Research Proposals

RDM in the proposal process - requirements, funding, data management plans


Research funding institutions regularly request information on the handling of research data and materials during and after the end of a project, when submitting a proposal. It is generally expected that the results of publicly funded research are made available as openly as possible for further use. "As open as possible, as closed as necessary" is often the underlying principle, following the logic of FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable).

German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG)
With the revised "Guidelines for Safeguarding Good Research" (2019), the DFG has made making research data accessible more prominent than before (especially in Guideline 13). Information that must be provided in the proposal on the handling of research data was previously rather non-binding. Currently, the DFG is preparing specifications, checklists and the like that formulate binding expectations and make subject-specific adequate explanations a criterion for review. There will still be no obligation to make research data accessible.

Information for Applicants

Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF)
In the case of BMFB funding, the requirements for data management and data archiving currently depend on the funding line. The 'Action Plan Research Data' refers to further activities of the BMBF in this area.

Volkswagen Foundation
The VW Foundation expects the submission of a data management plan with the proposal for 'data-intensive research proposals' (in German).

European Commission
Research data management is part of the EU’s research policy in the context of Open Science. Since the Horizon 2020 programme, the publication of research data has been obligatory, with the possibility of ‘opting out’ in justified cases. The reasons must be set out in a data management plan (DMP). A short concept on how to handle research data is usually sufficient for the proposal; a detailed DMP usually has to be submitted after six months of funding.
Guidance for ERC grants in Horizon Europe under the heading ‘Open Science’.
Guidelines in Horizon 2020
Online manual on data management in Horizon 2020, the guidelines are currently being revised for the Horizon Europe programme.

The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) expects open research data, otherwise a justification in the data management plan, similarly the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF).

Professional framework

Precisely because material from ethnographic research is often not made freely available on the web or may not be suitable for subsequent use, the position papers of professional societies on the handling of research data are an important reference for applicants when formulating appropriate specifications. They reflect the currently applicable professional standards. The DFG Review Board 106 on Social and Cultural Anthropology, Non-European Cultures, Jewish Studies and Religious Studies also provides a framework for proposals to the DFG.

Handout of Review Board 106 on Handling Research Data (pdf, in German)

Research proposals for funding

Proposals to the DFG or to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) can include funding for the costs of data management. The costs can also be included in the budget for proposals to the European Commission. At present, we are not aware of any possibility to apply for funding with a supplementary proposal at a later date.

If you are thinking about archiving research materials permanently, we recommend contacting the Qualiservice – the Data Service Center, for example, as early as possible in order to agree on the necessary steps and a cost calculation.

Data management plan

Research funders increasingly require the submission of a so-called data management plan (DMP) when applying for funding, especially if funding is requested for data archiving. This formalised plan involves describing all activities involved in handling research materials and outlining the legally and ethically appropriate implementation.

The creation of a DMP can be guided by general guidelines, but will ultimately always depend on the specific research. Even though in ethnographic research usually only limited information can be given in the application process and at the beginning of a research, a DMP should contain statements on the following aspects and work steps. You can also use this as a guideline if you do not (have to) submit a detailed DMP, but information on the handling of research data is required:

I Administrative background
It is necessary to include a project title and brief description, duration, if applicable funding institution and funding code, project participants, contact details, and if applicable, references to subject-specific guidelines and recommendations.

II (Planned) generation and processing of material
Types of data (e.g. interview transcripts, photos, field notes, observation protocols), scope of material, methods and steps for evaluation.

III Legal and ethical aspects and requirements
As far as foreseeable, it is advisable to provide the following: Consents, precautions under data protection law, anonymisation, if applicable, expert opinions from ethics committees and official approvals, if applicable, internal subject procedures on research ethics, if applicable, information on copyright.

IV Data storage
Locations of storage and backup, technical support for data management (e.g. university-owned platforms and repositories), access rights and responsibilities for the duration of the project.

V Archiving and re-use
Consideration of whether and where materials should be permanently archived (e.g. in repositories, a data archive), selection of suitable materials if necessary, retention periods, access restrictions, potential for subsequent use - or justifying information as to why it will probably not be possible to make material available for subsequent use.

VI Responsibilities and resources
Details of responsible persons, calculation of costs if necessary (usually in consultation with a data archive)

Beyond the application process, a DMP can help to structure and organise the handling of data and material in projects - and after the end of the project - e.g. to keep individual steps traceable for all project participants and to define responsibilities. This can be particularly relevant when the handling of research material has to be negotiated between different partners, possibly with different funding.

In this sense, a dynamic document is envisaged that can be adapted and continuously supplemented, in line with the research process. Especially with regard to data protection and research ethics, questions may arise in the course of research that require concrete answers at the level of data management, for example: Who in the project should have access to sensitive material? At what point do steps towards anonymisation make sense? How can sensitive material be stored securely, but also transferred, e.g. across national borders?

Recommendations and samples from different contexts

Checklist DMP (in English)

Further examples and reading here

Online forms for data management plans
The DMPonline service, which is the responsibility of the UK Digital Curation Centre, provides templates for DMPs, based on the specific requirements of research funders, such as the European Commission (Horizon 2020) or the European Research Council (ERC).

The DFG-funded project RDMO (Research Data Management Organizer) is a pilot project more closely related to the German-speaking world to support data organisation in all phases of a research project with a dynamic DMP. Registration is required to use the prototype.