Open research data, re-use and their infrastructures

Report from the Round Table Discussion of the German Research Foundation on Research Data Management in Ethnological Disciplines, Berlin 10 May 2019

By Gertraud Koch

In the context of the implementation of a National Research Data Infrastructure in Germany (i.e. NFDI Nationale Forschungsdateninfrastruktur) about 30 researchers with disciplinary backgrounds in European Ethnology, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Sociology, Musicology, Criminology and Contemporary History discussed in depth the various and complex aspects of research data management, which has become a formal task for most third party funded projects.  Due to digitization, research data has become a crucial issue in all disciplines in respect to storage, processing, protection, reuse and not the least to ethical questions emerging with the digital nature of the data.


These changes are addressed by the NFDI on a national level as complementary to European activities in this field. Their researchers emphasized the political momentum of this process and the need to form these processes according to their own requirements. There was a broad appreciation of this public activity for research data management as an alternative service to those of the big Internet companies.


In the discussion it became obvious that across disciplines in humanities with qualitative and historical approaches research varies widely in respect to data practices, data types, and data formats. Not only due to qualitative and quantitative methodologies but also within these methodological approaches, a large variety of data practices emerges from theoretical backgrounds and methodological traditions. These varieties also affect the ideas and concepts of re-use of research data. Similarly, the rather common spectrum of data from qualitative interviews and participant observations is enriched through other data formats emerging from Internet sources, such as social media data, and is still broadening due to digital media developments.


Moreover, research methods are in flux as well because they are adjusting to the digital materials, which have become relevant for social and cultural research. Still, many sensible research fields are not open to new ways of research data management guided by paradigms of reuse and openness. Moreover, practical questions were discussed. How can this new understanding of data management be financed? Will this be taken from the research budgets which are rather competitive already?  How can relevant positions of qualitative research gain a voice in the canon of big players of the sciences? How can the international dimension of this development be handled, such as in respect to ethical questions with different legal frameworks on national and international levels?


These issues matter for the implementation of the NFDI, which at the same time were discussed as a systematic change of qualitative research. The frameworks developed and implemented with the NFDI thus will deeply affect the research practices in future. The researchers pleaded strongly for accompanying research of the implementation of the NFDI in Germany from a Science and Technology Studies point of view.


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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 764859.