What makes a great broader impact (BI), not just a passable one?

  • Sustainability: Will the activity only occur in the context of the grant with its associated resources? Or does the activity create new relationships, models, or infrastructure that have the potential to be ongoing? Many universities and national or regional organizations have existing infrastructure to assist in performing outreach activities. PIs can leverage the existing infrastructure at their institution or nationally to make their broader impact activities sustainable for the long term. The PI's proposed BI activities could be sustained through integration into another program, not necessarily led by the PI in the future. Creating a program or participating in a program that outlives the grant's lifetime will ultimately reach a larger audience over time.
  • Alignment with intellectual merit: Does the BI seem like a stand-alone activity, or is there a compelling logic to associate the BI with the research? Do outreach and research complement one another or have the potential to inspire new forms of thinking and action? For example, the BI activity may be informed or enabled by the research or involve educating others about some aspect of that research area, possibly to increase awareness of the problems. For example, the participatory sensing research performed by the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS) enables society to assist in the collection of ecologically important data pertaining to climate change. The broader impacts of the participatory sensing work by CENS not only provides tools for use by society, but also enables education about climate change. Sometimes, creating concrete links between the BI and the intellectual merit, or informing BI activities with one's research may be difficult. In cases where the research is seemingly removed from society, good BI activities align with the skills and passion of the PI and the general research area.
  • Feasibility. Does the PI (and his/her research team) have the connections and/or skills to engage in BI activities? Will the proposal create new capacities or build upon existing efforts or proven best practices?
  • Positive impacts beyond the lab: Training researchers within the research group is an expected responsibility of research mentors. A broader BI activity can reach beyond the PI's research group to teach, train, or mentor a broader audience, such as other undergraduate or graduate students within the department, institution, or nation; or beyond college students to K-12 teachers or students, adult learners, or the general public.
  • Effectiveness: A good broader impact activity does not need to be innovative; but it must be effective. While a PI should strive to propose BI activities that integrate well with her/his own skills, passions, and circumstances, a BI activity need not be unique or novel.
  • Respect for partners: A good BI activity likely involves partnering with other institutions or organization. In this case, clearly PIs should include all collaborators in discussions early in the proposal-writing process. One caution concerns the involvement of minority-serving institutions or organizations; minority-serving institutions or organizations need time to consider how well the proposed activities match with their mission and goals. It is important to have commitment from the PI that the activities will be supported if funded, and commitment from the collaborators to meet the goals of the proposed activities. There have been examples of minority-serving institutions and organizations being named in proposed activities but not being engaged or supported once the funding was awarded.
  • Range of Impacts: A good BI activity incorporates many (not just one) of the possible BI categories and/or many (not just one) of the characteristics of a good BI discussed previously. For a list of current BI categories, see the WHY page.