Working Together for Research – Transparent – International
Sixty years after its re-establishment following the Second World War, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) sees itself now more than ever as the central self-governing organisation for science and the humanities in Germany. “Year for year in the DFG, thousands of researchers ensure quality and diversity in research and in its funding as applicants or as honorary reviewers, in the numerous statutory bodies or in the especially important review boards, the ‘Parliament of Science’, which will be re-elected at the end of this year,” said DFG President Professor Matthias Kleiner at the annual press conference of the DFG on 7 July 2011 in Berlin. At the conference, Kleiner reported on the DFG’s annual meeting and about new developments in the funding organisation. In the future, its work should become even more transparent and more internationally oriented in spite of the increasing complexity of research and research funding.
The DFG’s annual meeting took place from 4 to 6 July 2011 in Bonn and was held under the motto “Working together for research”. The ceremony – at which German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel held a speech on the meaning of science and the humanities for politics and society and North Rhine-Westphalia Minister-President Hannelore Kraft gave a welcoming address – looked back at, among other things, the re-establishment of the DFG after the Second World War in the summer of 1951. “At that time, there was particular emphasis on scientific self-governance and it was a priority to assert this principle in the political arena. Today, we are proud of this self-governance, as are the politicians; this type of self-governance does not exist elsewhere. And the DFG is valued because it is independent and, at the same time, within earshot of the political world,” emphasised Kleiner.
The principle of self-governance is especially apparent in the extensive and diverse honorary involvement of researchers in the DFG. In 2010, for example, more than 12,000 reviewers examined and gave funding recommendations on more than 17,000 funding proposals according to the standards of scientific/academic quality. In the statutory bodies, commissions and committees of the DFG, more than 900 researchers provided advice on fundamental scientific and science policy questions and made funding decisions together with the representatives from the federal and state governments, which fund the DFG.
It is the review boards of the DFG that embody the “symbol of self-governance” (Kleiner). In them, researchers, who are elected every four years by representatives of their subject areas, play a central role in the reviews and funding decisions. In the upcoming elections for the review boards from 7 November to 5 December 2011, more than 100,000 researchers at universities and other research institutions can cast their votes for the more than 600 seats in 48 review boards. The election will be held online and is one of the largest online elections in the world.
The principle of self-governance and all of the work of the DFG should become even more transparent in the future. In time for the annual meeting, the GEPRIS project information system, online since 2001, was revised and significantly expanded. With this system, it is now possible not only to search for titles, participating researchers or locations of DFG-funded projects, but for information on the research findings as well. For a start, more than 5,000 projects with their final reports are accessible on the internet at www.dfg.de/gepris; for all new projects, the final reports will be included as standard procedure. With its new English navigation, GEPRIS makes the work of the DFG easier to research for interested parties around the world. A new feature also includes statistical overviews in printed form, which present the most important facts and figures on the DFG on four pages.
“With these and other information offerings, of which the recently redesigned statistics section of the annual report and the extensive funding ranking of the DFG are a part, details on what and who are funded as well as the type of funding – down to the level of the individual projects – are made available for everyone,” underlined DFG President Kleiner at the annual press conference. The DFG thereby takes a step towards meeting society’s justifiable demand for information. “Even so, we still encounter opinions and isolated accusations shaped by insufficient information or prejudices which assert that the work of the DFG occurs in secret and without control.”
A new programme enabling the establishment of information infrastructures for research data ensures more transparency in science. The programme currently includes 27 projects, which have been funded since May of this year. “In all areas of research, a wide range of mainly digital data is generated. However, the majority is neither systematically archived nor is it made available for further use. Our new programme hopes to change this. It safeguards a valuable pool of data and, in addition, is also a step towards quality assurance in research.”
The open and consistent treatment of scientific misconduct is also an element of transparency and quality assurance in science and research for the DFG. “In spite of the high-profile cases of plagiarism in recent months: The number of misconduct cases is, proportionally, very small. The vast majority of researchers work honestly. And, in the event of misconduct, the system of self-monitoring by science – a system established above all by the DFG – then functions,” Kleiner pointed out. Nevertheless, each case undermines scientific honesty and trust in science. The DFG therefore takes the topic of misconduct very seriously.
To clarify suspected or actual cases of misconduct in funded work, the DFG has therefore revised several technical points of its code of conduct. Following approval by the DFG Joint Committee within the framework of the annual meeting, it will now be published on the internet and made accessible to all interested parties. A conference of the Alliance of German Science Organisations, to be held later this year under the leadership of the DFG, will serve to further optimise self-monitoring by science and recommendations for ensuring good scientific practice.
Another central topic at the annual meeting and annual press conference was the international orientation of DFG activities. In the Joint Committee and in the General Assembly, an “internationalisation strategy” was presented by the Executive Committee for this purpose. It defines, as the most important goal, strengthening existing international collaborations between researchers, institutions and funding organisations as well as systematically identifying and tapping into new potentials for cooperation. To this end, the DFG also hopes to expand collaborations with other internationally active research organisations such as the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). “In this way, we aim to make cooperations for researchers in Germany with and between individuals and institutions worldwide as unbureaucratic as possible,” said the DFG President. Above and beyond the funding of projects, it is hoped that this will also pave the way to joint research areas. Kleiner referred to the emerging European Research Area and emphasised: “Joint research areas form the highest integration level of scientific cooperation and are, therefore, the long-term objective of cooperation with all countries.”
Of great importance for the internationalisation strategy is the intensive funding of cooperations with particularly scientifically dynamic countries and regions. Of great interest for science in Germany are, therefore, the countries of the European Union, especially Austria, Switzerland, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands as well as Poland, as are the USA and Canada, Israel and Japan as well as Brazil, China, India and Russia. Accordingly, the DFG has international representations in Beijing, Washington and New York, Moscow, New Delhi, Tokyo and São Paulo. Moreover, the DFG also aims to further develop joint models for funding bilateral and multilateral projects by means of a global exchange with partner organisations; this should also be used to optimise the funding portfolio of the DFG. On all of these levels, the expansion of international cooperation must always accompany the expansion of the German funding system, underlined the DFG President.
With regard to science policy topics, Kleiner first assessed the “three large pacts” – the Excellence Initiative, the Pact for Research and Innovation as well as the Higher Education Pact – as very positive and effective and thanked the federal and state governments for these framework conditions, which are, in addition, outstanding in international comparison. “With the three pacts, science in Germany and the DFG now have, and will continue to have, more money available – and will use the pacts to the benefit and well being of society,” emphasised the DFG President.
Kleiner linked his thanks with the appeal to the federal and state governments to continue these framework conditions after the current funding periods for the three pacts end. With the reviews of the new and renewal proposals which are to start in the autumn and the final decisions in June of 2012, the Excellence Initiative will enter its final phase and expire, said Kleiner. With reference to the two pillars of the Excellence Initiative managed by the DFG, he added: “To enable the map of excellence to further develop dynamically, the current funds for research networks and graduate schools of the DFG should remain available in their current funding formats for the long term.”
According to Kleiner, the Pact for Research and Innovation – through which DFG funds were last increased by three percent in 2010 and by five percent for the first time in the current year – should also be continued beyond its currently planned duration, which lasts until 2015. The same applies for the Higher Education Pact, which, in addition to financing additional university places for students, also guarantees an additional 20 percent programme allowance for indirect project costs for DFG-funded projects. “This, like the three large pacts overall, is extremely beneficial for science and the humanities in Germany,” said the DFG President in closing.