The future of research infrastructures: a look at Germany

Information and knowledge are important resources for resource-poor countries. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the future of research infrastructures in Germany has been discussed rather intensively for about two years by information professionals, academics and political decision makers. In 2011, several reports and recommendations on the future of research infrastructures in Germany were presented by different institutions.

In January 2011, the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat), the most important advisory body to the German Federal Government and the state governments on research policy issues, began to present a series of recommendations on the six publicly financed German library service networks (Bibliotheksverbünde), on scientific collections and on research infrastructures in humanities and social sciences. Finally, based on these recommendations, the Council published a comprehensive paper on research infrastructures in general.

It is perhaps interesting to look more closely at the Council’s recommendations concerning the social sciences. According to the Council, digital resources will become even more important for these disciplines in the future. Moreover, the online accessibility of research data is considered to be a very important topic. Consequently, existing research data centers should be consolidated and new ones should be established. As for the long-term-archiving of primary research data, the Council recommends expanding the option of referring to and quoting datasets. Moreover, qualitative data and information “volatile” data sources such as websites and weblogs should also be archived to a greater extent than today. All this should be done in discipline-specific way.

Furthermore, the Council expects the Federal Government to commit itself to international infrastructure projects such as the “Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe” (SHARE).

With regard to the framework for the science research infrastructure the Council advocates the development of a competitive strategy for funding infrastructure projects in coordination between the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the German Research Foundation (DFG). Such a funding program is considered to be a potential starting point for the creation of ongoing infrastructure projects that could then be incorporated on a national and/or European roadmap for research infrastructures.

Another interesting point is that the Council expects higher education institutions, non-university research institutions and scientific societies to give greater recognition to the individual commitment of scientists in their development of infrastructures. Infrastructure funding and development should be linked to training concepts for early career researchers.

Besides the German Council of Science and Humanities, the Joint Science Conference (Gemeinsame Wissenschaftskonferenz), an institution which is in charge of coordinating the research funding activities of the Federal Government and the state governments, instigated the creation of a “Commission on the future of information infrastructures” (KII). The Leibniz Association, an association of more than 80 German non-university research institutes from various disciplines, invited 135 persons from 54 different institutions to joint the KII which presented the results of its work in April 2011.

The commission identified eight important areas of areas for action:

  • licensing,
  • hosting / long-term-archiving,
  • retrodigitization / cultural heritage,
  • virtual research environments,
  • open access,
  • research data,
  • information literacy / education.

The recommendations of the KII will find their way into a 2012-awaited comprehensive set of recommendations of the German Council of Science and Humanities on the information infrastructure in Germany.

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