, and 2) The broader impacts resulting from the proposed activity.

While “intellectual merit” is about the potential to advance knowledge and encompasses the scientific research proposal, “broader impacts” deals with the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes (as defined in NSF’s Grant Proposal Guide Section III.A.2).

Broader Impacts Guiding Principles and Questions, a publication of the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI), is an excellent overview of broader impacts and is highly recommended. NABI BI Guiding Principles and Questions

A number of other funding agencies also promote activities related to “broader impacts,” such as programs that promote research translation, societal impact, public understanding of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), education and training of the scientific workforce, and broadening participation in STEM.

According to NSF’s Grant Proposal Guide (Section II.C.2.d), 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.

The Guide goes on to explain that the broader impacts criterion promotes societally relevant outcomes beyond scientific knowledge, including, but not limited to: 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; and
enhanced infrastructure for research and education.
For additional information on NSF guidelines and expectations, consult NSF’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) file on merit review:


NABI BI Guiding Principles and Questions

“The National Association for Broader Impacts (NABI) Broader Impacts Working Group has developed a guiding document for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) broader impacts (BI) criterion. The purpose of this document is to assist NSF program managers, proposal reviewers, and review panels in evaluating the BI component of NSF proposals and to assist proposers with developing their broader impact plans. This document is intended to provide a means for consistency in the way review panels evaluate and rate proposed BI plans.”

Additional Resources

  1. Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research  CATLR  at Northeastern University.
  3. New Faculty NSF BI Workshop Seminar Series  New Faculty NSF BI Workshop Seminar Series .
  4. Framework for Evaluating Impacts of Informal Science Education Projects (Friedman et al., 2008) report outlines categories of impact that ISE activities have been demonstrated to have on their intended audiences Framework Document
  5. The Principal Investigator’s Guide to Managing Evaluation in Informal STEM Education Projects (CAISE, 2012) designed by CAISE and the Visitors Studies Association for project leaders, designers and implementers to use when working with evaluators . Guide
  6. NSF Handbook for Project Evaluation (
  7. Enhancing Program Performance with Logic Models Logic Model Templates and Resources  and a Logic Model short course .
  8. Examples of broader impacts activities: Explore examples of NSF-funded broader impacts in the NSF Broader Impacts Special Report(November 2014). In 2013, NSF removed a list of examples that had been available in previous versions of its Grant Proposal Guide. To explain this change, the NSF stated: “References to the document containing examples illustrating activities likely to demonstrate broader impacts have been deleted. This was done to eliminate confusion over the document, which was often viewed as a prescriptive list of additional requirements instead of illustrative examples.” Keeping this statement in mind, you can still access this list in this NSF document, “Merit Review Broader Impacts Criterion: Representative Activities.” This document provides examples that fit within five components of the broader impacts criterion:
    1. Advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning;
    2. Broaden participation of underrepresented groups;
    3. Enhance infrastructure for research and education;
    4. Broad dissemination to enhance scientific and technological understanding; and
    5. Benefits to society.

What specific assistance is available through The Center for STEM?

Claire Duggan and supporting staff in the Center for STEM can assist with the development of your Broader Impact requirements in the following ways:

  • Brainstorm “broader impact” ideas and activities related to the proposed research
  • Assist in planning and cost/time estimation
  • Help draft the “broader impact” portion of the grant application & literature review (reports and documentation)
  • Support preparation of a project summary and budget
  • Facilitate connections with potential partner organizations to ensure truly broad impact while preserving faculty time
  • For implementation phase, assist with communication related to program oversight and grant reporting


  • Faculty will gain useful support for grant applications and program implementation
  • Community organizations and schools will gain stronger connections to NU Engineering faculty and staff
  • The Center for STEM staff will strengthen relationships with key constituents
  • Science and engineering research and outreach will become more accessible and meaningful to a wider range of people


NSF budgets allow substantial amounts for implementation of “broader impact” work, and such funds add to the benefits of collaborations among faculty, community organizations, in addition to staff within The Center for STEM. NSF funds that provide new resources and programs through existing organizations can create truly broad impact while they may also increase the program sustainability and minimize the draw on faculty time.

Supplemental Funding for REU and RET:
Please note if you have a current NSF award supplements may be available for your funded programs:

  1. Contact your program officer re: the availability of funding.
  2. Contact Claire Duggan or Richard Harris re: REU/RET support for development of your supplement.

RET and REU program participants funded through supplemental support will be integrated into RET and REU sites. What will be coordinated for you:

  1. Advertising and recruitment for participants
  2. Social support/housing
  3. Social/supplemental activities such as field trips to corporate and government research facilities
  4. Supplemental academic support such as – developing your research presentation and poster, ethics, lesson development (RET)

Programs & Partnerships

While any community organization that matches faculty interests may be considered, the Center for STEM staff will work most closely with two types:

Contact Us Directly

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Physical Address:
110 Forsyth Street
Room 153 Snell Engineering
Boston, Massachusetts 02115

Mailing Address:
Center for STEM Education
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Field Trip Drop-off Address:
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