SDG Research Mapping Initiative

In 2015, the UN General Assembly set forth 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to pave the path to a more sustainable future where no one is left behind.

Research and funding institutions play a vital role in supporting this historic undertaking: a clear understanding of the research landscape supporting the SDGs can reveal gaps requiring additional funding and support – and informs Times Higher Education’s Impact Rankings that benchmark institutions for their contributions to the SDGs.

The SDG Research Mapping Initiative was established as a partnership between the University of Southern Denmark, the Aurora (represented by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), the University of Auckland and Elsevier to bring together broad expertise and share best practices. Working with the partners to gain consensus on mapped publications, the Elsevier Data Science team has established a system to crowdsource a knowledge base of publications related to the SDGs together with the research community.

Sustainability at Elsevier

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SDG data in action

In the SDG Research Mapping Initiative, Elsevier’s data scientists collaborate with Universities worldwide to share data, expertise and best practices in sustainability research. The partners’ SDG queries are free to access, and researchers are invited to explore the data through the partner portals below.


Elsevier: SDG Queries

Elsevier’s Data Science teams have generated 3 sets of SDG mappings, one for each of the THE Impact Rankings (2019-2021). The search queries and supporting documents for the 2020 version can be downloaded from Mendeley Data.

In 2020 inspired by the earlier queries, Elsevier, through its Science-Metrix group, used a new approach to mapping publications to the SDGs. Taking customer feedback into account, they significantly increased the number of search terms used to define each SDG. Those queries were then complemented by a machine learning model, which helped increase the recall by approximately 10%. As a result, this year’s “Elsevier 2021 SDG mapping” captures on average twice as many articles as the 2020 version, while keeping precision above 80%. The mapping also has a better overlap with SDG queries from other independent projects. Times Higher Education are using the 2021 mapping as part of their 2021 Impact Rankings.

The Elsevier 2021 SDG mappings have been loaded into SciVal as pre-defined Research Areas and can help researchers and institutions track and demonstrate progress towards SDGs targets.

Download the full dataset, methodology and machine learning component

Aurora: SDG Analysis Project

The mission of Aurora is to tackle global societal challenges in areas like the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

The SDG Analysis Project creates a dashboard showing the research contributions of Aurora Universities towards the SDGs, and how policymakers have used the research available to tackle these challenges. It offers free and open SDG queries to better represent Universities’ output, as well as an SDG Data Collection, including survey data, SDG text analysis and a new SDG classification model. Additionally, the SDG text analysis dashboard shows the live data of reports from CorTexT for each SDG, based on survey outcomes.

Read more: explore the project

University of Auckland: SDG Keyword Mapping

To gain a better understanding of their research contribution, the University of Auckland SDG Keywords Dictionary Project seeks to build on the processes developed by the United Nations and Times Higher Education in order to create an expanded list of keywords that can be used to identify SDG-relevant research. The site includes an SDG keyword dictionary, along with relationship diagrams and the relative impact of each SDG. The project builds on prior work such as SciVal and SDSN queries, and furthers the understanding of SDG applications in the global and local context.

Read more: UoA SDG Report 2020

University of Southern Denmark: SDG Analysis Tool

The SDU Research and Innovation Organization launched a project to first examine and compare keyword queries developed by other institutions (including SciVal, Aurora and SDSN), and then developed SDU’s own queries to map and benchmark the research at SDU as compared with other Universities in Denmark. The team also developed an AI algorithm to link research publications to SDGs, and help SDU’s researchers to increase the societal impact of their research.

Read more: UN’s 17 SDGs become SDU’s goals

Working together: webinars

Analyzing UN SDG research with SciVal – The case of University of Auckland

  • Watch the webinar
  • Using SciVal to map UN SDG research at University of Southern Denmark

  • Watch the webinar
  • The partners

    elsevier logo landscape


    Science, research and innovation are fundamental to achieving the sustainable and equitable future envisaged by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. By combining our unique insights in content, data and analytics with the networks and expertise of our partners in the research community, we believe that it is possible to achieve significant progress towards the Goals. Explore our core SDGs focus areas on the Sustainability portal, browse our analytical reports and read sustainability news on Elsevier Connect.

    Aurora logo


    Aurora is a University network platform for European university leaders, administrators, academics, and students. Aurora offers its members opportunities for cooperation - within the key theme areas and through mobility and collaboration of students, academics and administrators. Through the theme of Societal Impact and Relevance of Research. Aurora explores the Universities’ role in society and their position regarding global challenges. In particular, the SDG project demonstrates the societal value and relevance of research and education. Additionally, Aurora endorses the SDG Accord to be signed by the Universities in the Network.

    auckland logo

    University of Auckland

    The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s largest and highest ranked research university. It is the only New Zealand member of Universitas 21, the Association of Pacific Rim universities and Worldwide Universities Network. It was ranked first in the world by the Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Rankings in 2019 and 2020 in recognition of its commitment and contribution towards the United Nations SDGs. Inspired by the approach taken by the United Nations and the THE University Impact Rankings to assess research activities related to the SDGs, the University of Auckland is undertaking an SDG mapping project.

    SDU logo

    University of Southern Denmark

    SDU wishes to work with all of the UN's 17 SDGs based on a free, critical and independent research and education spirit. In relation to research and knowledge collaboration, SDU promotes the SDGs as a theme for interdisciplinary research work, strengthening the collaboration with civil society, NGOs, companies, public organisations and other educational institutions. SDU also provides students with knowledge, skills and motivation to work with the challenges behind the SDGs, develops educational activities supporting citizens’ opportunities for lifelong learning and employability, and engages young people in working with the SDGs.

    Get involved

    We believe that the SDGs should reflect different perspectives. To facilitate this, we are providing a number of ways for you to get involved. Tell us which research contributes to the SDGs.

  • Launch the SDG Matching Tool
  • Explore datasets of research mapped to the SDGs

    ICSR Lab is both powerful as a computational platform and extensive due to the size and breadth of the datasets that it contains. It is available at no cost to users for scholarly research.

    Full publication metadata from Scopus:

    • Publication metadata, including each publication’s authors and affiliations, language information, title, open access status, DOI, ASJC subject codes and more
    • Scopus abstracts
    • Author names and profiles, including affiliation details and ORCID
    • Ability to conduct studies of author gender, following the methodology used in Elsevier’s Gender Report 2020
    • Institution profiles, including name variants

    PlumX Metrics broken down into separate categories and sources:

    • Citations encompassing traditional citations as well as for example clinical citation counts
    • Captures, such as Forks and Followers on GitHub or readers on Mendeley and SSRN
    • Mentions including blog mentions, comments on various platforms and Wikipedia references
    • Social media including Twitter and Facebook interactions

    Other datasets:

    • Topic information from SciVal, enabling nuanced analyses of trends across SciVal Topics of Prominence
    • SDG classifications for Scopus publications, as used in other Elsevier reports and in SciVal

    These datasets are optimized for big data processing and the list of datasets available will grow rapidly over the course of 2020. Note that ICSR Lab is not optimized for text mining and does not contain the full text of articles. If this is your need, see Text and data mining for more information about using Elsevier’s full text API.

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