Press Release No. 46 | October 28, 2020

Making the Most of the Potential Offered by Digital Technologies: DFG Publishes Impulse Paper on Digital Turn in the Sciences and Humanities

Statement on challenges and opportunities associated with digital turn / Identification of fields of action for future involvement in research funding

Statement on challenges and opportunities associated with digital turn / Identification of fields of action for future involvement in research funding

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has published an impulse paper on digital change in the sciences and humanities. It succinctly describes the impact and challenges of the digital turn in the sciences and humanities, as well as outlining fields of action for the DFG as the central self-governing and funding organisation for science 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 inform the development of new funding programmes and help the DFG create the best possible framework conditions for research,” said DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker on the occasion of the publication, also emphasising that “the potential offered by the digital turn is of crucial importance to the further development of the sciences and humanities, so it is in the latter’s own interest to actively endeavour to overcome the challenges involved.”

At the suggestion of its Senate, the DFG has focused closely on this topic over the past three years, involving numerous researchers and an expert commission. The outcomes of this process are summarised in the present impulse paper. “The DFG has facilitated a comprehensive discussion process between researchers within disciplines and across subject boundaries. The results enable us to assess more effectively just how vital digital technologies are and represent the interests of science in an even more targeted manner,” says Katja Becker.

In many subject areas, day-to-day research routine is no longer conceivable without the use of digital data and software. The impulse paper establishes clearly just how important it is to see data and software as belonging together. On the one hand, data must be quality-assured for scientific purposes, while on the other hand, the extensive data pools can frequently only be analysed using software; this analysis must be scientifically verifiable, however. For this reason, even greater attention must be paid to the quality assurance of digital methods and the promotion of digital expertise in future.

One of the key characteristics of the digital turn in science is that mastery of digital methods is becoming increasingly important in almost all disciplines. Major accomplishments derive from the availability of digital expertise combined with knowledge specific to the discipline in question. In particular, current developments indicate that this is applicable in very similar ways to almost all subject areas at the same time. The most important example here is the enormous importance of self-learning algorithms (machine learning) in the most diverse research areas.

The impact of the digital turn is very far-reaching, also including ethical issues and the relationship between the scientific disciplines as well as the initial training and continuing education of scientific personnel. Access to data and software likewise poses a challenge: science requires suitable digital infrastructures with clearly established legal conditions. There are also financial, legal and ecological issues involved here that need to be clarified.

The fields of action mentioned in the paper tie in with many activities already being pursued within the DFG itself, as well as reflecting the joint efforts to strengthen digital infrastructures that are currently being undertaken with the partners of the Alliance of German Science Organisations in Germany. One key aspect is the consistent further development of the DFG’s funding formats and programmes with the aim of providing the sciences and humanities with improved framework conditions for the use and further development of digital technologies. The impulse paper specifically mentions more rigorous requirements – in terms of both data management in funded research projects and the use of software. Another important aspect is the ethically responsible use of both data and software: in order to tap into the full potential of technologies in supporting knowledge-oriented research, not only are appropriate funding programmes required but also reflection on the use and impact of digital technologies.

Further Information

The impulse paper is available for download:

An overview of the DFG’s activities relating to “Digital Turn in the Sciences and Humanities” is to be found at: