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The Digital Turn in the Sciences and Humanities

As digital technology continues to play an ever-greater role in our daily lives, we are also seeing a growing impact on scientific inquiry and the research cycle, including how the scientific disciplines perceive themselves. The term “digital turn” covers all of the changes and effects brought about by the use, application and dynamic development of digital technology.

Against this backdrop, the DFG Senate recommended establishing a comprehensive systematic policy position focusing explicitly on the scientific perspective.

Background

The digital turn in the sciences and humanities relates to the various processes involved in converting analogue data to digital form (digitisation), as well as understanding and leveraging the new opportunities afforded by digital technologies. The pace and dynamic nature of development within the digital world are key characteristics of this transformation. This dynamic change is forcing the sciences and humanities – as well as other areas of society – to clarify framework conditions and assess developments and their potential. This may even involve establishing new rules and regulations with regard to legal, ethical, organisational, financial and infrastructural aspects (to name a few) to guarantee that optimum research results can still be achieved in a digital setting.

Processes involved in creating standards at the science policy level and other social changes are also closely tied to the digital turn, which can have considerable impacts on research. For example, there is a shift in expectations surrounding the accessibility of research results, willingness to collaborate across fields that are less closely related and the methodological expertise possessed by researchers.

Expert Commission

The DFG has set up a commission of leading experts to examine the dynamic of the digital turn as it affects the sciences and humanities, including its technical, legal, financial, organisational, social, ethical and epistemic aspects. The commission’s work is based on four central topic areas:

  • Changes in methodical and scientific concepts as a result of the digital turn
  • Research processes in the digital turn
  • Relationship of digital methods and scientific principles
  • Digital assets of research (data, publications, software) and their importance to research as a social system

The commission members are (in alphabetical order):

  • Prof. Dr.-Ing. Frank Allgöwer, University of Stuttgart, DFG Vice President
  • Markus Beckedahl, netzpolitik.org
  • Prof. Dr. Folkmar Bornemann, TU Munich
  • Prof. Dr. Thomas Dandekar, University of Würzburg
  • Priv.-Doz. Dr. Eckhard Elsen, CERN
  • Prof. Dr. Fotis Jannidis, University of Würzburg
  • Dr.-Ing. Peter Leibinger, TRUMPF Laser GmbH + Co. KG
  • Prof. Dr. Armin Michael Nassehi, LMU Munich
  • Prof. Dr. Kerstin Schill, University of Bremen
  • Prof. Dr. Judith Simon, University of Hamburg
  • Prof. Dr. Peter Strohschneider, DFG President

DFG Head Office Structuring Project

To address the Senate’s recommendation on establishing a systematic policy position, the DFG Head Office has launched a multi-year project to assess the current situation of the sciences and humanities in the digital age and to draw up recommendations for the Senate. The aim of this work is to put the DFG in a better position to respond to key developments from a scientific point of view and, if necessary, adapt its funding policies and practices. The project will examine the following three levels: (1) subject-specific reflection, (2) funding activities, and (3) policy advice.

Project activities

(1) Subject-specific reflection

  • Differentiation of subject areas from a research point of view
  • Digital methods
  • Transparency and securing of research results in the digital age

(2) Funding activities

  • Handling of research data: collection, analysis, sharing and reuse
  • Sustainable funding for digital tools and information infrastructures
  • Ethical and legal framework conditions
  • Handling of proposals not clearly assigned to one subject area or programme
  • Expertise in digital technology and methodology

(3) Policy advice

  • National and European dialogue on policy advice and representation of the interests of research organisations with regard to the digital turn in the sciences and humanities

Further event

  • Workshop: “next generation research”

Current situation

In recent years, the DFG began offering a range of funding options relating to the digital turn in the sciences and humanities in various programmes. Today, numerous projects with links to this topic are currently being funded by the organisation. In addition, the DFG, its representatives and members of its decision-making bodies have published position statements on various issues relating to the digital turn in the sciences and humanities.

Programmes

e-Research Technologies

This programme allows applicants to submit proposals for the establishment and expansion of nationwide digital information infrastructures that help all or individual scientific disciplines by supporting research based on digital information and data through web-based technology and processes. For more information, please consult the programme guidelines:

Research grants

Research grants offer a number of different opportunities for obtaining funding for projects relating to the digital turn in the sciences and humanities. They enable individuals who have completed their academic training to conduct, at any time, research projects with clearly defined topics and durations, regardless of the subject. For more information, please consult the programme guidelines:

Excellence Strategy

Projects on the digital turn in the sciences and humanities can also be funded through Clusters of Excellence. This funding instrument provides project-based funding for internationally competitive fields of research at German universities and/or university consortia. For more information, please consult the programme guidelines:

Priority Programmes

A particular feature of a Priority Programme is the nationwide collaboration between participating researchers. The DFG Senate may establish Priority Programmes when the coordinated support given to the area in question promises to produce particular scientific gain. The Senate discusses and decides on initiatives to establish Priority Programmes proposed by researchers once a year. For more information, please consult the programme guidelines:

Projects

“The Digital Image” Priority Programme (SPP 2172)

The DFG Senate approved the establishment of “The Digital Image” (SPP 2172) Priority Programme in March 2018. It is expected to run for six years. The DFG now invites proposals for the first funding period, which will span three years. The proposal text can be found at:

“Computational Literary Studies” (SPP 2207) Priority Programme

The DFG Senate approved the establishment of the “Computational Literary Studies” (SPP 2207) Priority Programme in March 2018. It is expected to run for six years. The DFG now invites proposals for the first funding period, which will span three years. The proposal text can be found at:

Robust Argumentation Machines (RATIO) Priority Programme

Detailed information on the programme can be found at:

Symposium series “Digitality in the Humanities”

The DFG supports a series of symposia covering fundamental matters relating to the digital turn in the humanities. For more information, please visit:

Within the scope of a call on “Research Software Sustainability”, the DFG funds numerous projects addressing the establishment and testing of infrastructures with a view to making research software accessible to a wider range of users in the long term. Further information on the projects is available here: