Broader impacts of a research project, as defined by the National Science Foundation, "advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training and learning, ... broaden participation of underrepresented groups, ... enhance infrastructure for research and education, ... are broadly disseminated to enhance scientific and technological understanding, ... and benefit society" (NSF). Specific activities may include mentoring, creating outreach tools, developing curricula, leading workshops, developing a citizen science program, or developing partnerships with relevant organizations.
More often than not, outreach efforts are most successful when stakeholders and partners are engaged early and are committed to the long-term process of collaboration. Considering an "adaptive management" approach, where the outreach plan can be modified based on stakeholder input, can help ensure that your efforts are successful. Also, keep in mind that relevant information regarding your research areas may already exist. Incorporate that into your body of work and make it all accessible.
An important part of developing a plan to implement broader impacts is determining what your own goals and motivations. Why is making a "broader impact" important to you?
Often, a good starting point is to take a look around your own community. Where can improvements be made to make research and science education more accessible, both in terms of the general public and the student body? What steps could your graduate program or learning institution take to dismantle barriers to education and scientific knowledge? Keep in mind that the University of California's mission statement, and its obligation as a Land Grant institution, includes providing public service and making research findings accessible to the public as an important goal.
Then, ask questions regarding your specific research. How could you include others in the learning process that you are embarking on? Who would be interested in or impacted by the results of your research and how could you best collaborate or share your findings with them? In order for broader impacts projects to be meaningful and successful, one needs to reflect on the intentions behind broader impacts projects. Is there a need for this project? Is the project a resume builder or something more?
Evaluating Broader Impacts
Evaluation is an important component of an outreach plan; evaluating project outcomes can help you improve your outreach program and document your successes. Structured evaluations can be particularly important when applying for funding.
After planning and implementing an outreach program, ask yourself:
- Did I meet my program goals?
- How can I improve the program?
Having a plan in place from the start for evaluating your outreach activities can help you answer those questions.
There are a number of ways to evaluate your outreach activities. Specific evaluation techniques will vary depending on the outreach project. There are a variety of existing evaluation tools and guides for designing your own evaluation materials. Depending on the goals of the project, it may be important to evaluate short-term learning or long-term changes (such as a shift towards more a desirable environmental behavior).
Types of evaluation techniques may include (adapted from Jacobson, 2006):
- Counts of products and participants
- Tests for learning knowledge or skills
- Interviews and surveys of participants
- Collecting portfolios of participants work
- Observations of behavior
Jacobson, S.K., M. McDuff, and M. Monroe. 2006. Conservation Education and Outreach Techniques. Oxford University Press. UK. 460 pp.