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20 Years FDZ: How an Initial Spark Became a Successful Model

The first Research Data Center (FDZ) in Germany was founded 20 years ago. On the occasion of this anniversary, the KonsortSWD team at LIfBi organized a scientific conference, which took place in a hybrid format simultaneously in the Spiegelsaal in Bamberg and online. Experts from the scientific community took a look at the development of the research data infrastructure over the past 20 years and discussed current trends and potential for development. A central theme of the event was calls on policymakers to create the legal framework to improve the work of research data centers and facilitate linkages between existing and new data sets.

A lot has happened since the Federal Statistical Office founded the first FDZ in Germany in 2001: "This initial spark has become a successful model," said RatSWD Chair Prof. Dr. Monika Jungbauer-Gans, Director of the German Center for Higher Education and Science Studies (DZHW), outlining the development over the past 20 years at the opening of the anniversary event. She described the FDZs as a model of data trusteeship to share research data with researchers, taking into account all privacy concerns. There are now 40 FDZs accredited by the German Data Forum (RatSWD) in Germany, and their range of topics and methods is unique in the world.

Prospects for strengthening data-based research in Germany

In order to strengthen and further develop this research data infrastructure in Germany, Jungbauer-Gans believes that a fundamental political course needs to be set. As core demands of the recently published position paper, she named access to register and administrative data for scientific purposes as well as legal protection of the confidentiality of research data - for example, through a right to refuse testimony as well as a ban on seizure.

The speaker of KonsortSWD, Prof. Dr. Christof Wolf, President of the Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences (GESIS), also addressed perspectives for further development in his speech. Among other things, he pointed out that much data is in the hands of private-sector companies; it is therefore politically imperative to provide science with regulated access to proprietary data.

Research data centers as a voluntary commitment

Four input presentations addressed the importance of research data centers for science from different perspectives. Prof. Regina T. Riphahn, Ph.D. from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, advocated for lowering barriers to linkability of different data sets. She encouraged consideration of developing federated and cooperative structures for the research data landscape to avoid "fragmentation of research data centers by data owners," as called for in the 1999 report of the "Commission on Improving the Informational Infrastructure between Science and Statistics" (KVI).

Dr. Daniel Vorgrimler from the Federal Statistical Office in Wiesbaden pointed out that there is currently no legal obligation for the statistical offices to operate an FDZ: "We do it because we want to". A legal anchoring should therefore be strived for.

Prof. Dr. Sören Auer, director of the Technical Information Library in Hanover, took a fundamental look at the process of establishing innovative research data infrastructures.  "We need to look at getting to a plateau of productivity" that will ensure lasting success. He therefore suggested that, in the course of digitization, new approaches should also be taken to working methods and to making data holdings usable.

Prof. Dr. David Reimer from Aarhus University presented the situation in Denmark as an example of an alternative way of setting up a data infrastructure. There, Danmarks Statistik (DST) offers comprehensive access for researchers to registry data on the one hand, and on the other hand, corresponding links can also be made with survey data based on a one-to-one key, without the given possibilities conflicting with the European General Data Protection Regulation.

"We want to yes, we just have to be allowed to".

In the following discussion round, which like the entire festive event was moderated by science journalist Dr. Jan-Martin Wiarda, the experts discussed, among other things, possibilities of data donations from the population as well as encouragement for researchers to provide data. The linking of data sets within the framework of the National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI) was also intensively discussed. The unanimous opinion was that politics must be made more responsible in this regard, which Wiarda summed up with "We want to, we just have to be allowed to". The financial resources as well as the cost-benefit ratio were also discussed intensively; here the conclusion of the evening was: "It is expensive to provide good data, but it is even more expensive not to do so!"



With the Consortium for the Social, Behavioral, Educational and Economic Sciences (KonsortSWD), launched in fall 2020, the FDZ are directly involved in the further development of the National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI). LIfBi is responsible for Task Area 2 "Data Access", one of four working areas of the consortium, and coordinates, among other things, the FDI Committee, in which all FDZs accredited by the RatSWD are represented.


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