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

Experimental prototype SDG dashboard by VU Amsterdam

Our partners


Our technology partner

Digital Science

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 so called work streams have been set up. The results of the first work stream will trigger the beginning of the second work stream, with the third work stream running in parallel.

Project 1 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: Good Health and Well Being; Quality Education; Affordable and Clean Energy; Sustainable Cities and Communities; and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, and with more to follow. Similar configuration of themes 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.

In a second step, Work Stream Nr. 2 will take the results of SDG research mapping and conduct extensive impact analysis, especially in the area of non-academic impact. The work stream will also draw on bibliometric and altmetric indicators. 

Work Stream Nr. 3 will extent the analysis to the researcher and library perspective by firstly, 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 work streams 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 includes: 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

    Project 1

    T TSITOR <work stream 1> Teaser left (TEASER TITLE)

    Sustainable Development Goals relevancy mapping

    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: Early 2020 

    Project Management: Timon Oefelein

    Download first results

    Results below include five data sets classifying Dutch research outputs against UN SDGs: SDG 3, SDG 4, SDG 7, SDG 11, SDG 16; an outline of methodology, technology, and lessons learned. A presentation will also be given of the tool at a library conference.

    First results

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    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.

    Dashboard designed by

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

    Data source

    Dimensions, Digital Science

  • Project 2

    T TSITOR <work stream 2> Teaser left (TEASER TITLE)

    Non academic usage

    The second 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: Spring 2020

    Project Management: Harald Wirsching

    T TSITOR <work stream 2> Teaser right (TEASER TITLE)

    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.

  • Project 3

    T TSITOR <work stream 3> Teaser left (TEASER TITLE)

    Helping researchers in dealing with relevance

    This project puts the first and second streams in the framework of the researcher and researcher group. 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

    T TSITOR <work stream 3> Teaser right (TEASER TITLE)

    Results forthcoming

    Deliverables will include a report on the attitude and behaviours of researchers in the Netherlands in relation to SDGs and impact generation (will include findings from the results of 9,000 surveyed researchers globally, as well as individual profiles on the behaviours of researchers filtered by each of the 17 SDGs). 

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

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|