Research Into the Effects and Affects of Broader Impacts and Research Impact Initiatives

For the last twenty-five years there has been an increased emphasis on the importance of broader impacts. Mostly in part to the establishment of the broader impacts criterion instituted by the National Science Foundation (NSF). However, there is a limited amount of information provided on the importance, affects, and effects of broader impacts.

So, below I have provided an on-going qualitative and quantitative studies snapshot of the affects and effects of broader impacts and research impact initiatives…

When quality of all proposal aspects are controlled, data being collected suggest that those who have and work with a seasoned institutional broader impacts office or specialist are 5 to 16% more likely to receive a National Science Foundation (NSF) award compared to those who don’t have access to these resources. This award range depends on how, when, and the frequency that broader impacts help is indirectly or directly provided for a NSF proposal. Whether this is permanent after the sunset of these offices or a specialist leaves an institution remains unclear.

Those with institutional broader impacts offices or well-developed broader impact networks at their colleges and universities also appear to have an overall increase in faculty, student, administrator, research, community, societal, business, and industry engagement.

Anecdotal evidence highly suggest that these offices and networks 1) become a hub of communication for an institution, 2) help to increase the quality of mentorship and training of undergraduate and graduate students, post-docs, and faculty and 3) help to increase the number of individual and large collaborative proposals submitted by faculty to a variety of foundations and agencies other than NSF.

It is speculated that one of the reasons all the stated above happens is that the implementation of  broader impacts in concept and practice acts as a catalyst for culture change at a college or university. Aside from speculation, having a centralized broader impacts or research impact office that works on behalf of an entire institution sends a signal to a variety of societal communities and all university and college institutional members that societal members outside of the Academy walls are valued, important, and a high priority.

The take home message is that having an institutionally supported visible and viable mechanism or entity guiding impact, broader impacts, or research impact is not only beneficial for the research enterprise and those in the Academy but also important for the public’s perception of and interaction with academic institutions.

Equitable Outcomes

Equitable Outcomes are just and right; fair; reasonable, real, viable, valuable, and sustainable benefits for participants and other beneficiaries as a result of the activities and outputs of an event performed in an accountable way. These should be benefits that advance, add, or contribute to the positive and not to the negative.

It is a concept and practice inherent to the field of Research and “Scholarship of Broader Impacts (SoBI)”. Scholarship of Broader Impacts (SoBI) was originally coined by coined by Oludurotimi Adetunji at Brown University.

The Equitable Outcomes concept is part of the Nature of Broader Impacts and is characterized and exemplified in the Broader Impacts Conceptual Framework (BICF).

Definition of Public Facing

In an Economy of Knowledge Scarcity

Public facing was defined as being available to the general public. The term refers to any free or paid application or system that the public can access. Also called “customer facing,” information systems often comprise a public-facing component as well as a private side that is available only to the internal staff.

However in an Economy of Knowledge Abundance

“Public Facing” is when an individual/s, group, organization, entity, corporation, or University decides through their procedures, actions, professional responsibilities, and policies to have and encourage better: relationships; interactions; sharing; attention; mobilization; and communication (could be with the help of others) so that they can be reciprocally involved and open to and with the public.

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 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.