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The Data Strategy of the Federal Government: An active role for Science!

Press release, January 28, 2020

At a hearing of the Federal Chancellery on 23.01.2020, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) highlighted four key areas of action for the Federal Government’s data strategy regarding scientific research: 1) Providing access to public and commercial data, 2) Developing technical infrastructure for data analysis, 3) Ensuring data quality, and 4) Promoting the sharing of data and enabling of data links. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) outlines solutions in its position paper, and actively supports the further development of the data strategy.

At the hearing of the Federal Chancellery on 23.01.2020, the Chair of the German Data Forum (RatSWD), Prof. Regina T. Riphahn, Ph.D., advocated for an active role of research and science in the data strategy of the Federal Government [German]. For this purpose, she presented four areas of action:

The first area of action is to provide scientists with full access to important administrative registers and statistics, such as education registers, tax data, real estate data, and criminal statistics. Today, scientists still have no access or only limited access to such data. By using the established model of Research Data Centres (RDCs), such sensitive data could be accessed for innovative research in compliance with data protection regulations. Solutions are also required in order to access ‘commercial’ data. With regards to Big Data, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) suggests the implementation of trustees, which will consider the interests of all parties involved, such as scientists, companies, and individuals concerned.

In order to use the time and organisational resources of researchers and data providers efficiently, the second area of action is the advancement of technical possibilities for data analysis. For example, in order to allow for remote access to research data at the regular working desk of the researcher, legislative changes and pilot projects are necessary. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) has identified the necessary changes in its recent publication.

The third area of action is to guarantee quality of data. Digitization creates a large amount of data (‘Big Data’), but its quality is not always guaranteed, and the use of such data can threaten the public trust in scientific research and the social discourse. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) therefore proposes the introduction of data quality seals and an open data initiative in accordance with the internationally recognized FAIR principles.

Last but not least, the fourth area of action is to promote a culture of sharing data to counter the culture of mistrust towards scientific research. Many scientifically and socially relevant projects are complicated or even prevented by restrictive regulations hindering data to be linked, shared, or used. During the Federal Chancellery hearing, Prof. Riphahn emphasized that ‘science is only interested in seeking knowledge, not the re-identification of individuals’. Therefore, the existing data protection privileges for independent researchers should also apply to other regulatory areas.

The German Data Forum (RatSWD) will actively support the further development of the data strategy, using its expertise in the identification of relevant data, data access, and data anonymisation procedures to support an emerging data infrastructure. A detailed position paper by the German Data Forum (RatSWD) on the data strategy of the federal government is available here.

In addition to the German Data Forum (RatSWD), 15 other representatives from science, civil society, politics, and business provided their perspectives at the Federal Chancellery hearing. A video of the entire event with the Head of the Federal Chancellory Helge Braun and Minister of State for Digitalisation Dorothee Bär can be found on the Federal Government’s Website.

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Established in 2004, the German Data Forum (Rat für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsdaten, RatSWD) is an independent council. It advises the German federal government and the federal states (Länder) in matters concerning the research data infrastructure for the empirical social, behavioural, and economic sciences. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) has 16 members. Membership consists of eight elected representatives of the social, behavioural, and economic sciences and eight appointed representatives of Germany’s most important data producers. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) offers a forum for dialogue between researchers and data producers, who jointly issue recommendations and position papers. The council furthers the development of a research infrastructure that provides researchers with flexible and secure access to a broad range of data. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) has accredited 34 research data centres and fosters their interaction and collaboration.