RDM? Ja bitte! German Rectors’ Conference actively supports Research Data Management

recommendation published by the German Rectors‘ Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz, HRK) asserts that German Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) should take an active role in systematically addressing the challenge of research data management [1]. An association of currently 268 HEIs serving 94% of the German student body,

“[t]he HRK is the political and public voice of universities and provides a forum for the process of forming joint policies and practices. The HRK addresses all manner of topics related to universities: research, teaching and learning, continuing professional education for academics, knowledge and technology transfer, international cooperation, and administrative self-management” [2].

This was not unexpected as over time German HEIs have demonstrated a growing awareness of the importance of RDM, and many universities have already acted upon it. Leading institutions such as, for example, Bielefeld University, Humboldt-University Berlin, Christian Albrechts University Kiel and University of Mannheim have begun to build up services to promote and support the systematic management of research data in their institutions [3][4].

The HRK document bases its recommendation on current trends in research and research data production (e.g. big data, increasing heterogeneity of data, new methods and research processes). A central place is held by the acknowledgement that the implementation of efficient RDM practices is an important competitive factor for universities (see p. 3). The HRK therefore recommends that university leadership “establish a foundation for scientific (research) work by taking responsibility to create an environment which enables the researchers in their institution and German science in general to manage digital data efficiently, easily, and on a secure legal basis” (p. 3, our translation). To achieve this end the HRK makes the following high-level recommendations for universities:

  1. Create a common principle and guideline for the management of research data in a process involving all relevant stakeholders (see p. 4).
  2. Cooperation between HEIs, non-university research institutions and discipline-specific infrastructures to facilitate cooperative research and data management across institutions (ibid.).
  3. Promote information literacy (of which RDM skills are considered a subset) among scientists (ibid.).
  4. Create an organizational and technological infrastructure in each institution to support RDM throughout the entire lifecycle of research data (see p. 5).

While the HRK recommendation rightly asserts that the responsibility to actively manage data lies with the individual researchers, it leaves no doubt that it is HEIs, and more particularly, university leadership, who is responsible for creating an environment in which this is not only possible, but also fostered.  It remains to be seen in which way this high-level recommendation, which is to be complemented by concrete suggestions for the development of RDM in German HEIs (see p. 5), will be translated into action. But it is an important signal – to researchers, who face increasingly strict requirements to make their data re-usable and available for replication, and to make their data management practices transparent; and to German research funders, who have only just begun to formulate stricter data policies and requirements for data management plans. Institutional support from the universities will be very welcome.


[1] HRK Hochschulrektorenkonferenz, 2014. Empfehlung der 16. Mitgliederversammlung der HRK am 13. Mai 2014 in Frankfurt am Main. Management von Forschungsdaten – eine zentrale strategische Herausforderung für Hochschulleitungen, Available at: http://www.hrk.de/uploads/tx_szconvention/HRK_Empfehlung_Forschungsdaten_13052014_01.pdf. Accessed: 20 May 2014

[2] HRK, n.d. About the HRK. Available at: http://www.hrk.de/hrk-at-a-glance/. Accessed: 20 May 2014

[3] Burger, M. et al., 2013. Forschungsdatenmanagement an Hochschulen: Internationaler Überblick und Aspekte eines Konzepts für die Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Available at: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:kobv:11-100210226. Accessed: 20 May 2014

[4] Kindling, M., Schirmbacher, P. & Simukovic, E., 2013. Forschungsdatenmanagement an Hochschulen: Das Beispiel der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. LIBREAS. Library Ideas, (23), pp.43–63. Available at: http://libreas.eu/ausgabe23/07kindling/. Accessed: 20 May 2014