Newsletter: How is an NSF Project Outcomes Report Different from a Final Annual Report?

Posted on April 1, 2015 by  in Newsletter - ()

Director of Research, The Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University

All NSF projects awarded in January 2010 or later are required to submit a project outcomes report within 90 days of the grant’s expiration, along with a final annual report. In addition to the fact that a project outcomes report is a few paragraphs (200-800 words) and annual reports are typically several pages long, there are three other ways a project outcomes report is distinct from a final annual report.

1. A project outcomes report is solely about outcomes. A final annual report addresses many other topics. Project outcomes reports should describe what a project developed and the changes it brought about with regard to advancing knowledge (intellectual merit) and contributing to desired social outcomes (broader impacts). The focus should be on products and results, not project implementation. Publications are important evidence of intellectual merit, and a list of publications will be generated automatically from the project’s annual reports submitted to Research.gov. Other products generated with grant funds should be listed, such as data sets, software, or educational materials. If these products are available online, links may be provided.1 An accounting of grant products demonstrates a project’s productivity and intellectual merit. To address the project’s broader impacts, reports should highlight achievements in areas such as increasing participation in STEM by underrepresented minorities, improving teaching and learning, and developing the technical workforce.

2. A project outcomes report provides a “complete picture of the results” of a project.2 A final annual report covers the last year of the project only. A project outcomes report is not a progress report. It is the final word on what a project achieved and produced. PIs should think carefully about how they want their work to be portrayed to the public for decades to come and craft their reports accordingly. Dr. Joan Strassman of Washington University provides this cogent advice about crafting outcomes reports:

[A project outcomes report] is where someone … can go to see where NSF is spending its tax dollars. This document is not the plan, not the hopes, but the actual outcomes, so this potential reader can get direct information on what the researcher says she did. It pulls up along with the original funding abstracts, so see to it they coordinate as much as possible. Work hard to be clear, accurate, and compelling. (Read more at bit.ly/blog-POR)

3. A project outcomes report is a public document.3 A final annual report goes to the project’s NSF program officer only. A big difference between these audiences is that a project’s program officer probably has expertise in the project’s content area and is certainly familiar with the overall aims of the program through which the project was funded. For the benefit of lay readers, project outcomes report authors should use plain language to ensure comprehension by the general public (see plainlanguage.gov). Authors may check the report’s readability by having a colleague from outside the project’s content area review it. It’s important to include complete, yet succinct documentation that is readily understandable by individuals outside the project’s content area.

1 ATE grants awarded in 2014 or later are required to archive their materials with ATE Central.

2 For NSF’s guidelines regarding project outcomes reports, see bit.ly/POR-FAQs.

3 To access ATE project outcomes reports: (1) Go to bit.ly/NSF-POR (2) Enter “ATE” in the keyword box; (3) Check the box for “Show Only Awards with Project Outcomes Reports.”