When it comes to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, how are researchers measuring their impact?

Thursday 26 September 

by Mithu Lucraft, Marketing Director, Outreach and Open Research, at Springer Nature

Whether it’s about ending poverty, fighting inequality or stopping climate change, for researchers whose work relates to one of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), reach beyond academia is not just desirable but rather is essential in creating a better future for all.

How do researchers ensure that their work does penetrate these key communities, and how are they measuring their impact? These were some of the topics we explored in a survey earlier this year. The results from more than 9,000 active researchers represented a broad range of countries, disciplines and career stages and also represented research across all 17 SDGs. Although academic impact (and being read by other researchers within the same subject area) remains the no.1 motivation for the majority of researchers, more than two thirds (68%) said that their research having societal impact beyond academia is ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ important. Certain discipline communities seem more inclined to prioritise societal impact, notably the social sciences and medicine (77% and 73% respectively said having societal impact beyond academia was ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ important). These two disciplines were most likely to want to reach practitioners with their work (59% and 53% respectively). There was also a concentration of research that related to SDGs on good health and social equality from these disciplines.

So what action are researchers taking to achieve societal impact? 40% said journal choice is influenced by their intended societal impact, taking into consideration journal reputation, interdisciplinarity, the availability of open access, and readership (reaching certain readers). Sharing of work - via conferences (58%) or scientific social networks such as ResearchGate (52%) for example - forms a key part of increasing the impact of research. Perhaps most interesting, and worthy of further investigation, is the value placed on open access, with 20% of respondents believing that of all the activities they undertook, this had the greatest effect on increasing societal impact.

We’re still analysing the full results of the survey, and will be making the raw data and a report available later in the year. One particular outcome of the work is to consider how we as publishers can better assist researchers with research relating to SDGs to ensure that their work is reaching the right people, and can be used to achieve real change. Understanding the methods researchers are using to achieve impact, and to consider how to optimise these, will be key.

Mithu Lucraft is Marketing Director, Outreach and Open Research, at Springer Nature. Find out more about Springer Nature's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Programme, which aims to connect researchers tackling the world’s toughest challenges with practitioners in policy and business who need those insights to achieve their goals, here.