Transformative Research Workshop

National Science Foundation LogoThe March 8 and 9, 2012 workshop on “Transformative Research: Social and Ethical Implications” at NSF Headquarters in Virginia will explore the history and alternative conceptions of a term – "potentially transformative research" (PTR) – that has come to play an increasingly important role in policy debates at NSF, at other federal agencies, and in public discourse about the future of science in society.

Download the Final Report by clicking here.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has defined PTR as follows:

  • PTR is research that “meets fundamental technological or scientific challenges, involves multidisciplinary work, and involves a high degree of novelty” (2010 Report required by Sec. 1008(c), P.L. 110-69).
  • It involves ideas, discoveries, or tools that radically change our understanding of an important existing scientific or engineering concept or educational practice or leads to the creation of a new paradigm or field of science, engineering, or education. Such research challenges current understanding or provides pathways to new frontiers. ( 

The importance of PTR is reflected by the fact that NSF has:

  • modified the intellectual merit review criterion to include PTR;
  • established an agency-wide Facilitating Transformative and Interdisciplinary Research (FacTIR) working group;
  • added several funding mechanisms, EAGER and CREATIV, to support PTR; and
  • provided training to program officers on the importance of PTR.

The notion of PTR also extends beyond NSF. In fact, the language of transformative research is becoming quite common. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) promotes transformative research via a solicitation that speaks of "transformative apps"; and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have a Transformative Research Projects Program (R01).

This workshop brings together policy makers, officials from NSF and other federal science agencies, and prominent researchers across the STEM disciplines and within science and technology studies (i.e., from the history and philosophy of science, policy studies, philosophy of science policy, science of science and innovation policy) in order to:

  • Identify gaps in our current thinking about PTR
  • Provide greater conceptual clarity to the complex of issues surrounding calls for NSF to better promote “potentially transformative” research
  • Develop a research agenda that goes beyond the typical intradisciplinary engagement of scholars with scholars on areas of interest only to those scholars. 

The goal of the workshop is to facilitate long-term engagement between the community of researchers on science, technology, and society with the science policy community. PTR will function as both the specific topic of investigation, and as a case study in bridging the gap between research and practice. The outcomes of this workshop will include a) a workshop report and b) at least one article in a peer-reviewed journal by the PI and co-PI.

This Workshop is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant # 1129067. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the auhtor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

Download the Final Report by clicking here.