Communicating SDG research through the power of stories

By: Guest contributor, Mon Feb 13 2023

Author: Guest contributor

When it comes to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), academic libraries play a vital role. Raising awareness about the SDGs and related research is one of the many things libraries can do in support of the goals. In this blog, we look at how storytelling can empower researchers to communicate their research in new ways.

Across the globe, researchers are working to develop evidence-based solutions that gets us closer to achieving the UN SDGs. However, it is only through access to high-quality research and information that they can do this – and, as conduits for that information, libraries are perfectly placed to act as catalysts for solutions. We’ve already written about 5 things librarians can do right now to support the UN SDGs. Among those five key ideas were ‘raising awareness’ and ‘encouraging cross-disciplinary discussion’. But what are the practical ways in which you can do that?

Just a couple of examples are holding events and supporting researchers to develop the tools and skills they need to communicate their research in a compelling way. To help you consider how you could deliver events and support researchers in this way, this blog will tell you more about the Springer Nature Storytellers programme and how we’re helping researchers in SDG-related research areas communicate compelling stories about their work.

Springer Nature Storytellers

The Springer Nature Storytellers programme is a science communication initiative that harnesses the power of storytelling to help expand authors’ influence beyond their usual networks.

Telling a story to a general audience encourages researchers to leave jargon at the door and rethink the way they talk about what they do and why it’s important. The Springer Nature Storytellers programme aims to give researchers the opportunity to do just that.

“Being on stage and telling my story of becoming a scientist in an entertaining way was a novel and enriching experience for me,” said Florian Humpenöder, a Senior Researcher at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who took part in a recent Storytellers event. “Knowing how to craft a captivating story is certainly helpful for any kind of science communication and media outreach."

“Storytelling allowed me to pose the difficult questions around how we usually communicate science and why. We have a long way to go so that Academia stops reproducing global forms of inequality, and stories are a wonderful way to get there,” said Azucena Morán, Research Associate of the IASS Potsdam and a doctoral researcher at University of Potsdam.

The Storytellers programme allows researchers to talk about their real-life experiences and share a side of themselves that they don’t typically show the public. It’s the result of a strategic partnership with The Story Collider, a non-profit organisation that brings true, personal stories about science to life.

Producers at The Story Collider coach each researcher in preparing their stories, which are then shared at live shows held in conjunction with major conferences. These stories are recorded and streamed on YouTube.

“Sharing my story at the Berlin Storytellers event was a great experience: Ari from the Story Collider team really helped me in bringing out the story, and importantly to take the audience along with me.  The presentation itself was so rewarding,” said Josefine Proll, Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Physics at Eindhoven University of Technology.

Sustainable development stories

Due to our commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), our recent focus for the programme has been on the food–energy–water nexus, hearing stories about related research.

As well as giving this important research a platform, the stories have also demonstrated the interdisciplinary nature of sustainable development research. This is readily shown by the disciplines present at our most recent event, where we heard from Florian Humpenöder, a computer scientist, as well as Josefine Proll, a nuclear physicist, and Azucena Morán, a political researcher.

All three researchers told stories about their research in a way that reflected their personal journeys, with intriguing insights into the many motivations behind a career in academia – and more specifically in environmental and sustainability research.

From finding inspiration to dealing with major mistakes

Florian’s talk focused on the development of his career and he was able to show how seemingly insignificant occurrences ended up having a big impact on his career direction.

Four years ago, I received an infographic magazine at Christmas that showed two numbers on the title: CO2 emissions from aviation and CO2 emissions from drained peatlands,” he explained. “The drained peatland figure was about double the size of the aviation figure. That was surprising to me because – although working in a group on land use management – peatlands just did not play a role in my work until then.”

His resulting research led him to be invited as a peatland expert at the COP26 Peatland Pavilion in Glasgow.

Meanwhile, Azucena – who is originally from Guatemala – asked some big questions about the way in which the climate crisis is currently being addressed in academia and politics, based on her research and personal experience.

“I wonder whether the Eurocentrism of academia is actually letting us look in the right direction when we talk about democratic responses to the climate crisis,” she said. “I wonder whether the governance of this transition will make space for the difficult questions and all of the voices that are going to be affected by the crisis upon us.”

Lastly, Josefine, whose work is focused on developing nuclear fusion, explained the personal turmoil she experienced after discovering a major mistake in her almost-accepted research paper.

“[I was thinking], what will happen to it?” she said. “Will it be published with the mistake? Will we have to send a correction? Will everyone know of this mistake? I mean, it's super embarrassing, right? To divide by zero.”

To find out how it turned out, you can read our blog about Josefine’s talk.

Empowering librarians to support the SDGs

Springer Nature Storytellers is one of many ways we support and amplify SDG research, from curating collections of SDG-specific research, to examining researcher attitudes to societal impact.

We also recognise that libraries have an important role to play in forwarding the UN SDGs. That’s why we’ve created a range of advice and resources for librarians who want to support and promote the SDGs within their institutions.

This support includes ‘hubs’ of curated content, each related to a specific SDG, as well as a selection of blogs and interviews with experts:

Don't miss the latest news & blogs, subscribe to our Librarian Alerts today!


Author: Guest contributor

Guest Contributors for THE LINK include Springer Nature staff and authors, industry experts, society partners, and many others. If you are interested in being a Guest Contributor, please contact us via email.