The NSF AISL Program

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program seeks to advance new approaches to and evidence-based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning opportunities for the public in informal environments; provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments; and engage the public of all ages in learning STEM in informal environments. The Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) is an NSF-funded resource center which supports the AISL program. CAISE works in partnership with NSF Program Directors to plan resources that can help teams develop their proposals.

Supports for Proposal Development for the 2021 NSF AISL Solicitation

CAISE hosted several virtual office hours with NSF AISL Program Directors.

Introduction to the Solicitation

The slide portion of the Introduction to the Solicitation session was recorded on September 22, 2021. NSF Program Directors Bradley Barker and Bob Russell delivered the presentation. 

A PDF of the slides is available here.


Research Questions

The slide portion of the Research Questions session was recorded on October 5, 2021. NSF Program Directors Leilah Lyons and Toni Dancstep delivered the presentation. 

A PDF of the slides is available here.


Evaluation & External Oversight

The slide portion of the Evaluation & External Oversight session was recorded on October 6, 2021. NSF Program Directors Julie Johnson & Ellen McCallie delivered the presentation. 

A PDF of the slides is available here.



NSF Program Directors Ellen McCallie, Julie Johnson and Leilah Lyons delivered this presentation on Preparing Clear and Effective Budgets and Budget Justifications on November 2, 2021.

A PDF of the slides is available here.

If you're seeking more information about your current project and reporting requirements, Cartia Brown-Morgan, NSF Grant Management Specialist, developed this PowerPoint with narration about grant and fiscal management for AISL awards. Click on the speaker icon on each slide to hear the narration. This was recorded in advance of the 2021 NSF AISL Awardee Meeting October 19-21 which was a virtual gathering for funded projects.


Open Topics Office Hours

NSF Program Directors Bob Russell, Alicia Santiago Gonzalez and Lori Takeuchi delivered the presentation Do This.....Not That on November 3, 2021. A PDF of the slides from the presentation is available here.


Final Questions

NSF Program Directors Julie Johnson, Sandy Welch and Lori Takeuchi shared information about submitting AISL proposals and last minute tips for successful proposals. The resource mentioned by Lori at about 13:28 is from the AISL Office Hours presentation on November 3, 2021, and can be found here.

A PDF of the slides from this presentation is available here.


Additional Webinars and Presentations:

  • The presentation portion of the Research Coordination Networks Webinar held November 24, 2020, was recorded and is available here. The slides from the presentation can be found here. An overview of this funding opportunity and a link to the Research Coordination Network solicitation is here.
  • Overview of the AISL program: View the slides.
  • Deep dive into all sections of the solicitation, including the six AISL project types: ​Part 1 (solicitation structure and introductory materials); Part 2 (about EHR and DRL, budgets, through supplementary documents); and Part 3 (budgets continued, merit review, and award conditions).
  • Writing a competitive AISL proposal: Watch the webinar recording and view the slides.
  • Addressing broadening participation within AISL proposals: Watch the webinar recording and view the slides.

Key NSF Documents

NSF has several prescriptive documents that should inform your proposal development, preparation, and submission.

  1. The Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide or PAPPG (NSF 22-1) is the essential document for understanding how to prepare and submit proposals to NSF, as well as how NSF makes awards, and administers and monitors grants.

  2. Proposals must be submitted through or platforms. 

  3. Prospective New Awardee Guide - There are significant administrative and financial accountability requirements associated with federal grant awards and it is your responsibility as a prospective awardee to understand them. Read this guide in its entirety, as missing, incomplete, or inadequate information may result in your proposal being declined!

  4. Data Management for NSF EHR Directorate Proposals and Awards - All NSF proposals must include a “Data Management Plan,” which is a supplementary document that describe how your project will conform to NSF policy on the dissemination and sharing of research results. While some guidance on Data Management Plans is included in the PAPPG, this document provides additional guidance specific to the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate. 

  5. Common Guidelines for Education Research and Development - The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences and NSF co-developed the Common Guidelines to clarify the different types of education and learning research and to provide guidance about the purpose, justification, design features, and expected outcomes from these various types. Also, be sure to review the 2018 Companion Guidelines on Replication and Reproducibility in Education Research, which focuses on the importance of replication and reproducibility of research and provides guidance on steps researchers can take to promote corroboration and build the evidence base.

  6. NSF Merit Review Website - NSF’s merit review process is intended to ensure that submitted proposals are reviewed in a fair, competitive, transparent, and in-depth manner. While the process is described in the PAPPG, this website offers a deeper dive and an interactive, graphical representation of the timeline. This animated video illustrates the process. You can also watch this video to get a sense of what really happens during a review panel. A new Merit Review Process Digest was released in Fiscal Year 2018. 

  7. Perspectives on Broader Impacts - All proposals to NSF must address two criteria—intellectual merit, or the potential to advance knowledge, and broader impacts, the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes. While NSF is not prescriptive about what qualifies as “broader impacts,” it did host a 2014 summit to bring together NSF staff, university leaders, and current Principal Investigators to share definitions and examples of broader impacts activities. This report outlines those diverse perspectives.

NSF's Response to COVID-19

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has created a covid-19 information pageInformation from NSF on coronavirus. This page is updated frequently and includes links to the latest guidance on upcoming program deadlines, as well as budget and logistics questions pertaining to existing awards that may be affected in various ways. It is a good starting place for help in answering questions about disruptions to NSF-funded work.

NSF released additional information for the broader grantee community regarding adjustments that may be needed due to covid-19. See this guidance on NSF's implementation of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum (M-20-17), entitled, Administrative Relief for Recipients and Applicants of Federal Financial Assistance Directly Impacted by the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) due to Loss of Operations. Grantees are requested to review these documents, and bring any additional questions or concerns to their cognizant program officer. NSF encourages the research community to respond to this challenge through existing funding opportunities.

Want to Be An AISL Reviewer?

AISL is currently (and always) looking for proposal reviewers. These presentation slides help you understand what to expect. In addition, this website provides a detailed description of the merit review process. Understanding this process is central to conducting proposal reviews.  If you are interested in serving as a reviewer for the AISL program, email a resume or CV, as well as a paragraph about your expertise to AISL asks for a paragraph about your expertise because sometimes a resume and CV doesn’t necessarily highlight your full experience. Please include your experience with informal STEM contexts and topics, age groups and communities/audiences/professionals, theories and methods in terms of practice and/or research. If you are a PI or co-PI on a Jan. 18, 2022 AISL submission, or had any direct and substantial involvement in a proposal, you have a conflict of interest and are not eligible to review this round.

Quick Links:

The deadline for the 2021 Solicitation has passed. The resources below remain available if a new solicitation is posted. Check the AISL page for the most up-to-date information.

Developing an idea for a knowledge-building, collaborative project? 

Explore CAISE's Project Planner, to access relevant resources and peruse examples of previously-funded workFor specific questions about an off-cycle proposal, contact the AISL program at

What about technical guidelines?

The NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) provides all the details you need to know.

Ready to submit your proposal?

There are two systems that may be used for AISL proposal submission: NSF or

Need ISE and SciComm literature to support your project or proposal development?

With a free membership on, you can access relevant content on EBSCO including the journals Curator, Science Communication and Visitor Studies. 

What's been funded by the AISL program recently?

Explore the project abstracts from the portfolio: 2021202020192018.

Many AISL projects showcase their work in NSF's STEM for All Video Showcase, an annual online event. Visit the archives: 2021, 202020192018.

Thinking Broadly about Broadening Participation?

Explore the toolkit that CAISE's Broadening Participation Task Force has developed.

Addressing STEM Identity, Interest and/or Engagement? 

CAISE's Evaluation and Measurement Task Force interviewed experts on these constructs and curated content to help you sort through related design and measurement.