Many research and higher education institutions are interested in their contribution to achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). One aspect of this is published research. Mapping publications related to the SDGs may also be useful for organisations involved in research evaluation, funding or science-policy. Commercial entities such as Elsevier, Times Higher Education and Digital Science are addressing this by developing services for measuring SDG-related publications and SDG university rankings.
However, in a keyword-based approach, there are several stages in mapping SDG-“related” publications which could result in wide discrepancies in the results: 1) interpreting the SDGs, 2) delimiting relevance within this interpretation, 3) developing search strings (and methods based on these), and 4) data sources. In particular, interpretation and perspectives on relevance may differ widely between groups trying to map the SDGs, as well as stakeholders.
In our paper, we built independent search strings to find scholarly publications related to SDGs 1, 2, 3, 7, 13, and 14, aiming for consistency by basing these on the SDG targets and indicators (the Bergen approach). We then compared sets of publications retrieved by the Bergen and Elsevier approaches to examine the differences.
Our results showed that there was little overlap in publications retrieved by the two approaches, despite both methods using search strings. This can alter resulting country rankings. Choice of search terms, how they are combined, and string structure play a role, related to differing interpretations of the SDGs and viewpoints on relevance. This raises questions about what “SDG mapping” should reflect, how differences in interpretation should be handled, and how individual mappings should be used and interpreted.
Based on: Armitage, Lorenz & Mikki (2020) Mapping scholarly publications related to the Sustainable Development Goals: Do independent bibliometric approaches get the same results? Quantitative Science Studies 1(3): 1092-1108. doi: 10.1162/qss_a_00071.