Institutions starting to walk the Broader Impacts walk

CSID’s own Robert Frodeman is slated to keynote an upcoming Broader Impacts Infrastructure Summit. This summit marks the first of its kind for its focus on institutional infrastructure, primarily at universities and colleges, to support faculty and staff in coordinating, documenting, and evaluating broader impacts (BIs). By contrast, previous BI conferences primarily were organized to advance strategies for designing and implementing individual BI statements to address the National Science Foundation’s BI merit review criterion for research grant proposals.

This is a welcome development among academic institutions. NSF is becoming more insistent on the importance of BIs for holding scientists and scientific knowledge accountable to society. Perhaps the availability of institutional resources for achieving impact goals will incentivize more researchers to embrace the importance of societal impact – or, at the very least, demonstrate that addressing BI concerns is not as difficult as it may seem.

Frodeman will kick off the meeting with a presentation on the history of BIs, which will be followed by poster presentations, breakout sessions, and working group designed to brainstorm current innovations in BI infrastructure, challenges, and priorities for future work.

I’m particularly intrigued by a couple of their breakout session topics, namely “Evaluation of BI activities” – to me, this sounds like ‘how to measure societal impact,’ an important problem indeed – and “Helping students with their broader impact plans for NSF Graduate Research Fellow applications.” This is an excellent idea: get students involved in thinking about and working to realized BIs early in their careers. Not only will they be professionally better equipped to be successful researchers, but also they will be more likely to value the inclusion of impact in the everyday practice of academic life.

However, I am skeptical of the emphasis for one of the breakout sessions: “Selling the benefits of a centralized BI infrastructure to your institution.” I would, instead, sell the benefit of having BI infrastructure for each department, such that faculty and student can have access to support for documenting and evaluating their impacts that are most appropriate to the particular work that they do. For example, not all impacts can be measured or tracked in the same way, even within the same field or topic of research, nor should there be a standardized evaluation for all types of impact. Localizing the infrastructure for providing tips and tools to document and evaluate impact goals and activities would give maximum flexibility for recognizing a plurality of ways to achieve impact and the kinds of impacts achieved.

I wonder if this will come up at the meeting…?

This entry was posted in Accountability, Broader Impacts, Conferences Upcoming, NSF, STEM Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Institutions starting to walk the Broader Impacts walk

  1. Robert Frodeman says:

    the point about localizing ties into the question of evaluating BI–centralizing the process will likely lead more toward a one size fits all approach. And I suspect, one that leans quantitative….

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