The Digital Turn in the Sciences and Humanities

The DFG followed the prompt of its Senate to systematically and fundamentally address the digital turn in science and the humanities, so that it could better assess and monitor the impacts that digital technologies are having on them.

The DFG published an impulse paper in October 2020 in which it depicted the views of science and the humanities on the significant impacts that the digital turn is exerting within research and on the areas of activity that result from this concerning the DFG's funding activities and its policy and social advisory function.

DFG's positions, guidelines and recommendations

The current DFG impulse paper succinctly describes the impacts and challenges of the digital turn in science and the humanities, as well as outlining areas of activity for the DFG as the central, self-governing organisation that funds research in Germany. "The paper brings together a wide range of ideas and will serve as a compass for us in the years to come. The findings and recommendations will flow into the development of new funding programmes just as it will into designing the best conditions for DFG research", says DFG President Professor Katja Becker and stresses: "The opportunities offered by this digital turn are of central importance to continuous developments in science and the humanities, so they should, in their own interest, be actively involved in tackling the associated challenges."


The DFG sees the term "digital turn" as comprising all relevant changes and impacts in epistemic, ethical, legal, technical, infrastructural, organisational, financial and also social terms, which arise from the development and use of digital technologies in science and the humanities.

Despite the diverse impacts of the digital turn in science and the humanities, the DFG believes these will not lead to a fundamental change in the requirements for scientific excellence, but above all include the emergence of new – digital – research practices, which can also be subjected to epistemic reclassification in the respective substantive context.

The digital turn is not a phenomenon that is restricted to scientific research; digital technologies and processes are on the contrary relevant in all areas of society and the economy. The widespread use and development of digital technologies alter the relationship between publicly funded research and that of other stakeholders – the globally active internet groups, for example. It is crucial in this situation that science and the humanities grasp the opportunities that come with the digital turn and actively commit themselves to assessing and overcoming the challenges according to their own principles and in their own interests.

The DFG has in recent years conducted a research-led discussion process to promote exchange on the digital turn in science and the humanities and open up further specific funding opportunities (including Next Generation Sequencing, Sustainability of Research Software, Artificial Intelligence). The DFG will also in the future commit itself to using the following four areas of activity to ensure that science and the humanities help to shape the digital turn; the Impulse Paper contains further detailed reading material:

  1. Professional and interdisciplinary discourse
  2. Statutory bodies and competencies of the DFG
  3. Funding procedures
  4. Funding opportunities

The DFG Senate adopted the Impulse Paper in July 2020. It results from several years of work on the subject with the participation of numerous researchers and a commission of experts. This process was organised as part of a DFG Head Office project, where the main focus was on interdisciplinary exchange. The following 13 activities were addressed in the main phase of the project within the three areas of professional reflection, funding initiatives and policy advice:

  1. Differentiation of subjects under the banner of digitisation
    Interdisciplinary discussion event on 28/29 June 2018 in Bonn
  2. Importance and structure of research into digital methods and procedures
    Workshop on 6/7 November 2018 in Bonn
  3. Securing sustainable research results
    Conference on 8/9 April 2019 in Berlin
  4. The handling of research data
    Expert discussion on 28/29 August 2018 in Bonn
  5. Sustainable funding for digital tools and information infrastructures
    Workshop on 14 September 2018 in Bonn
  6. Ethical and legal framework
    Collaboration in revising the Code of Conduct containing the Guidelines for Safeguarding Good Research Practice
  7. Funding proposals regarding digital topics that cannot be clearly assigned to a subject area or programme
    Head Office survey and in-depth analysis of exemplary cases
  8. Skills for digital technologies and methods
    Exploratory workshops as part of the Emmy Noether and Heisenberg meetings in 2018 and 2019 in Potsdam and Bonn and a round-table discussion on 21/22 March 2019 in Berlin
  9. Policy advice at national level
    Informal exchange within the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany on 10 April 2018 in Berlin
  10. Policy advice at European level
    Informal discussions with European science organisations and umbrella associations
  11. Planning instrument for policy advice provided by the DFG
    Creation of an internal planning instrument for policy advice provided by the DFG
  12. A vision of the future for science and the humanities
    Young Researchers Workshop (in German only) on 12/13 September 2019 in Siegburg and the Next Generation Research Workshop (in German only) with a podium discussion on 1/2 October 2019 in Berlin
  13. Communication and public relations activity
    Producing a communication strategy and measure catalogue

The finished project results are available at the Head Office. Further information can be obtained from the following contacts as required:

The DFG Executive Committee instated the "Science and the humanities in the digital age" commission of experts to consider the entire dynamics of the digital turn in science and the humanities in all its technical, legal, financial, organisational, social, ethical and epistemic aspects. The commission focused on four main thematic blocks:

  1. Changes in methodology and research concepts due to the digital turn
  2. Scientific and research processes in the digital turn
  3. The relationship between digital methods and research principles
  4. The digital assets of science and the humanities (data, publications, software) and their significance for research as a social system

Members of the commission (in alphabetical order):

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

DFG funding opportunities

The DFG funding opportunities relating to digital turn in science and the humanities involve two different approaches: firstly, research funding whose central objective is to fund outstanding academic research. And secondly, infrastructure funding, which includes information infrastructures and technologies as well as instrumentation and equipment technologies.

See also: Katerbow / Royeck / Raabe (2018): DFG-Förderung und der digitale Wandel in den Wissenschaften. (DFG Funding and the Digital Turn in the Sciences and Humanities.) Ein Wegweiser zu Fördermöglichkeiten und Leitlinien. (A guide to funding opportunities and guidelines.)

  • Research grant: a research grant (Guideline 50.01) provides numerous options to fund projects relating to digital turn in the sciences and humanities. A research grant enables everyone who has completed research training to conduct a research project limited in time and scope, at any time and irrespective of subject.
  • Coordinated procedure: there is frequently a need for larger consortia when addressing interdisciplinary issues as they arise in the context of the digital turn. Suitable funding programmes in such cases are those for Collaborative Research Centres (CRC) (Guideline 50.06) and Research Training Groups (RTG) (Guideline 50.07).
  • Priority Programmes: the special feature of a Priority Programme is trans-regional cooperation between participating researchers. Priority Programmes (Guideline 50.05) can be set up by the DFG Senate if the coordinated funding promises benefit in the relevant field of research. The Senate negotiates once a year on the setting up of Priority Programmes for proposed initiatives arising from science and the humanities.
  • Scientific Library Services and Information Systems: the objective of this funding stream is to create a coordinated system of information infrastructures for science and the humanities; it aims to provide users free and extensive access to research information and to link research information and data. Project proposals under the e-Research Technologies funding programme (Guideline 12.19) can be used to address numerous challenges and needs arising as a result of the digital turn. The Information Infrastructures for Research Data programme (Guideline 12.14) and the National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI) are relevant in relation to the topic of research data.

  • Research instrumentation and information technology: Successful research requires access to costly and specific technological instrumentation. The DFG funds project-specific instrumentation within its general research funding. Section 91b of the instrumentation categories in the DFG Major Instrumentation Initiatives can be used to propose major research instrumentation of an infrastructural nature that represents a requirement for several research projects. In addition to the established programmes for instrumentation and IT infrastructure funding, three new programmes relating to instrumentation research funding were included in the DFG funding portfolio at the end of 2017. So the programme for new research instrumentation should enable researchers themselves to develop new instrumentation for use in science and the humanities, even including prototypes.