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Report: Mapping research to advance the SDGs

22 September 2020

By Ylann Schemm

Elsevier’s analysis reveals gaps and strengths to support the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals

Caption: One of the 16 infographics produced by Elsevier’s Research Analytics group and the RELX SDG Resource Centre for The Power of Data to Advance the SDGs report. Each infographic corresponds with a sustainable development goal. SDG 17: “Partnerships for the Goals” is the one research area that does not yet have sufficient research available to map.

Five years ago, the UN Sustainable Development Goalsopens in new tab/window (SDGs) set an ambitious 2030 target to achieve a sustainable and equitable future for our planet. 2020 marks five years since the launch of the SDGs and the start of the “Decade of Action” we have left to achieve them.

To this end, Elsevier’s new report – The Power of Data to Advance the SDGsopens in new tab/window – offers unique insights and initiatives, many developed together with partners, to map the state of research within each SDG area.

The report acknowledges the pivotal role research plays in tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges. It aims to better understand the research community’s global sustainable development efforts and assesses the progress made as well as unmet research needs.

In the introduction, Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit includes a call to action to explore the findings and join an evidence-based dialogue around the science needed to advance the SDG.

I would like to call upon the research and health communities, policymakers and funders to explore the findings of our SDG report and share your feedback so that together, we can evolve our understanding of the science and concrete actions needed to advance these mission-critical goals.

Elsevier is deeply committed to contributing to this critical global effort through our unique strengths in quality information, data and analytical tools to help all stakeholders make these targets a reality.

Kumsal Bayazit, CEO, Elsevier

Kumsal Bayazit, CEO, Elsevier

Key Findings: Research as a catalyst for progress on the SDGs

Five years into the launch of the SDGs, this report provides valuable insight into the role scholarly output plays in supporting societal change. However, the research trends presented in the report also raise questions that warrant further exploration. This holds true particularly around SDGs lagging behind in article output, collaboration or impact. The expert interviews provide a qualitative insight into ways to address these existing shortcomings:

  • Focus on synergies between SDGs: All 17 SDGs are interconnected, resulting in potential synergies between the goals. The Power of Data to Advance the SDGs encourages us to take a holistic approach that involves all genders, nationalities and disciplines to help activate these synergies and give each SDG the attention it needs to reach the 2030 goals.

  • Close the gap between science, policy and society: The report reveals that research is rapidly expanding in certain SDGs, such as Clean Energy and Climate Action. Nevertheless, according to the United Nations, the world is not on track to achieve any of its targets by 2030. This points to the need for increased cooperation between science, policy and society to ensure that research results are translated into concrete action.

  • Highlight the need for leadership: The overall body of research related to SDGs continues to grow. While this is positive, experts interviewed uncover the need for strong, effective leadership to champion the SDG goals.

A new angle: sex and gender play a role across all SDGs

  • While some SDGs might not have an obvious link to or need for sex or gender analysis, there is growing recognition that sex and gender must be factored into research to ensure precise results and impactful policy. The International Center for Study and Research (ICSR) has developed an approach to detect and visualize the volume and proportion of research publications that include sex and/or gender in topical research. Using the new SciVal matching tool methodologyopens in new tab/window, ICSR has identified articles that take into account sex and/or gender in the first 16 SDGs.

  • The extent to which sex and/or gender research factors into SDG research varies both within individual SDGs and across the 16 SDGs, according to a new Elsevier analysisopens in new tab/window

    . SDG 5 (“Gender Equality”) and SDG 3 (“Good Health and Well-being”) are the only two SDGs with greater than 60 percent of the publications factoring in sex and/or gender. For the remaining 14 SDGs, fewer than 40 percent of publications factor in sex and/or gender research.

What’s in the report?

This map represents publications related to SDG 13 (“Climate Action”) that included keywords related to sex and/or gender research in 2018. (Source: The Power of Data to Advance the SDGs, p. 7, Elsevier/RELX, 2020)

Our goal is to equip researchers, research leaders and policymakers with a viable map of the evolving landscape of sustainability science. The report includes easy-to-digest infographics highlighting the high-level research trends for each SDG goal. The findings are accompanied by research and NGO expert insights into Elsevier’s four focus areas: Gender, Health, Reducing Inequalities and Climate Action.

  • Analytics. To better understand the scope and reach of sustainability science, Elsevier data science teams are working with experts to create Scopus search query for each SDG, which has resulted in curated SDG publication sets. Each search query has been used in SciVal to generate pre-defined Research Areas and to help researchers and institutions track and demonstrate progress towards the targets of the SDGs. We’re now asking researchers to give input to further identify research that supports the SDGs through a matching tool, which will also highlight any gaps in the knowledge base, helping inform decisions about future lines of investigation.

  • Sex and Gender across the SDGs. The International Center for the Study of Research (ICSR) has analyzed the extent to which sex and gender factors into SDG research. Using the new Scival matching tool methodology, they have identified articles that take into account sex and/or gender in the first 16 SDGs and provide keywords highlighting the areas in which sex and gender factor.

  • Scholarly impact and collaboration. In a joint RELX and Elsevier collaboration, an initial set of infographics was produced presenting an overview of scholarly output, growth, impact and collaboration, with analysis of intersecting topic areas. In this report, we present new, updated infographics for each of the first 16 SDGs (excluding SDG17).

  • Mendeley search queries. Full methodology documentation for the SDG search queries that informed these projects is freely available on Mendeley Dataopens in new tab/window. We encourage the research community to make use of these datasets to create their own analytics projects, taking advantage of the full range of Scopus and SciVal features.

  • Expert Interviews: Within our four key focus areas — Gender, Health, Reducing Inequalities and Climate — we have included expert insights from our research and NGO partners. The experts take a deep look into what has been achieved thus far on these SDGs and what is still missing to achieve real progress.