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Optimizing Content Delivery to Advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals

by KnowledgeWorks Global Ltd.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have undoubtedly been among the hottest topics on the scholarly publishing agenda since we’ve come out of the pandemic. Although the 17 goals were established back in 2015, the publishing industry’s response to them has certainly accelerated since 2020, when a raft of publishers signed up to the SDG Publishers Compact, affirming their commitment to its 10-point action plan.

At the most recent Charleston Library Conference, KGL PubFactory’s Platform Services Director, Tom Beyer, hosted a lively panel debate which combined the perspectives of several prestigious social science publishers and an open resources librarian, showcasing how they are each adopting new technologies, implementing new initiatives and adapting their content delivery offerings to advance the SDGs and tackle global social challenges. Tom was joined by Simon Bell of Bristol University Press, Katy Wright from Edward Elgar Publishing and Willa Tavernier from Indiana University.

Mission-driven content

Bristol University Press, which launched Bristol University Press Digital, its consolidated book and journal platform on PubFactory last June, was among the first publishers to sign up to the Publishers Compact. Its purpose-led ethos, non-profit publishing model and mission to address social issues, inequality and discrimination provide a perfect synergy with the SDGs and inform a progressive publishing program consisting of 300 books a year and 20 journals.

Simon Bell commented: “Our new platform was developed with the aim of breaking down boundaries to participation and access to truly global social science research. Accessibility and inclusivity are very much the bedrock of the platform and the result is a unique resource for interdisciplinary research that tackles social challenges.

“We currently have eight collections curated and themed around the SDGs and all of our platform content is tagged by global social challenge and mapped to each SDG, which provides a really intuitive way for librarians to curate content for teaching and research purposes. We also recently launched the fully OA journal Global Social Challenges, which is the first journal to be based in the social sciences while also engaging with research from humanities, arts and STEM, including marginalized, minority and indigenous worldviews.”

Equality across the organization

Edward Edgar Publishing, recently named Independent Publisher of the Year and Academic and Professional Publisher of the Year at the 2023 Independent Publishing Awards, has constantly strived to be a responsible publisher. Specializing in law, business and the social sciences, the company operates with a 50/50 gender split on its board and is increasingly working with a number of companies and initiatives to improve access to its content in the Global South. In recent years, particularly since signing up to the Publishers Compact, the company has formed a DEI committee, an environmental committee and has made a number of significant editorial-based changes. Elgar also recently extended its longstanding hosting relationship with PubFactory with an upgraded launch of Elgar Online, using the latest platform enhancements.

Katy Wright said: “We carried out a business-wide review and looked into all of our current projects to ensure that we were focusing on diversity, gender balance and representation across our chapter editors and book topics. In addition, we conducted a review of our editor and author guidelines to make sure that our manuscripts were all reviewed with inclusivity and representation in mind. We made a concerted effort to add chapter contributors from the Global South and we have expanded our list of referees who review proposals to include more scholars from under-represented groups.”

The publisher has always published content on global social challenges but is now making a stronger push to publish books that advance thinking on the SDGs, recently launching several new series, including the Elgar Companion to the SDG Series, the Sustainable Futures Series and the Elgar Encyclopaedia of Human Rights.

On supporting the discoverability of the new series and other relevant content, Katy added: “We went through our entire backlist and recoded everything that we had already published in these areas, so that they matched up with the 17 SDG areas. Now if you go on our platform they are listed there, and you can easily find books in these areas and drill down into different broader subjects within them. Librarians can now also curate collections around subjects such as climate change, human rights, environmental law, social policy and other areas.”

Leveraging library support

Open scholarship at Indiana University dates back to 2012 when it launched its repository, IUScholarWorks. Since then, the university has expanded into publishing with over 50 Open Access journals and a range of data repositories. Earlier this year, the library launched a public, open, digital scholarship project entitled Land Wealth Liberation: the Making and Unmaking of Black Wealth in the United States, which relies heavily on publicly accessible and OA research and, as Willa Tavernier explains, somewhat consequentially supports and intersects with the UN SDGs.

She said: “This digital resource contains a timeline that addresses the origins of the racial wealth gap. We are leveraging this resource to spur conversations among people of different social groups to enable global communities to re-examine collective memory and advocate for restorative justice in policy-making in a manner that will benefit society as a whole.

“While the concepts that are reflected in the SDGs frame and intersect with this work—in fact the project supports SDG goals eight, 10, and 16—we did not initially look at the SDGs as motivation. However, seeing how our project’s goals interact so deeply with the SDGs has definitely sparked thinking about how we might use them to ground the work we do moving forwards,” she concluded.

2030 and beyond


At the end of the session, the panellists were asked about what the future may hold beyond 2030, when the UN’s SDG deadline comes into play. Tavernier commented: “Post 2030 we are still going to be pursuing these goals in some form.” Bell added: “These goals have been an intrinsic part of our publishing program since 1996 anyway, so regardless of whether we are behind the schedule at the moment, our mission-based publishing around these core areas will continue.” And Wight concluded: “The SDG goals grew out of the Millennium Goals and there will be something else that comes along. Whether it’s the UN or the G8, or someone else coming up with a set of goals, we will still be publishing in support of those, it’s just what we do.”

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