Using Overton for annual results reporting: Stockholm Environment Institute

User type: Research Institute

The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) is an international research organisation committed to addressing global environmental challenges and advancing sustainable development. Its focus is on affecting real-world change, and the knowledge produced at SEI helps support decision-makers on issues like climate change and biodiversity loss. SEI is funded through a combination of sources, including government agencies, foundations and grants. Their single largest donor is the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

We spoke with Julia Barrott, the Impact and Learning Officer in the Global Operations team, about how Overton has helped systematise their impact reporting.

Her role is focused on tracking and understanding how SEI’s research and engagement is contributing to change, and using this knowledge to support organisational learning to help SEI colleagues create more impact. A large part of this is preparing the organisation’s internal Annual Results Report, which takes a deep dive into SEI’s results and tracks SEI’s progress against its current Strategy. The report is submitted to the SEI Board and Sida and complements SEI’s external (publicly available) Annual Report.


It is important that SEI can demonstrate and evidence the real-world impact of its research to its Board and key donors. This is especially true in the current funding environment, where there is increasing emphasis put on providing evidence to substantiate claims of impact. Julia’s team uses Overton to uncover policy citations and analyse their influence.

How does the Stockholm Environment Institute use the Overton platform?

  • To find evidence of policy impact for SEI’s annual reporting activities, including SEI’s internal Annual Results Report that goes to the SEI Board and their main funder Sida, and SEI’s publicly available Annual Report.

What were their problems?

One of the core tenets of the Stockholm Environment Institute is to bridge science and policy. As such, they’re expected to provide well-substantiated evidence about their influence on policy. 

However, it can be very difficult to accurately capture all policy changes, and more difficult still to attribute them to actions by a specific team or organisation. Julia is responsible for a variety of reporting to different stakeholders, for which she does detailed research and analysis.

“It is very hard to find good examples of policy influence without constant monitoring and follow up directly with policy makers. Even then, you may not be fully aware of all the ways your work is being used and the impact it is having. Overton enables us to quickly see how our publications are being used by others, and how this uptake is influencing their publications.”

Julia Barrott

Even when Julia and team are aware of areas of impact, it can be difficult to find concrete evidence to prove this in reporting. 

“Sometimes we know that we’ve affected change – we’ve been in the room with decision makers and certain messages have got through. But getting direct evidence of that chain of attribution is difficult”

In fact, it’s rare for research to be cited directly in high-level policy from governments or state actors. Often the research is re-packaged by an intermediary like a think tank, and their publication is the one referenced. This lack of direct mention can make it hard to prove the research’s influence.

How does Overton help?

Using Overton ensures that Julia picks up more policy citations, without the extensive manual work. It’s helped them uncover examples of impact that would be otherwise difficult to find. Overton’s full text search capabilities find mentions of SEI research within the body of documents rather than just in formal references.

There are many cases where we find our work picked up in policy sources that we weren’t even aware of

It’s also helped Julia and team find indirect examples of impact. Unlike other similar tools, Overton shows policy to policy as well as research to policy citations. This helps users unpick the complex network of influence, showing how ideas from research spread across the policy landscape, and enabling the SEI to link real world change with the initial piece of research.

Overton’s various filters also allow for complex high level analysis. They can break down their citations into different categories, such as source types or countries, in order to tailor their reporting and create comprehensive accounts for various stakeholders.

It’s very user-friendly, which makes it easy to analyse patterns, or break things down to assess whether we’re achieving our goals in specific areas

While the focus is currently on reporting, Julia is aware of a growing interest within the SEI to use Overton more proactively – to create research impact by engaging with policy actors that have previously cited their work and pursuing collaboration opportunities.

Best features of Overton for SEI

  • Policy to policy citations which show indirect influence. This allows SEI to track their work across various policy actors and documents, so they can identify research impact even where they aren’t directly cited.
  • Automated emails and alerts to notify of new citations in policy, to save time and systematise the reporting.
  • User friendly interface.

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