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The origins of the German Data Forum date back to 1998 when professors Richard Hauser, Gert G. Wagner, and Klaus F. Zimmermann published a memorandum titled “Conditions for the success of empirical economic research and research-based policy advice in economic and social policy”. The report contained a detailed description of the prob­lems that researchers faced when accessing statistical data and called attention to data protection issues.

The memorandum sparked an intense debate resulting in the establishment of the “Commission to Improve the Information Infrastructure” (KVI) by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in 1999. The commission submitted an expert report on necessary measures to improve the research infrastructure for the empir­ical social and economic sciences (“Towards a better informational infrastructure” 2001). The founding committee of the German Data Forum was established in 2001.

The early years of the German Data Forum were shaped by the president of the Federal Statistical Office at the time, Johann Hahlen, as well as Hans-Jürgen Krupp and Karl Ulrich Mayer who – as vice-chairs of KVI and the founding committee (2001–2004) – took the first strategic steps on the path to improving research data infrastructures. In 2004, the first research data centers were established and the German Data Forum was appointed as an advisory committee to the federal government.

The first four appointment periods of the German Data Forum were shaped by diverse topics and challenges.