Overton Blog

SDGs: how do government priorities and research interests align?

You might already know that we recently updated the SDG filter in Overton so that you can more accurately identify policy relating to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (if you didn’t, see this blog post for detailed updates). In the policy/research landscape, the alignment of efforts towards achieving these development goals is fundamental to their ultimate success. In this blog, we’ll look at the relationship between government priorities and research focus, how they converge and diverge, and what impact this may have on the pursuit of a sustainable future.

Mapping Government Priorities

When looking at how the 17 SDGs have been linked to policy documents in Overton, SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing takes the lead, having been linked to 580,000 policy documents. At the other end of the spectrum, SDG 10: Reduced Inequality is linked to only 7,270 policy documents. This snapshot gives some insight into the varying emphasis policymakers place on different SDGs, raising the question: should research mirror these priorities or chart its own course?

Research Landscape

While we can’t currently filter scholarly articles by associated SDGs (watch this space), we can search by keywords to look at papers which have a similar focus. For instance, a search for 'Health and Wellbeing' returns 3,806 scholarly articles, while 'Reduced Inequality' returns only 164, mirroring the pattern we previously saw between SDGs and related policy prompting us to look more closely at which is the primary influence.

Harmony or Discord: The Research-Government Nexus

The question of whether research should be driven by government priorities or vice versa is complex and multifaceted. Aligning research with government agendas ensures that academic efforts contribute directly to addressing the most pressing challenges society faces. It fosters a collaborative approach, where policymakers can leverage the insights generated by the research community to inform effective strategies.

On the other hand, an overeliance on government priorities may risk stifling innovation and neglecting emerging issues that haven't yet gained widespread attention. The agility and curiosity that drives so much key research might be curtailed if confined within the  boundaries set by policy agendas. It raises the need for a delicate balance, where research complements and challenges government priorities, fostering a dynamic exchange of ideas.

Symbiosis Between Research & Policy

Rather than a one way flow of influence, the relationship between government priorities and research focus works best when it's symbiotic. Governments can benefit from research that explores unconventional solutions, identifies emerging challenges, and provides a comprehensive understanding of complex issues and researchers can leverage policy priorities as guiding principles, ensuring their work remains relevant and impactful.

As we further explore the impact of SDGs, it becomes evident that the collaboration between government priorities and research focus is integral to achieving sustainable development. The diversity in emphasis across different SDGs underscores the complexity of global challenges. By fostering a symbiotic relationship, where government priorities inform and inspire research, and research challenges and refines policy priorities, we can pave the way for a more comprehensive and effective approach to realising the SDGs. In this interplay, lies the key to a sustainable and resilient future.

What is Overton

We help universities, think tanks and publishers understand the reach and influence of their research.

The Overton platform contains is the world’s largest searchable policy database, with over 12 million documents from 31k organisations.

We track everything from white papers to think tank policy briefs to national clinical guidelines, and automatically find the references to scholarly research, academics and other outputs.