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Research Data Infrastructure: Setting standards and safeguarding quality

"Valid and reliable data are the indispensable foundation for the social and economic sciences to conduct research in line with contemporary realities and to formulate convincing recommendations for actions by citizens, policy-makers, and business leaders."

These introductory words to the expert report of the Commission on Improving the Informational Infrastructure (KVI), the committee that preceded the German Data Forum (RatSWD), are as valid today as they were then. The overarching goal of the German Data Forum is to create optimal conditions for innovative social, behavioral and economic research in Germany.

Data Access for Science and Research – the "Research Data Centre" success story

The German Data Forum has created the research data centre as a model for flexible and comprehensive access to sensitive data for science and research. Since their inception, the research data centres have played a pivotal role in the social, empirical, and economic sciences and strengthened the international competitiveness of the German research landscape.

The decentralised structure of the research data infrastructure is a tried and tested way to satisfy the demands of data producers, data users in science and research, and data protection. Anonymisation and pseudonomisation procedures are but two of a wide range of data protection measures, which include Public Use Files (PUF), Scientific Use Files (SUF), on-site access at research data centres, remote data access (which is widely known as remote execution in Germany), and the generation of synthetic data.  These various measures are used according to the data’s sensitivity.

The RatSWD has played a major role in supporting the development of these model solutions. They have led to a surge in accessible research data in the past decade.

Accreditation

Research data centres are accredited by the German Data Forum according to standard and transparent criteria. This procedure safeguards high quality data access and strict adherence to data protection regulation. Moreover, the criteria enable the objective evaluation of the operations of the research data centres.

The Research Data Infrastructure of the RatSWD

Researchers now have a highly developed and sustainable research data infrastructure at their disposal, which was created by independent initiatives from within the scientific community.

Since the founding of the first research data centres in 2001, the RatSWD has accredited 31 such centres (May 2017). They provide science and research with a wide range of research data, which includes official statistics data as well as data relevant to specific disciplines and research areas.

The Standing Committee Research Data Infrastructure (FDI)

Since 2010, the heads of the research data centres accredited by the RatSWD meet twice a year for the Standing Committee Research Data Infrastructure (FDI Committee). This committee is concerned with the daily business of the data centres and is an invaluable addition to the more strategic focus of the RatSWD. It represents the interests of the accredited research data centres, which are communicated by the RatSWD to funding agencies, policy-makers, science and research representatives, and data protection and ethic commissions on a national and international level.

Together, the FDI Committee and the RatSWD formulate recommendations on how to develop research data centres, secure quality, adapt to new challenges, for example, long-term archiving, and to explore untapped data potential.