What Are Broader Impacts?

Broader Impacts are the societal impacts and benefits of academic research.

Broader Impacts and Intellectual Merit (the potential to advance knowledge) are the two criteria by which grant proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF) are reviewed, as outlined by the NSF’s Proposal & Awards Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG). As a valuable method of community outreach and a crucial piece of the NSF grant application process, broader impacts activities encourage a conversation between cutting-edge, intellectual research and the broader public world that can benefit from and utilize that research.

The Broader Impacts section of an NSF grant application should clearly express how the research will benefit the local or global community. This can be satisfied through the research itself or through activities related or complementary to the project. The NSF provides a list of example outcomes that these activities may encompass:

  • Full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (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 US
  • Enhanced infrastructure for research and education

An NSF application should not attempt to fulfill all listed outcomes, but should instead focus on a few key goals that can be clearly achieved through the project work. The list is also not exhaustive—different outcomes may fit more organically with the project.

Why are Broader Impacts Important?

  • Accountability: They make researchers responsible to the community
  • The Big Picture: They encourage researchers to think critically about the relevance and implications of their research
  • Communication: They reinforce and strengthen communication skills
  • Outreach: They engage and excite the next generation of scientists and engineers
  • Diversity and Inclusion: They increase diverse participation and interest in STEM fields