Merit Review Under Review

A move by the NSF to clarify its merit review requirements could have big impacts for those hoping to achieve academic grants through the institution.

By | January 10, 2012

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

The National Science Foundation approved last month two changes to its merit review requirements in an attempt to address the murky notion of research’s “broader impacts”—the idea that research can and should have positive effects beyond the advancement of scientific knowledge. Researchers are asked to describe expected outcomes when applying for grants, and also how previous studies have made strides towards achieving these outcomes.

In 1997 the NSF adopted language elucidating eight examples of the type of broader impacts research could effect, such as societal benefits of the findings or “promoting teaching, training, and learning.” These examples came to define what constituted “broader impacts,” reported ScienceInsider. Now NSF is attempting to remove these strictures by avoiding specifics and allowing researchers to best decide what a study’s broader impacts might be.

But NSF’s review board accepts that a single study may not always be able to realize such lofty goals on its own. Rather than requiring each grant application to describe which impacts it’s achieved, NSF will evaluate future grants at “a higher, more aggregated, level than the individual project.” Thus, university-wide programs or grants from a group of investigators are more appropriate for evaluation under the new recommendations.

NSF expects the revisions to go take effect January 2013.

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