Sneak Preview: NSF Working on Merit Review Criteria Guidance

March 8, 2012 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

(The following was excerpted from an article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) The National Science Foundation is planning how to implement recommendations to revise its merit review criteria. Handed down by a National Science Board task force, the recommendations defined three merit review principles and specified five key elements that reviewers should consider when evaluating research proposals.

Institutions that submit grant proposals to NSF must provide separate statements that clearly address two key criteria — the intellectual merit of the proposed activity and the broader impacts that are expected to result from the proposed activity. Jean Feldman, head of the policy office at the NSF Division of Institution and Award Support, told a recent Federal Demonstration Partnership meeting that the task force evaluated how those criteria are interpreted and applied by principal investigators (PIs), proposal reviewers and NSF staff; the strengths and weaknesses of those criteria; the impact of the criteria on how PIs develop projects; and the role of educational institutions.

The task force proposed a set of principles and revised review criteria to the full NSB in May 2011 and received about 280 comments from stakeholders in response to the proposal. “One of the things [the task force] found was that people really understood intellectual merit, but they didn’t so much with broader impacts,” Feldman said. “They didn’t understand necessarily what it meant and how it was being used in the NSF review process by reviewers and programs.”

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