Dear Colleague Letter: NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science)

February 22, 2016

Dear Colleagues:

I write to invite your participation and leadership in the NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) initiative.

Today, NSF is releasing the first NSF INCLUDES solicitation, which aims to fund approximately 40 Design and Development Launch Pilots at ~$300,000 each. I encourage you to enlist partners (e.g., industry, foundations, states) who can help leverage and expand support beyond the Federal dollars. More importantly, in FY 2017, all of these Pilot projects will be eligible to apply for full NSF INCLUDES Alliances, proposed in the President’s FY 2017 Budget Request at a level of $12.5 million each for five years.

Diversity – of thought, perspective, and experience – is essential to achieving excellence in 21st century science and engineering research and education. And, there is a business case for diversity. A recent McKinsey & Company study found that companies were 15% more likely to gain financial returns above their national industry median if they were in the top quartile of gender diversity; the probability climbed to 35% for companies in the top quartile for racial/ethnic diversity.

NSF INCLUDES is a comprehensive national initiative to enhance U.S. leadership by seeking and developing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) talent from all sectors and groups in our society through access and engagement. It aims to improve the preparation, increase the participation, and ensure the contributions of individuals from groups that traditionally have been underserved and/or underrepresented in the STEM enterprise. The U.S. science and engineering workforce can thrive if women, blacks, Hispanics, and people with disabilities are represented in percentages comparable to their representation in the U.S. population. According to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, we have a long way to go to reach that goal. We can achieve national STEM diversity and its benefits to our Nation if we commit to national STEM inclusion.

Many people, projects and organizations already have achieved significant successes toward greater STEM inclusion. Yet, according to a National Academies report, many larger challenges still remain: under-preparation and lack of opportunity for members of all demographic groups to become “STEM-capable”; under-resourcing as seen in growing disparities of access to quality learning and technology; and under-production of STEM graduates from the above-mentioned sectors.

The goal of NSF INCLUDES is to achieve significant impact at the national scale within the next ten years in transforming STEM so that it is fully and widely inclusive. That will require strong partnerships and collaborations among many organizations and people in the overall STEM talent development eco-system. You and your organization can play a large role in this initiative.

Collaborative alliances, spanning education levels, public and private sectors, and including new partners, will need to be developed, expanded, organized and built by leveraging state-of-the-art knowledge on scaling of social innovations. For example, “Collective Impact” approaches that incorporate key success determinants such as common agendas, shared measurements, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communications, and backbone support organizations have the potential to yield large-scale progress towards NSF INCLUDES goals. The latest knowledge from the science of broadening participation provides a strong foundation, and novel systems approaches and designs for achieving scale will be critical. I invite you to read the growing literature on the positive impacts of diversity in teams, and the subtle, but pervasive, biases that can diminish our collective action.

As university and college presidents and chancellors, and heads of organizations funded by the National Science Foundation, I urge you to take a direct and personal role in helping to build these collaborative alliances – with ambitious goals for STEM inclusion – at a national scale. There is rich variation across the Nation in terms of local resources, talent and expertise as well as in the specific roadblocks and challenges you may face. We leave the specific nature of each alliance and the ambitious goals it will aim to achieve to you to define. NSF’s goal is to achieve impact at scale on STEM inclusion. We need your leadership if we are to succeed.

I invite you to become a leader in the NSF INCLUDES initiative. To learn more about this exciting program, go to


France A. Córdova


Hunt, V., Layton, D., & Prince, S. (February, 2015). Diversity matters. McKinsey & Company.

Kania, J., & Kramer, M. (2011). Collective impact, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter. Retrieved from

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (2015). Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.

Committee on Underrepresented Groups and the Expansion of the Science and Engineering Workforce Pipeline, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, & Policy and Global Affairs (2014). Expanding underrepresented minority participation: America’s science and technology talent at the crossroads. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science

Program Solicitation
NSF 16-544

NSF Logo
National Science Foundation

Directorate for Biological Sciences

Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering

Directorate for Education & Human Resources
Division of Human Resource Development

Directorate for Engineering

Directorate for Geosciences

Directorate for Mathematical & Physical Sciences

Directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences

Office of Integrative Activities

Preliminary Proposal Due Date(s) (required) (due by 5 p.m. proposer’s local time):

April 15, 2016

Design and Development Launch Pilots
Full Proposal Deadline(s) (due by 5 p.m. proposer’s local time):

June 24, 2016

Design and Development Launch Pilots

Preliminary proposals and full proposals. Submission of a preliminary proposal is required for Design and Development Launch Pilots. Full Design and Development Launch Pilot proposals may be submitted by invitation only after the review of the preliminary proposal is completed.

Any proposal submitted in response to this solicitation should be submitted in accordance with the revised NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) (NSF 16-1), which is effective for proposals submitted, or due, on or after January 25, 2016.


General Information

Program Title:

Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (NSF INCLUDES)

Synopsis of Program:

Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (NSF INCLUDES) is a comprehensive national initiative designed to enhance U.S. leadership in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) discoveries and innovations focused on NSF’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and broadening participation in these fields. NSF INCLUDES supports efforts to develop talent from all sectors of society to build the STEM workforce. The initiative aims to improve the preparation, increase the participation, and ensure the contributions of individuals from groups that have traditionally been underrepresented and underserved in the STEM enterprise, including women, members of racial and ethnic groups, persons with disabilities, and persons with low socio-economic status. Significant advancement of these groups will result in a new generation of promising STEM talent and leadership to secure our nation’s future in science and technology.

The grand challenge of broadening participation in STEM is to transform the STEM enterprise at all levels in order to fully engage the nation’s talent for the ultimate improvement of the STEM enterprise. As a comprehensive national initiative, NSF INCLUDES aims to address the various complex equity and inclusion-related challenges and opportunities that characterize the nation’s cultural and linguistic diversity, with a specific emphasis on the aforementioned groups. The goal is to achieve national level impact and progress toward STEM inclusion. Viewing this challenge as a social innovation problem, NSF is particularly interested in using approaches to scaling and growth such as collective impact, networked communities and strategic partnerships. The objective is to develop networks that involve representative organizations and consortia from different sectors that are committed to a common agenda to solve a specific STEM inclusion problem at scale. The long-term goal of NSF INCLUDES is to support, over the next ten years, innovative models, networks, partnerships, and research that enable the U.S. science and engineering workforce to thrive by ensuring that women, blacks, Hispanics, and people with disabilities are represented in percentages comparable to their representation in the U.S. population.

In FY 2016, NSF seeks proposals for Design and Development Launch Pilots to catalyze the formation of NSF INCLUDES Alliances.

The NSF INCLUDES is a multi-year program with three essential components:

INCLUDES Design and Development Launch Pilots
INCLUDES Alliances
INCLUDES Backbone Organization
NSF INCLUDES Design & Development Launch Pilots

In FY 2016, the NSF INCLUDES initiative invites proposals for Design and Development Launch Pilots, which are pilot projects that represent bold, innovative ways for solving a broadening participation (BP) challenge in STEM. The Launch Pilots will be funded for up to two years, for a maximum of $300,000. Successful pilots will deliver models or prototypes for collective efforts aimed at increasing the active participation of those who have been traditionally underserved and underrepresented in all fields of STEM. Teams of organizations might come together locally, regionally, nationally, or by disciplinary focus. Key to a successful proposal will be the identification of a specific goal and measurable objectives, and an argument that the set of partners being assembled includes all who are needed to successfully address the objective. The plan must articulate its potential for scaling. These planning and start-up activities are aimed at engaging appropriate communities in testing the feasibility of developing a full-scale plan and process for change, including identifying other support mechanisms for sustaining the efforts. Early in the first year, the partners are expected to refine their collective commitment to a common set of objectives and plans to achieve them. No later than the second year, successful teams are expected to carry out and report on the results of projects to demonstrate their ability to implement a collective impact-style approach to address the selected BP challenge. Early in FY 2017, the successful Design & Development Launch Pilots will share their goals and plans in a live event and/or webinar with one another, the broader community, and NSF, enabling all to learn from their pilot project experiences. This effort will facilitate the formation of NSF INCLUDES Alliances.


In FY 2017, NSF will begin to invite proposals to form NSF INCLUDES Alliances. The formation of these alliances will build on the activities started in FY 2016. It is expected that up to five alliances will be funded for 5 years, at up to $2,500,000 per year each. There will be an expectation that each Alliance proposal will build from a Design and Development Launch Pilot that develops and adds new partners, collaborators, or networks. NSF INCLUDES Alliances will leverage existing Design and Development Launch Pilots, programs, people, organizations, and institutions to form NSF’s “next generation” BP investments8, with each Alliance committed to jointly solving a specific set of objectives. The NSF INCLUDES Design and Development Launch Pilot projects are expected to demonstrate how extant teams and organizations can be reconfigured and joined together to form new alliances with common goals and purposes and collective impact-style approaches, with a strategy for how the effective practices of the Alliance are likely to be deployed at scale. The focus on collective impact-style approaches, partnership diversity, and scaling practices distinguishes the NSF INCLUDES Alliances from existing programs in the NSF broadening participation portfolio that support alliances of homogenous organizations that may not have scaling as a primary goal. NSF INCLUDES Alliances will be funded late in FY 2017, enabling them to learn from and involve the most promising Launch Pilot activities. Some alliances might focus on emerging fields of science and engineering, such as data science, as key domains for advancing BP. Other alliances might focus on more established fields such as clean energy technologies that are known or perceived as “magnets for inclusion.” The alliances will propose, implement, and assess solutions to address the barriers that result in seepage of talent from diverse communities and develop the talent among those who have been traditionally underrepresented in the STEM enterprise.

NSF INCLUDES Backbone Organization

A critical component of the collective impact approach is the Backbone Organization. The work of the Backbone Organization is multifaceted and complex.  More specifically, the Backbone Organization drives the following activities over the lifecycle of the initiative: (a) guiding vision and strategy; (b) alignment of activities; (c) establishing shared measurement practices; (d) building public will; (e) advancing policy; and (f) mobilizing funding 9. Building on proven mechanisms of success with technical assistance support structures, resource networks and centers, and other related efforts to create communities of practice, NSF is seeking new ideas for leveraging research, effective practices, and emerging technologies to manage the multi-site complexities associated with vision development, alignment, shared measurement practices, implementation research, evaluation, public support and engagement, policy change and implementation, leveraging of funding, and communication between and across the set of Design and Development Launch Pilots and Alliances. In FY 2016, NSF will be calling for conference and workshop proposals to inform the design of the Backbone Organization infrastructure for NSF INCLUDES. This will be done in an upcoming Dear Colleague Letter associated with this solicitation, which will provide further guidance for developing proposals for the Backbone Organization.

CEOSE, 2011 – 2012 Biennial Report to Congress. (See
Shiloh Turner, Kathy Merchant, John Kania, & Ellen Martin, “Understanding the Value of Backbone Organizations in Collective Impact, Part 1,” The Greater Cincinnati Foundation and FSG (July 2012),

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