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Strategic Agenda in the 7th appointment period 2020–2023

The German Data Forum (RatSWD) will bring specific issues of empirical research into politics and legislation, address new challenges in data collection, and advocate for a change in data culture.

Key Areas and working groups

1. Advice for politicians and legislators

The German Data Forum (RatSWD) works to ensure that the interests of empirical research and the research data infrastructure are systematically taken into account in the legislative process. In the 7th appointment period, the data strategy of the federal government and the data strategy of the EU are expected to be of particular importance for the German Data Forum (RatSWD).

Task Force Law

Since quick and well-founded reactions are required to accompany national and EU legislative processes, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) has set up a legal task force as a contact group, which consists of members and guests of the German Data Forum (RatSWD). This task force analyses relevant draft bills for the German Data Forum (RatSWD) and works together with their business office to draw up political opinions.

Scientific use and linking of register data

With the help of register and administrative data, socially and economically relevant developments can be easily identified, policy makers can be advised on an evidence-based basis. At the same time, quality defects in the data can be identified. However, some areas of government action are insufficiently covered by relevant registers or there are no clearly regulated access points for researchers. The possibilities to link register data with other administrative data or external survey data are still very limited. The lack of data, or the provision of data in need of improvement, complicates data-based research and sampling in Germany, making the data from Germany often insufficient for international comparisons.

The aim of this working group is to bring the interests of research into the current debates on register modernisation. For this purpose, an overview of research-relevant registers and administrative data will be created, the legal framework for scientific access and links will be determined, and policy recommendations will be developed. Clear use cases shall illustrate the social relevance and the scientific potential of the register and administrative data.

  • Format: working group with German Data Forum (RatSWD) members of the 7th appointment period and external members
  • Objective: analyse inventory and legal classifications of existing scientific access to register data, collect use cases, and develop recommendations
  • Output: elaboration of statements on relevant legislative processes in cooperation with the legal task force and publication of recommendations of the German Data Forum (RatSWD) as part of their Output Series.
  • Time frame: start in winter 2020, workshop spring 2021, completion by summer 2022

2. New challenges in data collection

Science and public administration need high-quality, detailed, and interoperable data in order to address societal challenges. Only in this way can a trusted gain in knowledge be realised. However, the nature of data acquisition has changed in recent years. Research data is increasingly being collected through new information technology ranging from big data sources, through artificial intelligence, through citizen science projects, or through online studies without a controllable sample. These data have great potential to answer existing and new research questions and can also be used ad hoc, e.g. when researching social crises. However, the data quality does not always meet scientific standards. The unregulated use and dissemination of such data not only threatens trust in science, but can also be harmful to society and politics. The methodological and technical quality, and thus the scientific value of new data, as well as the handling of new data structures, pose new challenges for research. These challenges are addressed by the German Data Forum (RatSWD) in its 7th appointment period.

Challenges in the scientific collection and use of unstructured data

Examples are the analysis of images, tweets, sensor data, but also data donations and citizen science projects or open online panels. What these data sources have in common is that for the available data the selection of the investigation units is often initially unknown. Often the uniformity of the measurements is also in question. Therefore, there are new challenges for the evaluation of the quality and informative value of the data collected. The aim of this working group is to highlight which questions are currently being scientifically addressed with data from unstructured data collection processes, which challenges arise from their scientific use, and what best practices are available to handle such data.

  • Format: Working group with members of the German Data Forum’s (RatSWD) 7th appointment period
  • Objective: develop recommendations
  • Output: development of guiding questions, organisation of a dedicated workshop, and the publication of recommendations by the German Data Forum (RatSWD) as part of their Output Series
  • Time frame: start in winter 2020, workshop 2021, completion by 2022, publication by spring 2023

Networking empirical social science research in social crises

Various projects and initiatives currently exist that empirically record the social effects of the corona pandemic and how to combat it. Since March 2020, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) has been collecting information on social, behavioural, educational, and economic studies and initiatives for empirical research on the corona pandemic, all of which can be found at https://www.konsortswd.de/ratswd/themen/corona/studien/.

The collection reveals that recurring topics of the German Data Forum (RatSWD), such as data quality, interoperability between the various projects, and the concept of research data management were only considered sporadically in the projects. The aim of this working group is to initiate networking and interoperability of social, behavioural, educational, and economic research projects across methodological boundaries, and thus support the quality assurance of research data and the change in data culture, even in small ad hoc research projects. The intended outcome is the establishment and continuation of the database on the German Data Forum (RatSWD) website, and the publication and communication of a standard questionnaire to allow for interoperability between studies. In addition, a concept of a contact point for national and international exchanges is to be developed in order to network researchers in social crises. The results of the working group will be published in the German Data Forum (RatSWD) Output Series and implemented through workshops and presentations at specialist conferences.

  • Format: Working group of German Data Forum (RatSWD) members of the 6th and 7th appointment periods
  • Objective: network empirical social science research in societal crises
  • Output: establishment of a database, conceptualisation of a contact point for national and international exchange, publication of recommendations in the German Data Forum (RatSWD) Output Series, and begin first steps to implement results
  • Time frame: start in December 2020, standard questionnaire in spring 2021, publication of results and recommendations in the German Data Forum (RatSWD) Output Series in spring 2022, implementation and final phase by November 2022

3. Data culture change

A cultural change that promotes the sharing of information, data, and results has been observed in science and research for several years, and has been promoted by a variety of actors. A change in the handling of data can be observed, for example, in the new requirements for evidence-based politics, and is also emerging with regards to the re-use of research data. Additionally, there is a growing awareness of ethical research norms. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) will continue to support this shift in data culture in its 7th appointment period with the following working groups:

RDM Services for smaller research projects: Guide to cultural change

Increasingly researchers in small research projects are expected, for example by research sponsors or by specialist journals, to conduct a research data management (RDM) in line with the FAIR principles, and to make their data available for reuse. Nevertheless, in projects, which are not supported by designated infrastructures such as research data centres, the structured archiving of data, and its subsequent provisional use by third parties, is not yet a common practice for a number of reasons. Although a lot of information and services for a professional RDM are now available to researches, data often still remains without FAIR metadata or anonymisation concepts locked in and available to primary researchers – depending on the respective discipline, but also on other requirements, such as protection of trust in the field. The objective of the working group is to support the cultural shift towards professional archiving practices and – as far as feasible – support the sharing of (meta)-data among researchers. Therefore, the support service should already be provided when planning primary data collection and associated RDM concepts for grant applications. It should then accompany the research process with an overview of supporting materials and tools throughout the research cycle up until archiving practices. The degree of support needed for researchers in individual research projects should be determined in advance, in order to provide a precise guide to existing services and to highlight practice-oriented applications for their own RDM.

  • Format: Working group with external members
  • Objective: analyse existing RDM offers and elicitation of research-political desiderata and create a guide for researchers
  • Output: development of a digital guide (e.g. website) of RDM issues and existing services, publication of a summary in the German Data Forum’s (RatSWD) Output Series
  • Time frame: start in winter 2020, finish in 2023

Research ethics in the social, behavioural, educational, and economic sciences

Research ethics formulate the basic principles of action that are appropriate within empirical research. This is about the relationships between researchers and the study participants, the transparency of the research, and the assessment of the potential consequences of research projects. The aim of research ethical norms and regulations is to guide actions that avoid harm to individuals, groups, organisations, or entire societies, while also protecting freedom of research. Due to new technological developments, requirements of research-promoting institutions and scientific journals for accessing research data have created new challenges for ethical research. In the 7th appointment period, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) therefore establishes a working group on research ethics, which builds on the activities of the German Data Forum (RatSWD) regarding research ethics in the previous appointment periods (see here). The objective is to develop specific recommendations and guidelines for the establishment and work of local ethics committees on the basis of systematic needs assessments. Additionally, the framework conditions for the long-term implementation of a dedicated exchange forum on research ethics should be addressed.

  • Format: Working group with external members
  • Objective: consult with stakeholders, develop recommendations and guidelines e.g. with sample FAQs or templates for standardised rules of procedure, and apply for the implementation of sustainable exchange structures
  • Output: publication of the recommendations of the German Data Forum (RatSWD) as part of the their Output Series
  • Time frame: start in fall 2020, finish in 2023

Permanent tasks

1. New data sources and data access for researchers

The German Data Forum (RatSWD) has been calling for improved access to official microdata for independent scientific research for many years. As a result, access to research-relevant data has significantly improved in recent years. Nevertheless, crucial, already existing sources of information are still only available to a limited extent, or not at all, for scientific research. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) is therefore continuously working towards improving institutionalised data access for science. One focus is always on the partly discipline-specific characteristics of anonymisation and pseudonymisation of sensitive, personal microdata, such as their long-term archiving and replicability.

2. Monitoring of technological and methodological developments

Digitisation harbours great opportunities and potential for innovation, as new data sources are opened up and analysis methods are developed, for example in the context of artificial intelligence and big data. These data and methods offer immense potential for scientific research. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) incorporates the methodological and technological development in the research data centres, taking data protection into account.

3. Advising legislators during the law-making process

The German Data Forum (RatSWD) works to ensure that the interests of empirical research and the research data infrastructure are systematically taken into account in the legislative process. Because a quick and well-founded reaction is required to accompany national and European legislative processes, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) has set up a legal task force as a contact group. This task force analyses relevant draft bills for the German Data Forum (RatSWD) and prepares position papers.

4. Participating in initiatives and coordination with international actors

With its extensive competence and knowledge of social, behavioural, and economic sciences in Germany, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) is a central point of contact for international initiatives in the field of data policy, e.g. as an organisational member of the Research Data Alliance (RDA) or as a founding member of the implementation network EcoSoc-IN in the GO FAIR initiative.

5. Following-up on debates sparked by the German Data Forum

In past appointment periods, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) has developed recommendations, e.g., on the topics of data access in the field of big data, the further development of criminal and criminal justice statistics, data collection with apps and wearables, or remote access to data from official statistics. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) will continue to help shape and progress these discussions.

6. Accreditation of research data centres and quality assurance of the created research data infrastructure

In order to ensure the quality of the research data infrastructure, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) has developed minimum standards and criteria for the accreditation of research data centres in the past appointment periods. Taking into account the recommendations of the Committee for Data Access, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) also decides, within the KonsortSWD structure, on the accreditation of new research data centres. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) evaluates the overall development of the research data infrastructure by conducting the annual monitoring of the research data centres and making the decisions in complaint management.

7. Organisation of the conference of the KonsortSWD in 2023

In order to continue the series of Conferences for Social and Economic Data (KSWD), the German Data Forum (RatSWD) will now organise the KonsortSWD conference. The conference allows for the discussion of current scientific topics in the context of empirical social, behavioural, educational, and economic research and data production. The conference also offers a common forum for science, official statistics, and politics in an interdisciplinary discourse.

8. Reflection on research-related values and norms

In the social and economic sciences, ethical research issues are increasingly being addressed in order to prevent research from harming individuals, groups, or entire societies. At the same time, science-related values and norms, such as freedom of research, open science, and open data, play a central role in the design of infrastructure. For example, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) has already presented an overall concept for research ethical principles and test procedures in the social and economic sciences. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) will continue to support researchers by contributing to a change in culture and values that supports research, but also by developing guidelines for action.

9. Promoting data governance

The German Data Forum (RatSWD) is committed to the holistic handling of data with the aim of ensuring data quality, protection, and security of data, as well as compliance with data protection regulations. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) further advances the organisational and legal framework conditions and requirements for the sharing and reuse of data in its disciplines by promoting comprehensive data governance.

10. Integration of the user perspective in the NFDI Consortium for Social, Behavioural, Educational, and Economic Sciences (KonsortSWD)

The research communities of the KonsortSWD are specifically integrated into the consortium via the German Data Forum (RatSWD): in the German Data Forum (RatSWD), representatives of data production and empirical social, behavioural, and economic research are jointly developing the research data infrastructure in a needs-oriented and user-friendly manner. Thus, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) contributes to a central goal of KonsortSWD. The KonsortSWD advisory board is also made up of members of the German Data Forum (RatSWD) and accompanies the strategic orientation and expansion of the consortium.