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Springer Nature and the Association of Universities in the Netherlands partner to explore how open research can accelerate progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Springer Nature and VSNU partnership to explore societal impact of academic and open research and its influence on acceleration of the global SDGs

London, 12 December 2019

A partnership between Springer Nature and The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and the Dutch Consortium of University Libraries and the National Library (UKB) will provide data, insights and tools to advance knowledge about how academic research and open research is having a societal impact and accelerating the delivery of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The first phase of data from this project is released today.

Since the SDGs were launched in 2015, researchers, their funders and other collaborative partnerships have sought to contribute to the SDGs. However – until now – it has been challenging to demonstrate the value of this contribution, and therefore be able to identify emerging trends and best practice for the research community, and wider society, to best understand where to focus efforts to drive progress and support open science and research. With a little over ten years left to achieve the stretching targets set out by the UN and agreed by 193 nations, this analysis is vital to progress.

The Springer Nature/VSNU partnership sets out to address this by undertaking three projects. 

  1. Firstly, using natural language programming and machine learning, all Dutch scholarly output from the past 10 years has been categorised for a subset of five of the SDGs[1] ,  based on relevancy. This work has been developed in partnership with principal technology partner Digital Science, and based on the Dimensions database. Once proven, the technology has the potential to be used to look at other research from other regions and be broadened out to all SDGS. 
  2.  A second project will dig deeper to assess the exact nature and scope of impact that research outputs in selective SDGs have on non-academic actors. These stakeholders include business, politics, industry, and interest groups, all drawing on research for critical decision making.
  3. A third project runs alongside the above projects in helping researchers in dealing with societal relevance, and will include both an in-depth review of researcher actions concerning societal impact, along with a best practice guide for achieving social relevance.

The project aims to support:

  • Universities, funders, research groups and researchers in raising awareness of and increasing the discoverability of their work related to the SDGs from other disciplines/sectors e.g. AURORA Network.
  • Universities, businesses, funders, and other stakeholders who are working on the SDGs, to better network and share ideas.
  • Enhanced interdisciplinary collaboration and engagement – bringing together researchers from the natural and physical sciences with scholars from the social sciences and humanities.
  • Librarians and institutional leadership with tools and best practice guidance so that they can both demonstrate the societal impact of their research, and increase that impact over time.
  • The drive towards open research by showcasing research impact and societal relevance along the themes of the SDGs.
  • Preliminary results already indicate that societal impact is important to the majority of researchers, with more than two thirds of respondents in a survey of more than 9,000 researchers stating that societal impact was “important” or “very important” to them.  

Speaking about the project, Carrie Webster Vice President Open Access, Springer Nature remarked:

“Springer Nature is firmly committed to the transition to open research, not only to support global access, interdisciplinary collaboration and the advancement of science, but also to support the wider drive and understanding of the societal impact of research. We are incredibly excited by our partnership with the VSNU, as for the first time, we are able to use cutting-edge AI technology to map the impact of research not only on society but on the advancement of the UN’s SDG programme. It is our hope that such a partnership will provide a blueprint for researchers, funders, librarians and the wider academic community to bring visibility to discoveries and the resources we can share as a global community to drive societal impact and open science.”

VSNU,  further commented:

“Dutch universities have been making a sustained effort to contribute to the SDGs. The collaboration with Springer Nature is intended to contribute further to a better understanding of the social impact of scientific output. The development of alternative metrics are an important component in understanding how to better measure the impact of scientific output and we are very much looking forward to seeing the results and impact of our collaborative work here.”

The partnership between Springer Nature and VSNU builds on a national read and publish open access (OA) agreement that was agreed in 2015, the first of its kind at that time.  It is in the same pioneering spirit that this partnership now intends to advance knowledge of how open research is making an impact on society, the SDGs and global grand challenges. 


[1] The SDG’s in questions are - (3) Good health and wellbeing (4) quality education (7) affordable and clean energy (11) sustainable cities and communities (16) peace, justice and strong institutions.


Notes to Editors
More information about the collaboration, including research outputs, will be shared on a project website (

The project will be conducted across the following three phrases with research results being released from late 2019 onwards and throughout 2020. Springer Nature and VSNU are collaborating on three projects:

  1. Mapping Dutch research output to the SDGs to determine relevancy, identify emerging patterns and trends, including gaps for further research.  
  2. Demonstrating how open science is accelerating the societal impact of research by enabling stakeholders outside of academia to make use of scholarly outputs.
  3. Developing best practice guidance on the most effective ways that researchers share their research to maximise its societal impact. 

For further information regarding VSNU’s position in relation to the SDGs, please refer to their recent positioning paper, ‘Room for everyone’s talent: towards a new balance in the recognition and rewards for academics’.  VSNU has also previously published an SDG dashboard, together with the AURORA project, which aims to show how Dutch research is contributing to various goals. Each Dutch university also provides insight in its contribution to the SDGs in a joint monthly e-zine. 

As principal technology partner, Digital Science (DS) carried out the categorisation work outlined above under project one. DS modelled a selection of five UN Sustainability Development goals. This involved defining keyword search strings for the selected goals with input by subject matter experts from both Springer Nature and VSNU, to produce a training set of scholarly outputs based on the Dimensions platform. In a second step, Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning technology was applied to create a content classification model allowing bulk classification of scholarly outputs into the selected five goals.

Steering Committee: 

  • Prof. dr. K.M. (Koen) Becking, Board Member at VSNU, and President of the Executive Board of Tilburg University 
  • Harry Blom, Vice President, Journals, Development, Policy and Strategy, Springer Nature
  • Carrie Webster, Vice President Open Access, Springer Nature 

Consulting Group:

  • Henk van den Hoogen, Chair Research Coordination Alliance UKB, Programme Manager Research Support, Maastricht University Library
  • Ingrid Wijk, Director of the University Library, Maastricht University 
  • Darco Jansen, Manager Open Access and Open Science, VSNU
  • Maurice Vanderfeesten, Innovation Manager, Research Library Vrije University
  • Mithu Lucraft, Marketing Director, Outreach and Open Research, Springer Nature
  • Harald Wirsching, Vice President, Strategy & Market Intelligence Group, Springer Nature
  • Timon Oefelein, Senior Manager, Account Development, Strategic Partnerships, Outreach, Springer Nature


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Springer Nature's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Programme aims to connect the researchers who are tackling the world’s toughest challenges with the practitioners in policy and business who desperately need those insights to achieve their goals in improving the world, by making our publishing activities more visible to our key communities through a variety of channels. For more information, visit

The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) connects Dutch universities together, with the aim of working towards a strong university sector. The 14 Dutch universities within the VSNU show the outside world how they fulfil their social function, formulate shared ambitions relating to academic education and research and valorisation, and lobby for the preconditions needed to realise these ambitions.