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Making registry data usable for research

In its position paper published today, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) emphasises the importance of access to register data as well as their linkage for research. The independent advisory council of the Federal Government formulates concrete recommendations so that science can find evidence-based solutions to societal problems on the basis of register data.

Population registers, central register of foreigners or vehicle registration registers – these data sets contain information that can be used to answer important questions in the social and economic sciences. Accordingly, they are of particular importance for research. Nevertheless, access to it remains difficult for researchers in Germany. It is therefore imperative to include science in the currently ongoing implementation of register modernisation, and the possibility of anchoring this in the planned Research Data Act should also be pursued.

In addition to access, it is equally important to be able to link register data comprehensively with each other and with data from other sources, such as survey data. To this end, it is also necessary to establish functioning data trustee models for science. Currently, this is only possible to a very limited extent. However, linking can close existing gaps and promote evidence-based policy advice, especially on issues in the areas of labour markets, taxes, education and health.

Data protection must not be neglected

Since registers often contain personal data, data protection is particularly important. The different interpretations of data protection law in the federal states is a major challenge here. “We can see from the example of other European countries that access to register data can be possible without any problems, even in compliance with the GDPR. In Germany, there are currently still obstacles in the way of researchers, which we are trying to remove,” says Prof. Dr. Joachim Winter, chair of the RatSWD’s working group on register data.

Politicians have not yet sufficiently focused on the importance of access to register data for researchers: “The potential of register data for research is huge. Unfortunately, the topic has not yet made it prominently enough onto the political agenda,” says Prof. Dr. Kerstin Schneider, Vice Chair of the RatSWD. That is why the RatSWD wants to raise awareness for the topic with its position paper.


The German Data Forum (RatSWD) advises the federal government and the governments in the federal states on expanding and improving the research data infrastructure for the empirical social, behavioural and economic sciences since 2004. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) is made up of ten elected representatives from the social, behavioural, and economic disciplines who work together with ten representatives from key data producers.

The German Data Forum (RatSWD) is part of the Consortium for Social, Behavioural, Educational, and Economic sciences (KonsortSWD) in the National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI). It acts as an institutionalised forum for dialogue between science and data producers, as well as developing recommendations and opinions. It is committed to supporting an infrastructure that enables sciences to have broad, flexible, and secure data access. These data are provided by state, science-based, and private-sector actors. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) has currently accredited 42 research data centres and encourages their cooperation.