The National Science Board (NSB) has suggested changes to the criteria the National Science Foundation (NSF) uses to evaluate grant proposals. The existing two merit review criteria, which consider the intellectual merit and broader impacts of the proposed research, would be retained. Changes, however, would be made to better define the criteria, in order to clarify misunderstandings within the research community.

The largest change was made to the broader impacts criterion, which considers a project’s potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes, such as expanding minority participation in science. The revised criterion takes into account a proposal’s potential to benefit society and explore original or potentially transformative concepts, as well as the qualifications of the researcher(s), adequacy of resources, and organization and rationality of the plan. The existing broader impacts criterion does not place an emphasis on the ability of a grantee to achieve his/her stated outcomes.

The NSB also recommended the addition of three overarching principles to better guide researchers and reviewers. The principles aim to ensure that NSF supports high quality research that advances the frontiers of knowledge; that NSF-supported research should contribute, in the aggregate, to achieving societal goals; and that assessment of NSF-funded projects should use appropriate metrics that account for the size and scope of the work.

NSF has already taken action to transition to use of the revised criteria, according to a memorandum from Ray M. Bowen, chair of the NSB.

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