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Research Funding: Readjust and Implement Infrastructure Roadmaps!

The German Data Forum (RatSWD) has published recommendations on the strategically important Roadmap processes for research infrastructures. They are a response to the lacking participation of social, behavioural, and economic sciences in past application periods. For these disciplines to file applications, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) regards the currently narrow definition of investment costs as the central obstacle. So far, the further development of SBES infrastructures – such as new collection rounds of panel surveys – are considered operating costs ineligible for funding. Also, through systematic networking within the disciplines, needs for infrastructures could be channelled early on.

The social, behavioural, and economic sciences (SBES) have submitted no proposal during the German Roadmap processes (2013 and 2018). Such Roadmaps allow national and international research funders, such as the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), to manage large investments in research infrastructures. Setting the course structurally and politically, these investments determine whether disciplines will be competitive internationally in the future. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) has analysed the missing involvement of the SBES in the German Roadmap processes and published recommendations for future application periods.

Research infrastructures in the SBES mainly focus on the supply of research data, which usually are collected over several years and subsequently made available to the whole research community. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) has identified the narrow definition of investment costs used in past Roadmap processes as a possible obstacle to participation in past Roadmap processes. The (repeated) data collection, for example in panel surveys, or additions to cohort studies are not seen as investments, but count as operating costs that are ineligible for funding. According to the German Data Forum (RatSWD), other obstacles to participation include the lack of funding for international projects and the vagueness of Roadmap funding commitments, which makes it difficult to anticipate and plan with the amount of funding available.

Therefore, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) recommends

  • re-setting the boundary between investments and operating costs,
  • further opening the process to expansions and innovations of the existing infrastructure (e.g., new survey collection rounds),
  • and allowing funding for international partnerships.

With these changes, the Roadmap process would take into account the characteristics of the SBES. Additionally, a two-phase application process at regular intervals would reduce both uncertainty and the effort needed during application. Discussions within the disciplines in the run-up to applications rounds can strengthen the networks among the stakeholders and help channel their needs for discipline-specific research infrastructure.


The full report is freely available for download: RatSWD Output 3 (6)