A bit of a fuss was made over the (apparently abandoned) crowdsourced review of the National Science Foundation (NSF) organized by then-House Minority Whip Eric Cantor. As I noted at the time, it was one part of a multi-pronged political operation that struck me as very unserious about gathering meaningful public feedback on NSF programs.
I think it quite reasonable for the public to make some comment on how taxpayer funds are being used in government. The focus of Cantor’s hunt was on individual grants, but there are other aspects of NSF activity that could benefit from public input.
One of them is the ongoing review of the NSF Merit Review criteria. The National Science Board (NSB) has a Task Force focused on it, and it is seeking input from stakeholders. NSB Chair Ray Bowen solicited feedback from NSF-funded researchers in late January. The Task Force is scheduled to provide a report to the Board in May. The work plan (scroll down) indicates an effort to reach out to several different kinds of stakeholders: grant proposers, institutional research staff (university staff that help administer the grants), policymakers, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Congress.
A notable absence here is the public. While the argument can be made that the public may not be able to effectively contribute to a discussion on the intellectual merit criterion, that cannot be extended to the broader impacts criterion. Given the confusion many in the research community continue to have (scroll down even further) with this criterion
“Anecdotal evidence suggests that this requirement can be very confusing to the research community, which continues to express frustration in interpreting and thus responding effectively to the Broader Impacts criterion when creating a proposal.”
why not gather public input on at least this part of the merit review process? Congress has been instructive on giving merit review, and the broader impacts criterion, additional direction. It was addressed in both the COMPETES Act and in its re-authorization bill. What the public thinks should matter as well, as they could be the focus of these broader impacts. And such input will have more effect on the agency than the political theater Representative Cantor favors.