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

Misconception 2: Broader impacts, specifically NSF broader impacts should be institutionalized.

Institutions should promote a broader impacts culture rather than try to exclusively institutionalize National Science Foundation (NSF) broader impacts. This supports a global conceptual definition of broader impacts rather than one just focused on NSF. 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, and occupation. There can be broader impacts of almost anything. If done appropriately broader impacts can lead to sustainable positive impacts.

Traditionally NSF has had a focus on broader impacts done through, complementary to, and related in some way to STEM, social science, and aspects of education research. STEM, social science, and primarily STEM education research are fields that fit within the NSF mission. However, NSF does not focus on all fields and occupations found throughout the institution. So there is a limit to who can value and adopt this important work if the objective is to institutionalize NSF broader impacts. This applies to institutions across the nation and those abroad. Furthermore, if it’s believed that broader impacts is only a function of a NSF criterion, which it is not, institutionalizing NSF broader impacts becomes an almost impossible endeavor. One cannot truly make something an institutional value if it is not widely applicable, used, and accepted by an entire institution.

Attempts to institutionalize NSF broader impacts have had some positive effects. There are now more people in the academy who explicitly show the societal benefits of their work. However, results of trying to institutionalize NSF broader impacts have also created negative perceptions about broader impacts by many of those: who are not in STEM; who are not in the academy; and whose areas of work are not applicable for NSF. Many inside and outside of the institution have been taken advantage of by those who are just trying to meet a broader impacts criterion to get funding. Those who have been taken advantage of inside the institution range from a number of university organizations to faculty, staff, and graduate students. Those outside of the institution who have been taken advantage of are primarily individuals or organizations who provide services to the community. In addition, others inside of the institution who do not apply to NSF see broader impacts as not being applicable in their field. A refocus to institutionalizing a broader impacts culture and movement away from trying to institutionalize broader impacts in regards to a criterion would reunite the academy and the institution with those in the community. Institutionalization of a broader impacts culture allows everyone inside and outside of the institution to come together and be both participants in and beneficiaries of the broader impacts effort.

In conclusion, through the use of the global definition of broader impacts, institutionalization of a broader impacts culture can align with all individuals in an entire university and most university and college missions. This would apply to universities and colleges both nationally and internationally. Emphasis on a global understanding of broader impacts that provides a comprehensive outcome-based approach for an entire institution enables universities and colleges to provide a greater societal benefit and/or positive societal impact. This would also help those in the academy submitting to NSF to achieve more creative, innovative, transformative, and overall higher quality NSF broader impacts.


[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.

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.

The Journal of Epistemology. (2009). Special Issue devoted to NSF Broader Impacts Criterion. Volume 23, Nos 3-4, July – December, 2009.

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