How the National Alliance for Broader Impacts can help you

Images courtesy of Jeff MauritzenThe 2014 Broader Impacts Summit featured participants from universities, federal agencies, local organizations and professional societies.

If you have submitted a proposal for funding to the National Science Foundation, you are familiar with the term “broader impacts.” Broader impacts are the societal benefits of the research. They also can be viewed as the return on the taxpayers’ investment in research. A requirement to explain the significance or impact of the research is found across all federal funding agencies including the NSF, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, detailed guidance in formulating broader impacts statements and programming is missing.

With this deficit in mind, the National Alliance for Broader Impacts emerged in 2014 with support from the NSF to develop institutional capacity and engagement in broader impacts activity. A national network of universities, professional societies and informal science organizations, the NABI is a community of practice focused on the development, implementation and evaluation of science communication and public engagement programming — generally designed to meet the NSF’s broader impacts criterion. Today, there are 240 individual members of the NABI from more than 100 institutions.

All are welcome to join the NABI free of charge. We currently are offering only individual memberships so that members retain their memberships even if they change institutions. A benefit of NABI membership is the sharing of resources and knowledge. The increased emphasis on the broader impacts criterion has led to the creation of campus-wide offices, such as the Broader Impacts Network at the University of Missouri. Broader impacts offices aid researchers in the design, implementation and evaluation of their broader-impacts activities. While not all institutions have broader impacts offices, NABI resources are available to anyone who needs them – regardless of affiliation. Sharing resources and experience across the network allows for effective use of time and resources, both of which are in high demand.

The NABI also provides periodic, in-depth training for anyone interested in broader impacts in theory and in practice – including students, faculty members, staff members, administrators, and nonacademic professionals and organizations. For instance, the University of Missouri hosted a Broader Impacts Intensive Training in the fall that included information on the criterion and how to address it, information on evaluation and assessment of broader impacts plans, and breakout sessions on specific topics, such as using the Web effectively in your strategy and working with primary- and secondary-school teachers.

NABI activities contribute directly to the national discussion on the future of broader impacts. The annual Broader Impacts Summit organized by the NABI, for example, provides professional-development opportunities for professionals who support broader impacts initiatives and fosters discussion of issues related to broader impacts. The 2014 summit hosted France Córdova’s first public talk after she was confirmed as the NSF director. She stressed the need for researchers to stay relevant to the American taxpayers who fund them. The NSF Perspectives on Broader Impacts publication featured the summit.

Members of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology are invited to the next summit, which will be held April 29 through May 1 at the University of Wisconsin—Madison .

In addition to keynote speeches by Wanda Ward (head of the NSF’s Office of International and Integrative Activities), Pramod Khargonekar (head of the NSF Engineering Directorate) and Bob Mathieu (Vilas distinguished professor of astronomy at the University of Wisconsin–Madison; director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research; and director of the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning), there will be many professional-development opportunities and workshops for attendees. Participation also will afford attendees the opportunity to contribute to the national dialogue about broader impacts.

The NABI has many plans:

  1. to continue to facilitate communication between researchers and federal funding agencies about the realities of implementing the broader impacts criterion,
  2. to grow the support community for broader impacts by encouraging graduate students to consider it as a profession, and
  3. to provide training and resources for researchers so they can better understand the criterion and how to address it.

Our end goal is to move from an NSF-funded network to a self-sustaining professional organization.

For more information, to join the NABI or to register for the summit, visit www.broaderimpacts.net. You also can follow us on Twitter.

Susan D. Renoe Susan D. Renoe is an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri and director of the Broader Impacts Network.
Sara Vassmer Sara Vassmer is assistant director of the Broader Impacts Network at the University of Missouri.
Kaye Storm Kaye Storm is director of the Office of Science Outreach at Stanford University.