Origins of Broader Impacts in the West: Sovereign Nations Direct and Indirect Influence on NSF’s Broader Impacts Criterion

When it comes to broader impacts, most people have focused on how to do the National Science Foundation (NSF) broader impacts criterion. Many have not spent much time trying to understand the “entire” broader impacts concept. The inability to explain the “entire” broader impacts concept has slowed down the advancement of those concerned with broader impacts. This is especially true for those submitting proposals to NSF and those trying to address the philosophical issues associated with the NSF broader impacts criterion. This is because understanding the “entire” concept helps one to successfully accomplish the criterion. Understanding all the nuances of the concept also adequately informs organizations how to facilitate the criterion in a community.

It is common knowledge that the term, “broader impacts”, was coined in 1996 by NSF to be implemented as a scoring criterion for grant proposals. What appears not to be commonly known is that the origins of the “entire” broader impacts concept have practical and philosophical roots in values and thought established Before the Common Era (BCE). From a humanistic perspective, origins of this concept can also be found in other cultures throughout the world.

In the context of historical Western ideology and modern United States, some of these ideas and values were articulated by individuals such as Aristotle and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The European ideas of this concept changed and evolved over time. However, these ideas evolved and developed most rapidly when Europeans encountered, learned, and mixed with peoples in the Americas.

More specifically, the rapid development and evolution of these ideas happened because these Ancient American civilizations, which spanned the Paleo-Indian, Archaic, and Formative Periods, had already achieved broad integration and utilization of the concept before Europeans arrived in the Americas. In addition, the Ancient Americans utilized this concept within a value system that was vastly different from Europeans. This Ancient American “societally competent” value system allowed for the facile and quick transmission of this concept to others, e.g., Africans, Asians, and Europeans. Over time, as Europeans moved-in and colonization took place, some of these values and value systems were indirectly used, adopted, or stolen. Some of these values and value systems are now practiced in modern United States.

In general, the combination of Ancient American and European practice and thought, along with many other cultures, have helped to shape the values that are held today in modern United States. In particular, specific Ancient American values and value systems combined with certain Aristotelian ideals as well as ideas from others have shaped the concept that currently underpins the broader impacts criterion1. A topic that has not been well-articulated in the broader impacts conversation.

Furthermore, the specific Sovereign Nation ontological, epistemological, cosmological, and axiological underpinnings of and influence on the broader impacts concept and its use as a NSF criterion have also not been discussed. This in some ways is very surprising. Broad integration and utilization of this concept, in the context of Ancient American civilizations, has been well documented through many of the written and oral histories of the Peoples of the Sovereign Nations2.

For example, the “medicine man”, contrary to what has been portrayed ideologically in Western media, was not a babbling mystic. Depending on the Sovereign Nation and again contrary to popular Western belief, the “medicine man” could be a woman. These medicine people could also be educators, researchers conducting research, artists, providers, humanitarians, engineers, historians, philosophers, administrators, social scientists, chemists, or biologists. These persons were positioned to benefit society in real tangible ways. For the Peoples of the Choctaw Nation, one way this would have been accomplished is through varying social practices of service by serving others and developing relationships.

This act of creating connections was termed “I’yyi kowa” or (broken foot). As a concept and practice, it meant that this service needed to ensure beneficial stability or “social balance” and advancement of their society. In other words, people in these professions needed to achieve societal benefits and desired societal outcomes. Note: I’yyi kowa can be spelled differently between the varying Mississippi and Oklahoma Choctaw communities but the concept it represents is the same.

More importantly, this idea of societal benefit was a position taken by many Indigenous communities. The idea was called by different names. It was a required value and a cultural expectation. All together, these practical, philosophical, and historical ideas foundational to the broader impacts concept are some of the keys to understanding and clarifying the practical, theoretical, and philosophical issues surrounding the NSF broader impacts criterion3.



1 There are other cultures and civilizations that influenced the broader impacts concept that have not been provided in this discussion.

2 The use of the phrase “Sovereign Nations” is representative of Native Americans, Indigenous tribes, and their officially recognized independent governments/countries.

3 A comprehensive explanation of the practical, philosophical, and historical roots of the broader impacts concept will be provided at a later time.