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.