NSF Driving Home Importance of ‘Broader Impacts’
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has issued another reminder that it thinks science communication and outreach are important. (Something I’ve written about before.)
On Jan. 2, NSF’s Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems issued a notice reminding all potential grant applicants that they will need to include a separate section in the project description section of their proposals that specifically addresses the “broader impacts” of the proposed work. (I first read about the Jan. 2 notice in a Jan. 7 post on Science Careers.)
In its proposal preparation instructions, NSF explains that: “Broader impacts may be accomplished through the research itself, through the activities that are directly related to specific research projects, or through activities that are supported by, but are complementary to the project. NSF values the advancement of scientific knowledge and activities that contribute to the achievement of societally relevant outcomes. Such outcomes include, but are not limited to: 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 United States; and enhanced infrastructure for research and education.” I added the italics to emphasize the points that are explicitly related to science communication, but science communication plays an important role in almost all of the elements listed here.
For example, science communication aimed at reaching women and underrepresented minorities is essential if we hope to increase participation of these groups in fields of scientific endeavor.
In 2007, Peter March, then director of NSF’s Division of Mathematical Sciences, wrote a memo about the broader impacts requirements, including five ways that a grant proposal could demonstrate broader impacts. One of those examples was to “Broaden dissemination to enhance scientific and technological understanding, for example, by presenting results of research and education projects in formats useful to students, scientists and engineers, members of Congress, teachers, and the general public.” Hear, hear.
It’s nice to see NSF reiterate its commitment to science communication and outreach, and it’s a good reminder that – with grant dollars increasingly difficult to come by – the science community needs to take science communication efforts seriously.