OSDG conducts an SDG assessment of research projects at Nazarbayev University

January 31, 2023

The OSDG team is happy to present another successful collaboration and SDG assessment. This time, our methodology and automated approach to SDG classification were used to provide insight into research funding at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan.

Funding SDG-aligned projects

As a rapidly developing international research university, Nazarbayev University is actively involved in research that aims to address and promote the Global Goals. The University is continuously expanding its scientific capacity in carrying out world-class scientific research through publications and projects funded under multiple grants programmes internally and externally.

The University team was particularly interested in how their internal research funding aligns with the SDGs, and to what extent it contributes to solving the global challenges outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Therefore, the main research question was: how well are the University’s internal research funds allocated to support the SDGs?

As stated by Chester Jablonski, the University’s Vice Provost for Research, a funding team will always have a general understanding of the contributions, but hard evidence is needed to compare year-on-year changes and to make informed decisions for the future.

Classifying research projects to the SDGs

The OSDG team received raw text data, extracted from the University’s research portal, containing the descriptions and proposals of projects funded under the Research Development Program from 2017 to 2022. Throughout this period, the University launched 315 research projects, covering areas such as energy, sustainability, intelligent systems, and social transformation, to name a few.

OSDG used its API to automate text classification and identify projects' relatedness to the SDGs. To ensure that all project information was taken into account, OSDG supplemented the existing data with ‘fingerprints’, or related keywords. We then identified that 270 projects (85,7%) address at least one SDG, providing a full list of labels for each project.

The activity aimed to save time for the faculty members and project teams by allowing to forego any self-reporting, which can vary significantly depending on the expert’s professional background and expertise, as well as general familiarity with the SDG framework.

Instead, the exercise resulted in easily comparable results with quantified relatedness to the SDGs thanks to OSDG’s cohesive framework, outlined in the recent article. Following the recent launch of the OSDG Wheel, each assessment can also include a detailed breakdown of all SDGs – differentiating between the key or most dominant Global Goals, as well as additional SDGs with a less pronounced in-text contribution.

The future of funding SDG-aligned research

The SDG assessment allowed the Provost's Office to compare different funding programmes and investigate linkages between SDG-aligned projects and publications. Combined, these insights provide a unique insight into the University‘s current standing on the 17 Global Goals and help to identify areas that might benefit from additional efforts.

For us at OSDG, this collaboration was an exciting way to apply the know-how in an effort to support scientific leadership and innovation in academia. Even more, it was a way to facilitate the mainstreaming of the SDGs into university funding and other decision-making processes.

We hope that having this initial analysis of research contributions to the SDGs brings the University closer towards research excellence and becoming a global-level research university. If your institution would benefit from a similar large-scale SDG assessment, please contact us to find out more.