A Research-Based Understanding and Approach to Broader Impacts

At some point in time, if we ever want to move past, “hear-say”, when it comes to broader impacts, we have to start treating broader impacts just like any other field and profession.

This means to hold ourselves accountable to a professional standard and stop with the anecdotal evidence and look at all of the data/facts and conduct rigorous research.

Once we begin to do those things we can then start to develop appropriate answers to questions that have been asked concerning broader impacts. I guess those are my two cents.

If you are interested in reading more about research and evidence-based approach to broader impacts click the link below.

Moving Towards A Research-Based Understanding and Approach to Broader Impacts

What is a Societal Benefit Organization (SBO)?

A Societal Benefit Organization (SBO) is an entity that is a for-benefit, for-society, for-profit, or nonprofit that either generates an earned income but gives top priority to an explicit social and/or societal mission or seeks a social and/or societal benefit without generating income. This approach can be found across a wide range of educational and academic institutions and industries. SBO’s pursue a myriad of important social/societal goals such as facilitating or achieving  broader impacts, facilitating or achieving valorization and knowledge mobilization, and community engagement. SBOs can also focus on several specific activities such as fighting drug addiction, reducing deaths from malaria, producing renewable energy, and reducing poverty.

What is a Societal Benefit Professional (SBP)?

A SBP is an individual who is societally competent and proficient in their full or part-time practice of empowering or helping others to facilitate processes with people or stakeholders to achieve a societal benefit that is measured and in a finite time. The SBP can help to facilitate these processes in a variety of domains. For example, this could be accomplished in or through any domain of teaching, research, service, and occupation. This means that there are many different types of SBPs with different foci functioning at different levels in diverse organizations nationally and internationally. The SBP is ultimately looking to help and empower others, organizations, companies, institutions, colleges, etc., to generate sustainable positive societal impacts.

Seventeen (17) Things to Consider When Starting a Broader Impacts Organization

When considering or starting a broader impacts organization on your campus it is important to understand that context matters. The research-based scholarly definition of broader impacts is “a process with people/stakeholders to achieve a societal benefit in a finite time that is measured. This can be through one’s teaching, research, service, and occupation. There can be broader impacts of almost anything. If done appropriately broader impacts can lead to sustainable positive impacts” [1] [2] [3] [4]. Understanding this as it relates to broader impacts is also important – whether you are reshaping an old organization to align with a broader impacts concept; starting an office or organization focused on the National Science Foundation (NSF) Broader Impacts Criterion; focused on other agency or foundation broader impacts; or establishing a similar organization internationally based off an international broader impacts-like term or phrase.

Based on lessons learned, I have also provided seventeen (17) objectives, goals, or tasks below that should help you succeed in your broader impacts office or organization endeavors. It may also help you navigate potential unseen pitfalls along the way. Use this as a “Start a Broader Impacts Office or Organization Checklist”, as it is suggested that each item (i-xvii) be completed and assessed every year.

i. set up a viable, flexible, sustainable, and evolving infrastructure to meet university and faculty needs;

ii. determine organizational model, establish vision, mission, and value propositions;

iii. determine the number of primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences;

iv. establish a presence throughout your University and State as a broader impacts organization;

v. help faculty with all aspects of NSF broader impacts;

vi. help the university and state to understand broader impacts in general;

vii. establish the trajectory for successfully moving beyond the POC phase;

viii. determine and show the Return On Investment (ROI);

ix. establish evaluative and assessment protocols and strategies to determine sustainability;

x. develop a research-based approach to practice as it pertains to achieving societal benefit;

xi. develop relationships and partnerships with administrative leaders;

xii. develop an understanding and appreciation of faculty needs at your university, college, or in your specific unit (start doing this immediately!!!);

xiii. establish a university communication and response plan;

xiv. understand university structure and research office;

xv. assess if your organization is having a positive impact on the university, state, and national culture – international if applicable;

xvi. determine impact path of the organization;

xvii. develop a yearly report for upper administration summarizing i-xvi with appropriate examples and data, how it specifically links to their strategic plan or strategic action plan and university initiatives, the specific goals from last year and how they were accomplished, the specific goals for the next year, unexpected opportunities and challenges, and long-term goals in five and ten years.



[1]. Adetunji, O. and Renoe, S. (2017). Assessing Broader Impacts. MRS Advances, 1-6. Doi: 10.1557/ adv.2017.136.

[2]. Adetunji, O. and Thompson, M. (2016). The Broader Impacts Conceptual Framework (BICF) 2014 Lexicon Modification for the Brown University Engaged Scholarship and Broader Impacts Joint Committee Year End Report of 2015-2016. Brown University.

[3]. The Broader Impacts in Research (BIR) Organization. (2014). BI Definitions Guide: An abbreviated collection of explanations that begins to provide a common language when discussing, practicing, understanding, and better articulating the dimensions of broader impacts (BI). [Brochure]. [Norman, Oklahoma]. Thompson, M.

[4]. The Broader Impacts in Research (BIR) Organization. (2014). Broader Impacts Conceptual Framework (BICF) Lexicon. The University of Oklahoma. Thompson, M.