Observing the Ocean and Broadly

November 17, 2009 in BI Blog by Jim Yoder

My name is Jim Yoder and I oversee the academic programs at WHOI.  I am currently a PI with COSEE-NOW and am also a researcher, although not as active as in the past.  I worked at NASA Headquarters for a couple of years as a Program Manger in the 1980s, and again in the 1990s, and also at NSF as Director of the Division of Ocean Sciences from 2001-2004.  At NSF, I was involved in the development of the OOI initiative and was also involved in many discussions on the broader impact criteria and how it was to be evaluated.

The purpose of this blog is simple.  We would like to engage the ocean science community and other interested parties in a discussion as to how best to use ocean observatories and ocean observing initiatives to serve public outreach and education, as well as other “broader impacts”.  Our hope is that this blog will be helpful to those of you planning to submit NSF and other proposals to federal agencies related to the use of ocean observing assets.  Specifically, we hope that the discussion will help you develop better ideas for broader impact activities related to ocean observing and thus for more competitive NSF and other proposals.  Although our focus will be on broader impacts in the context of ocean observing activities, we would like to start with a broader discussion on broader impacts.

First, some background. The National Science Board, the governing body of NSF, approved the use of two merit review criteria in March 1997, and each subsequent issuance of NSF’s Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) since 1997 has continued to strengthen the importance of broader impacts in the preparation and review of proposals submitted to NSF. Thus, the broader impact criteria is now more than 10 years old and well established in the NSF system. The NSF webpage lists a document that provides examples of broader impact activities (http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/gpg/broaderimpacts.pdf). A recent article in the ASLO newsletter (June, 2009, Vol 18, no. 2, openly available at www.aslo.org) co-authored by 3 NSF Program Managers from the Division of Ocean Sciences, Polar Programs and Environmental Biology provides some practical advice. In the concluding paragraph, this article states:

“The second major criterion is the project’s broader impacts. NSF is very serious about the broader impacts of a study ….. , but this criterion rarely supersedes intellectual merit. There are several types of broader impacts, but no expectation that a single proposal should cover all of them. Chose the one(s) that best fits your research and for which you can make a convincing case. …. Don’t rest on past accomplishments; we evaluate the broader impacts of the current proposal.”

This sounds like good advice, but what do you think?  What are your experiences as well as your opinions on the broader impact criteria?
By the way, Janice McDonnell will share this part of the blogosphere with me, and we’ve also asked some former NSF Division of Ocean Science Program Managers to engage in our discussion.