IMPACT ENGINES  

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What are Impact Engines?

Impact Engines galvanize and organize interdisciplinary learning, research, and partnerships around solving a challenge or set of challenges, with the goal of maximum impact. Impact Engines span disciplines, colleges, campuses, and industry sectors, connecting diverse communities of problem-solvers around creating measurable change. They are a key pillar of the university’s new academic plan, and a means for Northeastern to claim leadership as an institution with broad societal impact.

Why are they important?

A key pillar to Northeastern’s Academic Plan, Impact Engines emphasize seamless collaboration across multi-expertise, inclusive networks. Innovation emerges organically wherever challenges and research partnerships intersect. This lively ecosystem positions our faculty to work more productively with industry, government, and our local communities on the research that matters most.

Impact Engines, drawing upon Northeastern’s disciplinary strengths, are focal points for education, research, and entrepreneurship throughout our network. This will fully activate our humanics curriculum while ensuring the continuous integration of ideas, people, and experiences across our network.

What does a successful Impact Engine look like?

A successful Impact Engine focuses on a real-world problem. It may align around an entire global problem or focus on solving a contained, related issue. Impact Engines must aim to:

Impact Engines must address global challenges or societal needs, and make meaningful impact in people’s lives.

They must represent an area where we have existing strength with deep involvement from multiple interdisciplinary researchers and external partnerships.

Impact Engines must be a problem space where, with focused investment, Northeastern can become an impact leader.

Frequently asked questions

Other than the Impact Engine support team, which Northeastern stakeholders will be notified when an Impact Engine is submitted?

Once an Impact Engine is submitted, the Impact Engine support team will notify the Associate Deans of Research across our network. 

Will current Northeastern Faculty members who want to join an Impact Engine team have opportunities to do so?

Yes, the Impact Engine support team is working on a method to inform faculty of Impact Engines as they are approved in real-time to update faculty on changes in their stages and/or shifts in their focus.

Can Impact Engines include faculty outside of Northeastern?

If the Impact Engine is led by an NU faculty, it can include faculty from other institutions, as well as others from outside higher education, to make the proposed Impact Engine more powerful. 

Will there be an expectation that colleges contribute to Impact Engine funding for lead faculty?

Faculty hires related to Impact Engines are anticipated to be regular faculty hires and appointments will be made within colleges. As usual, the Provost’s office will provide some initial financial support but not on an ongoing basis. 

Can you please define “external partners?"

A key tenet of the Academic Plan and the Impact Engine concept is that Northeastern researchers will engage in conversation and collaboration with those who are directly impacted by (or engaged in resolving) significant societal challenges. External partnership is therefore expected in these Impact Engines. These stakeholders can include, for example, other academic institutions, non-profit entities, for-profit industry, community or governmental organizations. 

What’s the difference between an Impact Engine and a Research Cluster?

University Clusters were an earlier iteration of the Impact Engine concept. Impact Engines address specific societal challenges and require a problem statement.  

How do Impact Engines differ from centers or institutes?

Impact Engines are a bit like “mini-institutes.” Like institutes, Impact Engines cut across the traditional disciplines and indeed some Impact Engines may ultimately become institutes. However, while institutes represent mature areas of strength and leadership for the university, Impact Engines are nimbler and can split and merge, re-focus, and evolve in ways that were not originally imagined. We could have called them “centers,” but we want to signal that this is not business as usual. In addition, Impact Engines must focus on a real-world problem or set of problems, rather than a scientific discipline or area of scholarship. 

Who selects Impact Engines?

Impact Engines are selected by a Provost-led committee. Senior leadership and Deans serve in an advisory role. Learn more about the review process here.

What does the Impact Engine support team do?

The Impact Engine support team assists the applicant throughout the application and review process by taking some burden off the researcher. The support team will help applicants communicate the strength of their proposal to the review team and assist in addressing feedback from the Deans and senior leadership. 

What is the role of the Research Development ecosystem in this process?

Research Development will play a pivotal role in the success of Impact Engines. The Research Development team will assist in finding additional funding and ensure that Impact Engines are top-of-mind within Northeastern’s global research network. 

What is the funding timeline for Impact Engines?

Proposals are reviewed on a rolling basis, and we guarantee an initial response within one week. 

How many Impact Engines will be approved in a year? Is there a rigid launch timeline or will Impact Engines be selected on a rolling basis?

The Impact Engines will be selected on a rolling basis. We are imagining that in a steady state, several dozen Impact Engines will be operating simultaneously. If you or your team have developed a proposal for an Impact Engine, we invite you to submit it as soon as you feel ready. The sooner we can help you maximize your impact on the world, the better! 

Can Impact Engines hire faculty?

Impact Engines cannot hire faculty, though they can propose faculty hires that will address their problem statement. Colleges will be hiring the faculty who will propel the Impact Engines. Budget can be used for travel, convening, proof of principle research, stakeholder engagement. Please contact the Impact Engine team if you need budget advice. 

Will Impact Engines be physical spaces?

In some instances, they may. It will depend on what is needed to maximize impact. Any such requirement should be described in the proposal among the resources required. 

What is the expected size of an Impact Engine?
  • There are three stages of application. Applications to the Validate stage are expected to be $50,000 in size, applications to the Develop stage are expected to be $100,000 in size, and applications to the Scale stage are expected to match the scope of the proposed impact engine. This can mean a vast difference between Impact Engines and their respective teams depending on the scope and potential impact on a global challenge. You can learn more about the stages here. 
  • Additionally, we ask that teams not focus on the size of the Impact Engine, but more on what can be achieved, and the resources needed to address their problem statement. In terms of size, there is no specific number of people that need to be included, but the nature of Impact Engines being interdisciplinary means that by design, they should have multiple participants across several units at Northeastern. 
Are there milestones that need to be reached in order to receive additional funding?

Yes. The proposal at each application stage must articulate clear, measurable milestones. Ongoing funding will be contingent on meeting those agreed upon milestones. 

When submitting grants, can Impact Engines be leveraged as established resources and facilities at Northeastern?

Yes, Once Impact Engines are greenlit and approved, the Impact Engine support team will help develop language that can be used to assist with grant applications.   

What if my team has a promising idea that may have an application in the future, but that application is unclear?

The core tenet of Impact Engines is that they address current, identified problem areas. While building out promising ideas an important aspect of academic research, and one in which Northeastern will continue to invest and drive through appropriate mechanisms, applications that fail to pinpoint a concrete societal challenge will not be advanced as an Impact Engine.  

What does "solving" mean in the context of Impact Engines?

Solving the identified problem does not mean completely eradicating it. Instead, if your Impact Engine can make a meaningful difference toward addressing the issue then it is “solving” the problem. For example, we would not expect your Impact Engine to solve the problem of climate change, however if the Impact Engine can collaborate with partners to identify and establish key mechanisms of change or intervention levers, those that have significant and measurable impact would be contributing to “solving” the problem.

What happens to an Impact Engine when a solution to the identified real-world problem makes it to the world?

There are many avenues down which successful Impact Engines can go. These opportunities will be determined on a case-by-case basis. 

How will the team’s solution make it to the world?

This must be an integral part of the plan from the very beginning and be among the critical milestones and timelines described in the proposal. 

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