Debunking the Twenty (20) Major Misconceptions About Broader Impacts, One at a Time:

Misconception 1: Broader Impacts only pertains to the National Science Foundation (NSF) Broader Impacts Criterion.

The global conceptual definition of broader impacts is a process with stakeholders/people to achieve a societal benefit in a finite time that is measured. This can be through one’s, teaching, research, service, occupation, and etc. There can be broader impacts of almost anything. If done appropriately broader impacts can lead to sustainable positive impacts. Having a global conceptual understanding of broader impacts helps answer questions such as – Who decides what will be done? Who benefits from those actions? Society through groups, communities, organizations, institutions, families, and individuals ultimately decides the value of actions as well as who benefits from those actions. This includes faculty. Having a global definition also allows us to begin to differentiate between broader impacts and impacts.

So what about NSF? The NSF broader impacts definition for the criterion is stated as encompassing the potential to benefit society and contribute to achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes. This NSF definition of broader impacts aligns well with and can be explained through the global broader impacts conceptual description. An example of this alignment can be seen in outcome number four in NSF’s 1-9 desired societal outcomes. Outcome number four is defined as improved well-being of individuals in society. NSF desired societal outcome number four delineates and anticipates a positive societal outcome that has yet to be specified. I call it a just in case and everything else clause. Outcome number four implies that there may be a moment where specific actions will be taken that allow an improvement to an individual’s well-being. This improvement would be achieved based on a process with stakeholders/people deciding what will be done and who benefits. These benefits would not fit within the other eight NSF desired societal outcome categories. This supports the idea that there can be broader impacts of almost anything and further shows alignment with the broader impacts global concept.

Furthermore NSF, a federal agency, has specific foci as it relates to broader impacts. This is in regards to mostly STEM and social science fundamental research. This could be accomplished through: the research itself; activities that are directly related to specific projects; and activities that are supported by, but are complementary to the project. A more detailed description of how this specifically relates to the broader impacts global concept will be discussed at another time.

Outside of NSF, there are other agencies and foundations that also have a “benefits to society” requirement but these requirements are applicable to their specific broader impacts foci. The difference between NSF and local, state, regional, national and international agencies and foundations is that they do not specifically use the term broader impacts. They call “it”, meaning broader impacts something else. There are many of these broader impacts-like terms, phrases, and ideas used around the world. A few examples of these are terms like Valorization (in Netherlands), Knowledge Mobilization (in Canada), Equity in Development (in India), Capacity Building (in Africa), National Economic and Social Development and Social Influence, (in China from NSFC Article 14-15), Ultimate Outcomes (in United States Department of Education), and concepts underpinning Responsible Research and Innovation and the Research Excellence Framework (the European Union).

Broader impacts is multi-dimensional, multi-level, and multi-encompassing. Broader Impacts can also be accomplished in many different ways. So regardless of whether “it”: is fully integrated as a requirement; indirectly implied in a vision or mission; a subset of an organizations funding foci; called a different name; or explicitly called broader impacts, “it” can still be understood and explained through a global conceptual definition. Therefore all specific foci and aspects of broader impacts rest on a global verifiable concept and not solely according to an agency or foundation requirement.


[References below are provided to give a way to be made aware of some of the applicable resources. This is not a comprehensive reference list and the references provided do not necessarily meet the latest format MLA, APA, and etc., rules.]

Adetunji, O. (2016). Engaged Scholarship and Broader Impacts Joint Committee. Year End Report 2015-2016. Brown University.

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

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.

Davis, M. and Laas, K. (2014), “Broader Impacts” or “Responsible Research and Innovation”? A Comparison of Two Criteria for Funding Research in Science and Engineering. Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 20, pp 963-983.

National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI). (2015). Broader Impacts Guiding Principles and Questions for National Science Foundation Proposals. [Tri-fold]. [Columbia, MO]: Adetunji, O., Coakley, C., Dawe, J., Dugan, C., Fields, J., Kobilka, S., Koroly, M., Menninger, H., Renoe, S., Ristvey, J., Scowcroft, G., Spohr, K., Sundararajan, S., Thompson, M., and Youngblood, T.

National Science Foundation (NSF). (2015). Perspectives on Broader Impacts. Online at, (accessed 31, May 2017).

National Science Foundation (NSF). (2017). NSF 17-1 Proposal and Award and Procedures Guide (PAPPG), OMB Control Number 3145-0058.

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.

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