Towards societal impact through open research

Is open research accelerating progress on global societal challenges?
A Dutch inquiry in collaboration with Springer Nature

Open research is fundamentally changing the way that researchers communicate and collaborate to advance the pace and quality of discovery. New and dynamic open research-driven workflows are emerging, thus increasing the findability, accessibility, and reusability of results. Distribution channels are changing too, enabling others — from patients to businesses, to teachers and policy makers — to increasingly benefit from new and critical insights. This in turn has dramatically increased the societal impact of open research. But what remains less clear is the exact nature and scope of this wider impact as well as the societal relevance of the underpinning research.

A new strategic partnership

In order to tackle and begin to answer these key research questions, Springer Nature and The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) have formed a new strategic partnership – in the form of a joint Impact Working Group (IWG). Already in place is a national read and publish Open Access agreement, which both organisations were the first in Europe to pioneer in 2015. It is in the same pioneering spirit that this IWG now intends to advance our knowledge in the nature of open research, with outcomes and results to be released from late 2019 onwards. Read the press release.

Our partners


Our technology partner

Digital Science

Explore outputs from the partnership

Project 1 - Sustainable Development Goals relevancy mapping

Project 2 - Assessing non-academic usage

Project 3 - Helping researchers in dealing with relevance

Sustainable Development Goals: Good health and well-being

Sustainable Development Goals: Quality education

Sustainable Development Goals: Affordable and clean energy

Sustainable Development Goals: Sustainable cities and communities

Sustainable Development Goals: Peace, justice and strong institutions

United Nations

Interlinked research 

As a basic framework for the IWG, three individual projects have been set up. The results of the first project will trigger the beginning of the second project, with the third project running in parallel.

Project 1 (Sustainable Development Goals relevancy mapping) forms the starting point to the investigation which is to map all scholarly research outputs in the last ten years to the global grand challenges of our times, thus providing new analytical insights into the societal relevance of research. As a basis for the mapping, five goals from the UN Sustainable Development Program have been selected. These are: SDG 3: Good Health and Well Being; SDG 4: Quality Education; SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy; SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities; and SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, with more to follow. Similar configurations of themes have been formulated around the world by funders and institutions. For example, the Dutch Government has collaborated with industry and researchers to publish its Wetenschapsvisie 2025 and Wetenschapsagenda.

Project 2 (Assessing non-academic usage) will take the results of SDG research mapping and conduct extensive impact analysis, especially in the area of non-academic impact. This project will also draw on bibliometric and altmetric indicators. 

Project 3(Helping researchers in dealing with relevance) will extend the analysis to the researcher and library perspective by first identifying the key areas of support for facilitating impact generation; second, providing an overview of the existing tools and resources currently used by researchers; and third, developing a set of best practices on the most effective ways that researchers can optimize impact. 

Together, the results of all three projects will shed new light on the nature and scope of the impact and societal relevance of open research, thus allowing funders, institutions, and researchers to identify emerging trends and best practices.

Project outcomes

We seek to contribute to a better, more sustainable society through open research. Therefore, the results of all projects will be released in open standards and further, made openly accessible to all stakeholders on this project website. Deliverables include: data sets, methodology outlines, trend reports, visualisations, etc.

International collaboration 

Participants for all three projects will be sourced from both Springer Nature as well as from Dutch research institutions. The day-to-day work of the projects will be supervised by a Consulting Group, as will the strategic direction by a high-level Steering Committee. See below for members.

Project 1: Sustainable Development Goals relevancy mapping

Project Scope

This project surveys and categorises scholarly research outputs such as articles and chapters into select UN Sustainable Development Goals. Steps include:

  • Develop a content classification tool, employing Machine Learning technology, that groups research outputs into  SDG goals based on relevancy
  • Proof-of-concept: start in the first year with five Sustainable Development Goals, to potentially extend in the following year
  • Identify current state of affairs and emerging patterns and trends

Timeline: All project deliverables complete

Project Management: Timon Oefelein 

Download first results

Results below include: an overview of the SDG classification model (overall methodology, the Machine Learning model, technical notes, lessons learned, and first results). Further, five data sets classifying Dutch research outputs against UN SDGs: SDG 3, SDG 4, SDG 7, SDG 11, SDG 16.

Project 2: Assessing non-academic usage

Project Scope

This project sets out to “dig deeper” and 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, interest groups – all drawing on research for critical decision making. 

Such an investigation includes a comparative element of OA versus non-OA content, benchmarking within the Euro zone, and concludes with some recommendations for interpreting the results (in line with responsible research assessment guidelines). Special attention will be given to gaining insights in the usage and relevance of research outcomes outside academia.

Timeline: Late October 2020

Project Management: Harald Wirsching

Results forthcoming

Deliverables will include a report of the usage of research related to the UN SDGs outside of academia, benchmarked with other European countries, giving useful information on the benefits of open research policies.

See first results on interactive dashboard

This experimental or prototype SDG dashboard enables for a rapid visualization of the quantity of scholarly outputs (related to one of five SDGs) published in the last ten year by any of the main universities in the Netherlands. Further, additional data points provide insight into the OA status and bibliometric performance of any given article selection. The dashboard was build using the resulting DOI data from the SDG-content classifier built by Dimensions, Digital Science.

Prototype dashboard designed by

Maurice Vanderfeesten, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Library, Team Research Intelligence

Project 3: Helping researchers in dealing with relevance

Project Scope

This project contains the following interlinked areas of research:

First, identifying the key areas of support (from both the library and publisher perspective) for facilitating impact generation. Second, providing an overview of the existing tools and resources currently used by researchers. Third, developing a set of best practices on the most effective ways that researchers can optimize – at all stages of the research cycle – the dissemination, impact, and promotion of their work and to advise them in relation to the grand societal challenges indicating where impact is most relevant. This also includes advising on the most effective distribution channels per GSC theme. And further, addressing whether working in a multidisciplinary setting can increase impact. 

The above also includes addressing the following questions on the role that datasets (underlining scholarly outputs) play in generating impact: Is there more impact in case of FAIR data? Does sharing datasets lead to more research outputs?

Timeline: Late 2020

Project Management: Mithu Lucraft

Results forthcoming

A best practice toolkit will also be released, including resources for researchers that build on previous literature and the aforementioned analysis to maximize impact generation, as well as a summary of existing resources and support for impact generation for researchers based in the Netherlands.

Explore the profiles of SDG researchers

Based on a survey of over 9000 researchers, this collection of infographics presents global researcher attitudes to societal impact. Click the profiles below to explore the findings related to each SDG (view raw data here).

Sustainable Development Goals: Quality education

Sustainable Development Goals: Quality education

Sustainable Development Goals: Quality education

Download Jupyter Notebook

Read the survey summary

A three-part collection of the global survey findings, as well as an Appendix.

About us

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 of the UKB Coordination Platform for Research Impact, 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
Harald Wirsching, Vice President, Strategy & Market Intelligence Group
Timon Oefelein, Senior Manager, Account Development, Strategic Partnerships, Outreach

Project Contacts

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Timon Oefelein

Springer Nature

Senior Manager, Account Development, Strategic Partnerships, Outreach

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Henk van den Hoogen


Project Manager

Media Contact

Katie Baker | tel +44 207 843 2651|