Rethinking Broader Impacts

CIRCLS’21 participants can take five bold steps to achieve broader impacts: (1) develop values and norms around ethics; (2) focus on what user communities value most; (3) invest more in emerging scholars; (4) rethink dissemination to give back more to participating communities; and (5) find policy hooks for research insights.

This document is a visual summary using linked-up words and pictures to tell a story and record some of the key messages, including sharing tools and resources, communicating a concept of broad utility, increasing capacity for broader engagement, and influencing policy discussions. The visual language is cartoons so some of the words are part of scenes or dialogue between depicted characters.

CIRCLS participants realized that in an exploratory research program, such as RETTL, the goal is not to get from a proposed idea to the launch of a comprehensive new product. Even in other NSF-funded programs, which fund research goals beyond exploration, launching a comprehensive new product by the end of a research program may not be realistic. Yet, however, if launching a great new app is off the table, what kinds of “broader impacts” can be achieved. Four possibilities, indicated here, are:

  1. Building a tool or resource that others in your design and research community can leverage, for example, a tool for specifying additional designs or a resource for evaluating related designs.
  2. Communicating a new concept of broad utility, such as how learning technologies can support embodied interactions.
  3. Increasing the capabilities of the people you work with (e.g., teachers, students) to play a strong role in additional design and research work.
  4. Developing evidence or an argument that can influence policy discussions, for example, about the opportunities or risks of a particular learning technology.

Across these and other broader impact goals, we see strong relationships between research communities and communities of practice as essential. While the CIRCLS community can offer many examples of successful partnerships, they also called for more funding for community engagement, including community members as “peers” in the peer review process, and developing mechanisms to get smaller or more diverse institutions involved in exploratory research.

The five bold steps, discussed above, are essential to strongly linking the concept of “broader impacts” with the concept of “community capacity building.”

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