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The NSF has recently released a new version of their Proposal & Award Policies and Procedures Guide, releasing their previous guides. (See their Dear Colleague Letter.) This contains a number of changes to the policies regarding grant proposal reviews and ongoing reporting.

However, it is unclear to me whether any of these are likely to be significant in practice for PIs; many of them sound primarily bureaucratic in nature. The list of changes seems like it was written by a bureaucrat and seems likely to be of interest only to a bureaucrat, and of modest relevance to PIs (e.g., it might change a few section headings in proposals to comply with the new requirements, but not make any fundamental changes to what we propose or how we do research).

Are any of these changes significant enough that PIs should be paying serious attention to them? Are there any changes that are important enough that they would make a substantive change to how we write proposals or do research or interact with the NSF, and if so, which changes are those, and what will their impact be? In short, if a colleague of yours (a fellow PI) asked you what the impact of these changes will be, are there any changes that rise high enough that you would highlight them as important to be aware of?

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At the top of a recent NSF Solicitation the following note exists:

A revised version of the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG), NSF 13-1, was issued on October 4, 2012 and is effective for proposals submitted, or due, on or after January 14, 2013.

Please be aware that significant changes have been made to the PAPPG to implement revised merit review criteria based on the National Science Board (NSB) report, National Science Foundation's Merit Review Criteria: Review and Revisions. While the two merit review criteria remain unchanged (Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts), guidance has been provided to clarify and improve the function of the criteria. Changes will affect the project summary and project description sections of proposals. Annual and final reports also will be affected.

A by-chapter summary of this and other significant changes is provided at the beginning of both the Grant Proposal Guide and the Award & Administration Guide.

By my reading of the section in the PDF that lists the changes, the following might be of interest to PIs:

Chapter II.C.2.f(i)(c), Biographical Sketch(es), has been revised to rename the “Publications” section to “Products” and amend terminology and instructions accordingly. This change makes clear that products may include, but are not limited to, publications, data sets, software, patents, and copyrights.

Plus, a minor change to the Indirect Costs section w.r.t. international participants, a minor change in the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources listing,

A change in the definition of "New Awardee":

Chapter II, Introduction, has been modified regarding the period of time after which an organization is considered a “new awardee”. Organizations that have not had an active NSF award within the last five years (formerly two years) should be prepared to submit basic organization and management information and certifications.

Prior funding:

Chapter II.C.2.d, Project Description, has been revised to clarify that, in the Results from Prior NSF Support section, “prior” NSF support includes current NSF funding. This section also was updated to indicate that information should be included irrespective of whether or not the support was directly related to the proposal, or whether or not salary support was provided.

References Cited:

Chapter II.C.2.e, References Cited, has been updated to specify that if there are no references cited, a statement to that effect should be included in this section of the proposal and uploaded into FastLane.

And various other minor changes...

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No, there are no earth-shattering changes.

There are some minor changes that you may need to be aware of when you write a proposal, but they mostly come down to changes the titles of sections and that sort of thing. They may affect some PIs, but for most PIs, the changes are primarily clarifications or modest bureaucratic tweaks. For example, they are unlikely to change that way that grant review panels review proposals, or to change how you are allowed to spend the money that you receive in a grant.

One change you'll notice is how you enter the summary page. Instead of preparing a one-page summary page, you now will have to paste your text into three separate textboxes (project overview, intellectual merit, broader impacts), and the length limit is in characters rather than pages.

There's a great summary in the Chronicle of Higher Education: Don't Underestimate NSF's New Grant-Submission Rules.

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