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Research Insights

Broadening the impact of research

Whether we鈥檙e teaching in a classroom, conducting research or creative inquiry in a laboratory, studio or field site, or engaging in a service opportunity, we want our efforts to make a difference in the world. As researchers, we all hope the intellectual, creative, and scientific merits of our work translate into positive change or impact on some level.

Whether we鈥檙e teaching in a classroom, conducting research or creative inquiry in a laboratory, studio or field site, or engaging in a service opportunity, we want our efforts to make a difference in the world. As researchers, we all hope the intellectual, creative, and scientific merits of our work translate into positive change or impact on some level.

Increasingly, federal agencies are looking beyond simply the scientific merits of the research they fund and asking submitters to describe the 鈥渂roader impacts鈥 of a proposed project. How will it advance a societal goal ancillary to the research itself? Does it contribute to national security or the United States鈥 economic competitiveness? Does it help build an inclusive, STEM-capable workforce? Does it improve health and well-being? Does it help us learn from our past in order to better plan our future?

On its , the National Science Foundation (NSF) explains the importance of broader impact statements in funding proposals and, as a public-serving organization, details the agency鈥檚 priorities for those impacts. Other agencies may refer to the concept as 鈥渟ocietal impact鈥 or 鈥渒nowledge transfer,鈥 but the idea is the same.

As a land- and sea-grant institution with a public service mandate, UGA鈥檚 mission to move research out of the lab and into our communities is closely aligned with the goals of broader impact statements. Just like the agencies that fund our work, we are a public institution with an obligation to share the benefits of our research with the public.

Broader impacts come in many forms. A significant broader impact might occur by fashioning a project with purposeful inclusion of diverse opinions and perspectives, with particular attention on engagement of those who are often underrepresented or absent from important conversations. Another project with broader impact might be an effort to improve education and teacher-development at one or multiple levels from K-12 and beyond.

Public engagement and communication are also forms of broader impact. Working with UGA communications staff to publicize research projects and outcomes is just one example; others include visiting local schools or other organizations to talk about research, holding public events, or submitting op-eds or other narratives to mainstream media.

UGA has a range of resources to help researchers explore avenues to broaden the impact of their work. To name a few:

  • Innovation Gateway staff members can assist researchers with entrepreneurship and technology commercialization.
  • agents and specialists serve all of Georgia鈥檚 159 counties and are trusted and knowledgeable collaborators to the communities they serve, as well as to UGA. They provide a ready conduit between UGA research and innovation and the communities we seek to serve.
  • initiatives like the or units such as the can help researchers access and synthesize community relevant data and understand the policy making channels and processes.
  • Programs like and the can help researchers connect with high school students with diverse backgrounds.
  • For researchers interested in K-12 student and teacher outreach, the can facilitate collaboration with school districts.

Earlier this month, Jake Maas, director of our Office for Proposal Enhancement, led about broader impacts that featured the experiences of four faculty members who have had success crafting broader impacts statements in their proposals. The event provided firsthand knowledge about what funding agencies value in such statements, how to make related activities workable within the scope of the larger project, and how to capture and communicate the broader impacts themselves.

As we begin 2024, let鈥檚 think creatively about ways in which we might translate research into societal impact. Let鈥檚 look at our project plans and ask the tough question of ourselves: 鈥淪o what?鈥 Impactful work magnifies the ultimate value of the research and almost always results in new opportunities for application and collaboration. Impactful work is fundamental to the mission of UGA and, most importantly, imperative to the world we serve.

I wish you all the best for a successful and productive spring semester!

 

Karen J.L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research