E. Böker / CC BY 4.0

Guidelines and Policies

Rules for managing research data

RDM guidelines and policies: what are they good for?

Research data policies are guidelines which apply to all members of an institution (e.g. a university) and govern how research data are to be managed. These policies are not just employed at academic institutions. Many funding organisations have also implemented similar guidelines which set the standards for research data management.

In Germany, there are almost no RDM policies that provide detailed stipulations. Most existing policies are basic self-commitments usually including the principles of open access, the FAIR principles or the rules of good scientific practice. However, it can be positively noted that the number of universities that enshrine these principles in their own guidelines is steadily growing.

In addition, research data policies were stipulated in the funding programmes of the DFG and the EU. For example, in the pilot project for open research data of the Horizon 2020 programme, corresponding policies were tested at the end of the project, in which participation made it obligatory to use data management plans and to pass on research data [1].

Discipline-specific Policies

Not only academic institutions and funders employ research data policies. They also exist for specific academic disciplines and interdisciplinary organisations. The following provides and overview of developments in this area as well as the most important discipline-specific, interdisciplinary and journal policies.

In the geo, life and social sciences there is an especially varied plethora of policies, due to their frequent dealing with sensitive and/or personal data. Such discipline-specific guidelines are necessary since reseach data are heterogenous and shaped by the respective academic cultures they stem from. In the social sciences, for example, many social science data archives have formed a consortium represented by their umbrella organisation named "Consortium of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA)"[2].

In the life sciences, the  „Good clinical practice“  and  „Good laboratory practice“ guidelines set the standard for handling research data. Both policies have been formalised on the OECD level and are legally enshrined in the German Medicines Law and Chemicals Act, respectively[3].

Other discipline-specific policies


Journal Policies

Journal data policies are of special importance. Access to data which publications are based on is necessary for quality control within the framework of peer review. Moreover, many journals and publishers have started to foster open access to scientific data. Depending on the respective discipline, these journal policies can vary in their focus and scope. Some life science journals have already established open access as their standard (for example the journal Cell). Others promote re-use of the data (e.g. Plos One).


What has to be made available?

Nature[4] (journal collection)

materials, data and affiliated publication protocols

American Geophysical Union[5]

„Policy on Referencing Data in and Archiving Data for AGU Publications“, concrete requirements for data archives and citations for research data

American Economic Review[6]

clearly documented analysis data, in case of empirical studies and simulations; reserach software and calculations have to be made available for reviewers upon request

Plos One[7]

data and materials underlying any publication


materials and protocolls stemming  from published experiments, e.g. nucleotide and protein sequences in suitable data banks (Worldwide Protein Data Bank), access via „accession number“

Research Data Policies - an Overview

Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice

In 1998, the German Research Foundation (DFG) established standards of sustainable research data management in their exposé "Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice".  „Recommendation 7: Securing and storing reserach data“ is widely considered as the first plea for a more professional management of research data in the German-speaking academic world. 

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Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities

In 2003 leading scientists signed the "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities", declaring their willingness to make publications as well as the underlying data openly accessible.

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Prinicples and Guidelines for Access to research Data from Public Funding by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

In 2007, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published guidelines for the access to research data in order to further their free exchange between members of the OECD.

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Call for open access to quality-controlled research data in Europe

New call for open access to quality-controlled research data in Europe laid down in a joint 2018 vision paper by the European Science Foundation (ESF) and the European Heads of Research Councils (EUROHORCs).

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Founding of the initiative "Digital Information"

The initiative has 4 main goals including 1.) providing comprehensive and free access to digital publications, research data and source materials in order to facilitate their re-use for scientific purposes  2.) creating ideal conditions for the world-wide dissemination of publications and research data stemming from the German academic landscape  3.) ensuring long-term availability of purchased digital media and contents as well as their integration into the digital research environment  4.) support IT-based forms of research by fostering innovative information technologies and digital methods

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New call for open access to research data in Europe

EUROHORCs and ESF specify their ideas on promoting open access to quality-controlled  reserach data.

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Guidelines for Handling Research Data by the Alliance of German Research Organisationsata

In Germany, the discussion on open access to research data within the framework of the "Digital Information" initiative was fueled by the 2010 paper „Guidelines for Handling Research Data“.

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Basic Requirements for Research Infrastructures in Europe

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First concept for a national information infrastructure is presented by the Joint Science Conference (Gemeinsame Wissenschaftskonferenz)

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Recommendations on the further development of the German information infrastructure until 2020 by the Scientific Council (Wissenschaftsrat)

In 2012, the Scientific Council recommended making academic publications and research data openly accessible, saying that „the rules of good scientific practice should be complemented by a requirement to ensure external access to research data as well as rules for managing digital artefacts and research data “. Researchers and their associtaions were given the reccomdation of "recognizing the collection and publication of research data as a research achievement in its own right“.

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G8 Science Ministers Statement

In 2013, the G8 Ministers for Research issued a joint statement concerning the intensification of cooperation in many different areas of research funding and research support (Gov.UK). 

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Recommendations for Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice update by DFG

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Start of the Open Research Data Pilot within the EU scientific framework programm Horizon 2020

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Circular letter on research data management issued by the German Rector's Conference

In a circular letter, the Rector's Conference called for a joint approach of all stakeholders in order to successfully implement more effective research data management:

  „In order for implementation of integrated research data management to be successful, it is of the utmost importance that all stakeholders involved in the academic landscape (researchers, research associations, infrastructure institutions, administrations, management) develop a common understanding of the impact of digital research data and how to manage them“.

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E-Science-Strategie of the Federal Ministery for Science, Research and the Arts Baden-Württemberg

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DFG Guidelines for Managing Research Data

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Guidelines for Safeguarding Good Research Practice

The code of conduct came into effect in August 2019 and replaces the memorandum "Safeguading Good Scientific Practice" of the DFG dating from 1998. The new code of conduct clearly states the demand for open science and its associated research data (access to and archiving of research findings).

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  1.  Guidelines on FAIR Data Management in Horizon 2020 , Version 3.0 (26. Juli 2016).
  2.  CESSDA (Council of European Social Science Data Archives), 2017: Statutes for CESSDA.
  3.  See AMGGCP-V und ChemG, §19 a-d.
  4.  See Special issue on Data Sharing (Nature, 2009) and Guide to Publication Policies of the Nature Journals (2009). 
  5.  See AGU, Publications Data Policy (1996).
  6.  See AER, Data Availability Policy (2016).
  7.   See PloS ONE, Material and Software  Sharing.
  8.  See Cell, Information for Authors (2011).