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Our journey of progress with the SDG Publishers Compact

8th July 2021

Our journey of progress with the SDG Publishers Compact, by Tony Roche, Director of Publishing and Strategic Relationships and Emma Tregenza, General Counsel and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead.

Almost 18 months has passed since we became founding signatories of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Publishers Compact, during which time we have all lived through the challenges of a global pandemic.

What has been notable from the COVID-19 crisis is the clear desire around the world for research to make a difference, play a critical role in solving societal problems, and be easily discoverable to all. And the academic publishing industry is responding, with more than 60 publishing organisations of all shapes and sizes signing the Compact so far. While this shows great intent to accelerate the delivery of the SDGs, it is a big commitment and new territory for many publishers, and with that comes the challenges and opportunities of how to embed the Compact into strategy.

As a social sciences publisher that is passionate about leading change, it made sense for us to use our commitment to the Compact as a steppingstone to reimagining our publishing strategy; to better align our programme to the SDGs so that the research we publish can fully play its part in helping to solve global challenges. To do this, we are moving towards being a facilitator of research, in addition to publishing research outputs. And we are focusing our commissioning activities on interdisciplinary, mission-led research that is aligned to our core goals that correspond to overlapping SDGs:

Alongside the renewed commissioning focus, we have been working to embed the 10 action points of the Compact across the business so that we live and breathe our commitment through all elements of the Emerald Group. This includes raising awareness among staff to encourage participation in fundraising and volunteering activities that are directly linked to the SDG themes. We have also introduced a new procurement process to bring greater transparency of suppliers across our Group. And we have prioritised partnerships that help groups access the research they need, including joining the Research4Life partnership, as well as our pilot project with the Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries (COPPUL) through which we will enable access to research content to a selection of Indigenous post-secondary institutions and communities.

Across Emerald we are committed to a responsible and sustainable business strategy that focuses on equity, education and the environment. Since signing the Compact, we have embedded each of its 10 action points into our strategy and this has helped us underpin our commitments with real action. For example, we have started to report on the gender split of our editorial boards and have set key performance indicators (KPIs) to track progress towards our eventual goal of 50:50 representation in all disciplines.

Embedding the Compact into our strategy hasn’t been without its challenges but we have made steady progress. However, as we move forward, there are three particular challenges to overcome. These are likely to be common to everyone in the industry and therefore sharing knowledge and collective action are key to tackling the challenges.

  1. Firstly, getting everyone in the organisation to value and prioritise the actions of the Compact is not easy. Progressing actions takes effort and commitment and this can only be realised if we truly understand and value what we are trying to achieve. As an industry, we can help if we come together and present progress under the Compact as a collective priority.
  2. Secondly, data is key to understanding where we are and tracking progress. However, there are real challenges in collection, reporting and standardisation, particularly when it comes to data about individuals. As an industry we can help by agreeing relevant and scalable data standards, and then lobbying key system suppliers to make the changes we need to track and report these.
  3. Thirdly, our efforts under the Compact will fail if we can’t bring our customers along with us. The SDGs should present the perfect opportunity for publishers and academic institutions to work together to solve big societal goals. The more we focus on this outcome and align our efforts as an industry, the more chance we will have to succeed.

What lies ahead is an opportunity for publishers to work closely with other stakeholders in the wider research ecosystem, to share information and learn from one another, emphasising collective commitment to a sustainable future throughout what the UN has termed the Decade of Action.

While we are making progress on our own paths, now is the time for us publishers to join up and continue the journey as a collective force.

Research that makes a difference

Our goals

We publish mission-led social science research that tackles key societal challenges aligned with the UN SDGs. In doing so we work with academics who collaborate across disciplines & countries, and with industry and government, to publish research that influences thinking, changes policies, and makes a positive difference to lives beyond the walls of academia.