OSDG attracts over 2,000 citizen scientists to advance the research on SDGs

October 13, 2022

With 2030 fast approaching and the achievement of the SDGs being threatened by COVID-19, the pressure for reporting on their progress and related data is only growing. However, SDG monitoring and reporting as well as assessing the SDG relevance of policy documents, and even mapping individual research outputs remains a major challenge.

The OSDG project, based on a collaboration between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) IICPSD’s SDG AI Lab, PPMI, and a community of volunteer researchers led by Dr Núria Bautista Puig, has set out to fill this gap. In March 2021, the project team kicked off an international citizen science project – the OSDG Community platform.

The project originated as an ambitious attempt to gather researchers, SDG advocates, and field experts to create a purposeful source of textual information on the SDGs. It invited volunteers to assess the SDG relevance of specific texts, while simultaneously providing unique insights shaped by their education, cultural backgrounds, or professional experience.

Building a global community of sustainability experts

Over the year, more than 2,000 volunteer citizen scientists applied for the opportunity and made truly significant contributions. OSDG has attracted participants from more than 130 countries, ranging from the United States and Canada to Sweden, Netherlands, France, South Africa, all the way to India, Singapore, and Malaysia – and these are just a few! The volunteers have contributed to over 237,000 SDG labels.

“We are amazed at how diverse our volunteers are, and how all of them have joined forces for this unique initiative. We have managed to collect feedback across disciplines, education, and cultural backgrounds – from university students to the elderly, which shows the growing importance of SDG research”, – says Núria Bautista Puig, R&I Technical Support at Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M), working alongside the OSDG team.

According to the OSDG volunteer Benita Mundia, the SDGs are an effective measure to sustain the planet and have a more balanced ecosystem. During her participation, Benita has personally assessed and helped to validate more than 700 text excerpts, placing her in the top 10% of hundreds of participants worldwide.

“My desire to see the SDGs attained is the ultimate reason I joined the OSDG Community platform – it's embedded in its core objective. Volunteering in this initiative has turned out to be a great resource”, – says Benita.

As a civil engineering graduate, OSDG volunteer Adithya Venkatachalam has always been curious about sustainable infrastructure solutions, but the exercise has presented her with new opportunities to learn about gender equality, water pollution, climate change, and sustainable cities. According to Adithya, as the world stood still during the COVID-19 pandemic, joining the OSDG Community platform has been a great way to utilize her potential and gain experience through volunteering.

“The SDGs provide a better framework for recovery from existing global issues, so I find them relevant to my interests. The arrangement of topics into relatable SDG labels also illustrates the practical intent and helps with problem-solving. These goals are inextricable from culture, and in order to understand them, we need to understand the issues that are vital to the sustainability of the entire planet”, – says Adithya.

Volunteer contribution to advancing SGD research

One of the key principles of citizen science projects is ensuring that data or other outputs are shared publicly for the research community to enjoy. The work of OSDG Community platform volunteers feeds directly into a citizen science output – the unique ODSG Community Datasets with more than 30,000 text excerpts labelled according to their SDG relevance. The dataset is updated every quarter thanks to ongoing volunteer efforts.

These community datasets have already been used to make discoveries in research papers, develop machine learning models, evaluate university curricula, and more. The OSDG team invites all researchers to visit the OSDG Community Dataset on Zenodo to learn more about the dataset, and to apply citizen data to derive insights into the nature of the SDGs.

Improving an open-source SDG mapping tool

The verified SDG labels have allowed the OSDG team to further improve the open-source classification tool that makes it easy for researchers to assess the SDG relevance of any text or PDF document.

“With the help of OSDG volunteer citizen scientists, we ended up not only holding a consultation on the societal impact of research but in improving our open-source tool as well. We think it’s a great way to give back to the research community and present a very concrete outcome for the volunteers”, – says Lukas Pukelis, lead data scientist behind the project.

Thanks to the new open-source tool, anyone can explore which SDGs can be assigned to their publications, articles, blog posts, and more. This tool is available online free of charge. If you would like to see a direct result of these contributions, we invite you to visit the OSDG website.

What’s next?

The OSDG team is extremely proud of the successful effort in building a community of highly motivated volunteers. The project is still ongoing, so if you would like to see what all of the great feedback is all about – head to the project profile to sign up and become part of the largest and broadest possible consultation on the SDGs.

Should you need some final motivation to join the global exercise, we finish with some final words from the OSDG volunteer Benita Mundia:

“Sustainability and the SDGs are important because the future of our planet lies in how we address the different challenges that face us. To have a safe foreseeable future, we must see sustainability as an imminent goal to work towards”, says Benita.