Help expand a public dataset of research that support the SDGs

Who gets to decide what research supports the UN sustainable development goals? We think it should be you.

By Bamini Jayabalasingham, PhD - August 19, 2020
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The RELX SDG Resource Centre has a new platform to match research publications to the relevant SDGs.

Five years ago, the UN General Assembly set forth 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) designed to pave the path to a more sustainable future. The goals are measured against various targets and indicators to be achieved by 2030. Research and funding institutions play a vital role in supporting this historic undertaking.

To make the best decision on which research to fund, program evaluators must have a clear view of the landscape of research supporting the SDGs. This understanding can reveal gaps requiring additional funding and support.

To gain this insight, they need to identify the relevant research for each SDG. In some cases, this process is straight-forward because the terms to query are often included in the title or abstract of the relevant publications. However, some research areas are more nebulous, requiring consultation with subject matter experts to identify the relevant research.

At Elsevier, we want to facilitate this process together with the research community. Gaining your recommendations on which research should be counted will allow many people’s expertise to be reflected in the final research definition.

To accomplish this, we are spearheading an initiative with the Corporate Responsibility program of our parent company, RELX, to crowdsource a knowledge base of publications related to the SDGs. The purpose of this knowledge base is to help funding agencies identify where to focus research investments and which research has yielded the greatest return on investment. In addition, it can help researchers see where their research fits into supporting the SDGs.

Laying the groundwork for a crowdsourced knowledge base

We embarked on this massive task by first identifying terms relevant to each goal and evaluating the precision with which these terms recovered relevant publications. Elsevier’s data science teams worked with experts to create a Scopus search query for each SDG. This approach gave a broad sense of the research related to the SDGs.

Beyond that, we want to create publication sets for each of the SDGs that reflect the diversity of opinions on which research supports the SDGs and the democratic spirit with which the SDGs were created. The aggregated crowdsourced responses will be made available through Elsevier’s ICSR Lab should you wish to use these in scholarly research evaluating methods that identify publications representative of the SDGs.

Andrew Plume, PhDDr. Andrew Plume, ICSR President and Senior Director of Research Evaluation at Elsevier, described ICSR Lab as “a powerful computational platform – free for research use – combining the power of datasets such as Scopus and PlumX Metrics with user-contributed data such as these.

“With sustainability as one of ICSR’s key research themes, we are proud to host these data and make them available for researchers everywhere,” he said.

Chris JamesThe feedback gathered will also be used to validate the methods developed by the SDG Research Mapping Initiative, involving University of Auckland, Southern Denmark University, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Aurora Network) and Elsevier. The results will be made visible in SciVal’s SDG analyses and free tool, said Chris James, Senior Product Manager for SciVal.

How you can help

The SDGs belong to all of us, and the research that supports these goals should similarly reflect the diversity of opinions and values of the research community. Through the RELX SDG Resource Centre, researchers, policymakers and concerned citizens have the opportunity to match research publications to the relevant goals via the SDG targets and indicators.

Together with the research community, we are aiming to collate a set of data that can be used by research program evaluators. By collecting this data from a broad community, we are developing a dataset of publications that reflect diverse interpretations of how research links to the SDGs. This contrasts with the traditional approach in which a few subject matter experts would make this call.

Contributing involves a few simple steps:

  1. Access the matching tool on the RELX SDG Resource Centre.
  2. Select a paper or upload a paper.
  3. Choose the SDG indicators related to the paper.

Together, we can create a diverse data set of publications that reflect how research supports the SDGs.

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Bamini Jayabalasingham, PhD
Written by

Bamini Jayabalasingham, PhD

Written by

Bamini Jayabalasingham, PhD

Dr. Bamini Jayabalasingham is a PhD-trained researcher with experience conducting evaluations to support evidence-based policy and program changes at the federal and municipal level. She is experienced managing teams to coordinate program evaluations, policy implementation, strategic planning, and data analyses to assess underlying factors (e.g., socioeconomic, infectious disease, funding policies) contributing to health and economic outcomes.

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