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Broader Impacts

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and other federal research agencies are increasingly emphasizing the need to justify not only the “intellectual merit” of proposed research, but also its “broader impacts.” Broader Impacts is defined as the potential of the research project to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of desired societal outcomes.

Below, we provide resources to help faculty define and develop their broader impacts as well as potential university and local partners.

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Broader Impact Partners


Broadening Participation

  • Center for Civic Engagement. Northwestern University’s Center for Civic Engagement promotes a lifelong commitment to active citizenship and social responsibility among all students. Through an integration of academics with meaningful volunteer service, research and community partnerships, the Center supports students, faculty, staff and alumni as they enhance their own academic experiences while contributing to stronger communities and a more engaged university.
  • Office of Community Education Partnerships (OCEP). Resource for faculty who wish to work with K-12 teachers and students, particularly on NSF Broader Impacts components of their research proposals.
  • Morton Schapiro Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools program. The academy, established in 2013, is a free, multiyear college access and enrichment program for academically motivated high school students from diverse backgrounds. 
  • Science in Society.  Publishes the Science in Society website communicating scientific advances to the general public.  Also runs after school programs in Boys and Girls Clubs in Chicago.  
  • Center for Talent Development.  Saturday, summer, and online programs for gifted students.  Always interested in new course offerings and instructors.  
  • Design for America. Creates local and social impact through design. Organizes interdisciplinary groups of students and working in an extra-curricular setting to tackle social challenges from a unique, creative perspective. 
  • Office of Student Engagement. They oversee the numerous undergraduate student groups at NU that participate in tutoring, outreach, and other community service activities.   
  • Graduate Student Groups.  Like their undergraduate counterparts, graduate students also participate in outreach and community service via student groups.
  • Office of Undergraduate Research. Provides opportunities for undergraduates to do independent projects and research.


  • Searle Center.  The Searle Center promotes high-quality teaching and learning at Northwestern by working with instructors to enhance their teaching and with undergraduates to enhance their learning. They also conduct research and evaluation on teaching and learning in higher education.
  • The Postdoc Academy is a comprehensive online and in-person program built on the National Postdoctoral Association core competencies to support skill development. Courses include “The Postdoc Academy: Succeeding as a Postdoc” and “The Postdoc Academy: Building Skills for a Successful Career.” The Postdoc Academy was developed by a team at Northwestern University, Boston University, Michigan State, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Related

  • Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion. The Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion aims to help create and sustain a diverse, inclusive and welcoming environment for all Northwestern community members including students, faculty, staff and alumni. Their website maintains diversity-related lists of campus resources and groups, academic programs and centers, and statistics.  
  • The Graduate School Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP). 8-week competitive research experience at Northwestern for sophomores and juniors from colleges and universities across the United States geared towards underrepresented minorities.  
  • Introduction to Graduate Education (IGEN) introduces diverse juniors and seniors to graduate research, and a partnership with The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions as one of five Majority Research Institutions participating in the Hispanic Serving Institution Pathways to the Professoriate (HSI Pathways).
  • Provost Grants for Innovation in Diversity and Equity support and recognize innovation in improving diversity and inclusivity by funding and recognizing novel faculty projects to improve diversity and inclusivity and to create an inclusive and equitable environment at Northwestern.
  • Genderqueer, Nonbinary, and Transgender (GQNBT) task force provides recommendations for the gender expansive community members
  • The Native American Inclusion Initiative has enhanced the inclusion of Native Americans in the university community, acknowledging the Indigenous Peoples who are traditional stewards of the land the University exists on.
  • The Office of Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance works to prevent and respond to reports of discrimination and harassment. They provide consultation and support to individuals with disabilities.


  • Research Communications Office.  A part of the Office for Research that publicizes research advances at Northwestern in a variety of formats.  
  • University Relations.  NU office that publishes news stories on main NU website.  Can help publicize public interest research and outreach results.  
  • Global Marketing and Communications  
    University Relations creates print and online communications, promotes Northwestern, and provides communications counsel to showcase accomplishments that advance the University’s reputation as a top research and teaching institution. 

Local Community Resources

Schools and Libraries 

  • Evanston/Skokie District 65 Schools.  Local school district that serves a diverse student population in Evanston/Skokie.  Contact:  Amy Pratt, OSEP.
  • Evanston Township High School and the NU/ETHS Partnership Office.  NU has a full time partnership coordinator working to connect the high school with the resources of NU.  A great first stop for exploring tutoring opportunities or other high school oriented activities.  Contact: Kristen Perkins, NU/ETHS Partnership Coordinator.
  • Evanston Public Library.  Teen Loft provides a range of drop in programming for teens.  Site for undergraduate student mentoring.  Contact: 
  • MetaMedia at McGaw YMCA.  A drop in space targeting area middle school students with a focus on digital media, making, and other interest-driven programs.  Contact:  Sarita Smith.
  • Chicago Public Schools.  Third largest school district in the US with nearly 400,000 students, many of whom are from underrepresented populations in STEM.  Contact Amy Pratt, OSEP.
  • Chicago Public Library.  Offers makerspaces and YouMedia teen centers at a number of branches.  Contact Amy Pratt, OSEP.
  • After School Matters.  A citywide after school program offering a range of programs for youth in Chicago. Contact Amy Pratt, OSEP.

Outreach Organizations and Programs 

Public Educational Facilities 

  • Museum of Science and Industry. One of the top science museums in the country.  Offers a FabLab makerspace and extensive teacher professional development programs for CPS teachers.  Partnering on exhibits requires advanced planning. Contact Amy Pratt, OSEP.
  • Field Museum. One of the largest natural history museums in the world with extensive exhibits and educational programs, including school programs.
  • Adler Planetarium. Destination for astronomy, astrophysics, space travel, and related exhibits and experiences.  Also organizes citizen science efforts.  Contact: Laura Trouille.
  • Nature Museum.  A very kid-friendly museum focused on local natural environment and the Great Lakes and home of the Chicago Academy of Sciences located in Lincoln Park.
  • Lincoln Park Zoo.  One of the few free-access zoos in the country.  Also provides a range of educational services and public outreach activities.
  • Shedd Aquarium.  A top notch aquarium with a focus on Great Lakes and conservation generally.  Also houses a Teen Learning Lab.  
  • Chicago Children’s Museum. A popular destination for families with young children housed in Navy Pier.  
  • Chicago Botanic Gardens. A living museum with deep expertise in science, education and outreach and research collaboration.  Contact: Jennifer Schwarz Ballard
  • Argonne National Laboratory Education Programs. Education and outreach programs for middle and high school students, educators, and undergraduate and graduate students. Contact: Meridith Bruozas. 
  • Chicago Architecture Foundation.  Runs youth and public education programs around the built environment, architecture, urban planning, etc.  Their boat tours are one of the most popular tourist attractions in Chicago.

Agency Sponsored Networks 

Tools for Preparing your Broader Impact

Examples of Broader Impacts

Broader impacts do not need to be limited to Northwestern, or the immediate area.  Broadening the scope of your broader impacts can potentially enhance your BI statement, particularly if they contribute to disseminating results to the public or offer additional social benefits.

  • Publications with undergraduate or minority student authors
  • Community or workforce engagement
  • K-12 education and outreach
  • Partnering with local museums with existing opportunities for K-12 outreach
  • Partnering with existing youth development and mentoring program like 4-H Youth Development Program
  • Undergraduate research experience
  • Industry engagement
  • Instances of improving societal well-being or public awareness
  • Transformative discovery
  • Data sharing
  • Any public lectures, TED lectures, op-ed pieces in general publications or interviews with media outlets about your research
  • Design and implementation of science policy

Examples of Target Outcomes for Broader Impacts Activities

  • Full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in STEM
  • Improved STEM education and educator development at any level
  • Increased public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology
  • Improved well-being of individuals in society
  • Development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce
  • Increased partnerships between academia, industry, and others
  • Improved national security
  • Increased economic competitiveness of the United States
  • Enhanced infrastructure for research and education

Potential Red Flags for Broader Impacts Sections

  • Principal Investigator (PI) proposed BI activities that will be done regardless of whether the proposal is funded.
    BI should not include PI’s normal teaching duties and faculty commitments such as normal teaching duties, publishing research in peer reviewed journals, undergraduate advising
  • PI proposed BI activities that benefit their field of research or other fields, but that provide limited or no societal benefits.
    For example, if a chemical engineering proposal mentions only the impacts of the research on the fields of chemical engineering and food science, the BI will not be reviewed favorably. This is considered to be Intellectual Merit, not a Broader Impact.
  • Proposed activities plug into existing outreach programs without describing what new value they will bring.
    If a proposal discusses involvement in, as an example, an after-school program, but does not highlight how the proposed activity will enhance this program through either new content or added value, the BI will likely not be reviewed favorably.

    Note: This is somewhat dependent on the reviewers’ individual preferences. Some reviewers are happy to see involvement in an established, successful program, regardless of whether or not the new project adds value.
  • Proposed BI activities are not sufficiently integrated with or related to the PI’s proposed or ongoing research.
    If a proposal discusses involvement in an ongoing program, or suggests a the initiation of a new program, but does not highlight how the program ties into ongoing or proposed research, it may be negatively reviewed.

    Note: Again, this is somewhat dependent on the reviewers’ individual preferences, with some reviewers happy to see involvement in effective programs regardless of their relationship to the PI’s research
  • PI did not describe BI activities in sufficient detail.
    For example, if a PI mentions that their BI plan involves training students, but does not detail the recruitment of the students or what will comprise the training, reviewers may question if the plan has been fully developed.
  • PI wrote too much about BI activities they've done in the past and not enough about what they propose to do in the future.

    Note: Having a strong BI track record can be important, especially if you have received funding from NSF in the past. However, this shouldn’t be discussed at the expense of your proposed activities.
  • PI proposed BI activities that are not feasible.

    Note: If not discussed explicitly or in sufficient detail, panelists may question whether or not PIs have sufficient institutional support in the form of time or resources, whether or not they’ve formed the necessary partnerships with local organizations, and whether or not they are allocating funds appropriately.
  • PI proposed multiple, disjointed BI activities without having one well-developed, “main” activity.

    Note: If the PI does not convey that they have developed a robust, central BI mission or activity, reviewers may assume that they are compensating by proposing numerous weaker activities.