Over the last 30 years, reporting requirements for research activities have evolved considerably not only in Germany but also in a number of other European countries. The various internal and external demands for data at the respective national levels have led to the specification of individual research information systems that go along with different contents as well as technical and organisational features. As a consequence, universities and research institutes have developed a variety of different solutions to generate data and information on their research activities. Whereas some institutions employ sophisticated research information systems and processes, others require extensive personnel and time resources to be maintained. Therefore, the generation of comparable data over large numbers of institutions in Germany has become increasingly difficult due to the variety of local research information systems with different content, data definitions, legal standards, technical solutions, data formats, internal functions and data recipients. These developments have increased the demand for a standardised approach in the collection of data on research activities. In so doing, it is necessary to identify elements of a future research core dataset and to specify, which additional information should be included depending on the requirements on the local or institutional level.
The debate on the performance of the German university system, which started in the 1980s, also prompted calls for systematic reporting about research outputs. At the same time, there were attempts to define a common format for electronic research data in Europe (Common European Research Information Format; CERIF).
International data collections so far have not managed to meet existing information requirements on the national or subnational level in Germany. As a consequence, the decentralised research system has led to the emergence of different information systems with incompatible contents as well as individual data definitions, legal specifications, technical solutions and data formats.
In order for universities and research institutions to consistently report their research activities, a uniform provision of data on research processes and activities is needed. Besides data needs for internal controlling (performance-based funding or performance-related bonuses), research institutes are regularly faced with data requests by ministries of science (on both the federal and the state level), statistical offices, the German Council of Science and Humanities, accreditation agencies, the Centre for Higher Education as well as national or international rankings. As a consequence, universities, research institutions and scientists in Germany have to cope with increasing information demands by a variety of actors.
The same information is repeatedly requested in different formats. In addition, data demands may vary in type and content. On the one hand, reporting requirements have become increasingly complex. On the other hand, this heterogeneity makes a comparison and aggregation of these data and evaluations of long-term developments rather difficult. In addition, different actors and organisations (such as funding agencies, foundations, commissions of experts, ministries, bibliometric databases or statistical offices) have built up individual data collections. Ideally, these collections should be merged or combined to reduce reporting efforts. In addition, they may serve for cross-checks in order to enhance the validity of available data.
The reporting on research activities requires quality-assured and comparable data. However, the low fit and proliferation of existing standards have so far constrained the collection of meaningful data. Reporting on research activities, as well as on their quality and quantity for the purpose of quality assurance has become increasingly important. For this reason, the standardisation of the most relevant data formats is indispensable.