Improving fitness: Mapping research priorities against societal needs on obesity

Lorenzo Cassi, Agénor Lahatte, Ismael Rafols, Pierre Sautier, Élisabeth de Turckheim
Journal of Informetrics

Science policy is increasingly shifting towards an emphasis in societal problems or grand challenges. As a result, new evaluative tools are needed to help assess not only the knowledge production side of research programmes or organisations, but also the articulation of research agendas with societal needs. In this paper, we present an exploratory investigation of science supply and societal needs on the grand challenge of obesity -an emerging health problem with enormous social costs. We illustrate a potential approach that uses topic modelling to explore: (a) how scientific publications can be used to describe existing priorities in science production; (b) how records of questions posed in the European parliament can be used as an instance of mapping discourse of social needs; (c) how the comparison between the two may show (mis)alignments between societal concerns and scientific outputs. While this is a technical exercise, we propose that this type of mapping methods can be useful for informing strategic planning and evaluation in funding agencies.