Revised NSF Merit Review Criteria

by Kelle on June 21, 2011

The NSF has been reviewing the merit review criteria (i.e., Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts). Based on the largely consistent input of 5,100 individuals, they have now drafted revised review criteria (below). To me, the criteria are actually the same, it’s just the wording has been changed to clarify the intent. In addition, they have added a list of the important underlying principles upon which the merit review criteria should be based.

Comments are being collected through July 14 and should be sent to meritreview@nsf.gov. The comments will be used to help develop the specific guidance that will be given to PIs, reviewers, and NSF staff on the use of the new criteria.

Hat tip to John Gizis.

Merit Review Principles and Criteria
The identification and description of the merit review criteria are firmly grounded in the following principles:

  1. All NSF projects should be of the highest intellectual merit with the potential to advance the frontiers of knowledge.
  2. Collectively, NSF projects should help to advance a broad set of important national goals, including:
    • Increased economic competitiveness of the United States.
    • Development of a globally competitive STEM workforce.
    • Increased participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in STEM.
    • Increased partnerships between academia and industry.
    • Improved pre-K–12 STEM education and teacher development.
    • Improved undergraduate STEM education.
    • Increased public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology.
    • Increased national security.
    • Enhanced infrastructure for research and education, including facilities, instrumentation, networks and partnerships.
  3. Broader impacts may be achieved through the research itself, through activities that are directly related to specific research projects, or through activities that are supported by the project but ancillary to the research. All are valuable approaches for advancing important national goals.
  4. Ongoing application of these criteria should be subject to appropriate assessment developed using reasonable metrics over a period of time.

Intellectual merit of the proposed activity

The goal of this review criterion is to assess the degree to which the proposed activities will advance the frontiers of knowledge. Elements to consider in the review are:

  1. What role does the proposed activity play in advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields?
  2. To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?
  3. How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity?
  4. How well qualified is the individual or team to conduct the proposed research?
  5. Is there sufficient access to resources?

Broader impacts of the proposed activity

The purpose of this review criterion is to ensure the consideration of how the proposed project advances a national goal(s). Elements to consider in the review are:

  1. Which national goal (or goals) is (or are) addressed in this proposal? Has the PI presented a compelling description of how the project or the PI will advance that goal(s)?
  2. Is there a well-reasoned plan for the proposed activities, including, if appropriate, department-level or institutional engagement?
  3. Is the rationale for choosing the approach well-justified? Have any innovations been incorporated?
  4. How well qualified is the individual, team, or institution to carry out the proposed broader impacts activities?
  5. Are there adequate resources available to the PI or institution to carry out the proposed activities?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Ellie Newton July 23, 2011 at 11:06 am

The merit criteria seem essentially unchanged to me as well, but the “review principles” (especially #2) have a much stronger emphasis on the US economy and industry than I recall noticing previously. Somehow not surprising!

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