PS 44-111
The NSF Broader Impacts requirement: An opportunity for ecologist engagement in public outreach?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Exhibit Hall B, Minneapolis Convention Center
Casey L. Taylor, Environmental Science, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Brent S. Steel, School of Public Policy, Oregon State University

Ecologists often express an interest in fostering a greater connection between research and broader public engagement in environmental policy debates. This desire exists in the context of the philosophical debate regarding the role of science in society and vice versa, and scientists who wish to engage in public outreach or other social engagement activities face a variety of personal, academic, and institutional challenges. However, there is increasing social demand for such connections, and to that end the NSF implemented a new "Broader Impacts" merit review criterion in 1997. After a period of confusion and resistance, this new system is slowly gaining an element of influence in academic culture. The Broader Impacts criterion can be applied in a variety of ways, including developing public engagement activities. This research assesses whether and how ecologists are taking advantage of this institutional change to advance the expressed disciplinary goal of greater social engagement. Proposed Broader Impacts activities are coded according to type and then estimates of two proportion Z-scores are used in order to assess the significance of differences in frequency of proposed Broader Impacts activities.


Initial analysis of NSF-funded projects in ecology suggests that outreach/broad dissemination activities are among the least proposed of possible Broader Impacts activity types. Comparatively, outreach/broad dissemination activities are proposed less often by ecologists than by researchers in other scientific fields. Project award summaries are further analyzed to determine how proposed Broader Impacts are distributed among ecological research programs compared with other science fields, and to identify opportunities for future application of the Broader Impacts requirement for improved public engagement among ecologists.