Evaluations belong to good governance in modern funding organisations

70 evaluation experts met in Bonn on 16 June to discuss the rapid development of the evaluation of science and research funding.

“Evaluation studies have established themselves in scientific and funding organisations as an integral part of their learning and quality assurance processes. At the same time, it is evident that the requirements and demands placed on evaluations have changed in recent years as well”, Dorothee Dzwonnek, Secretary General of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, stated at the opening of a conference held in Bonn on 16 June 2016 under the banner “Evaluating the funding of science and research - Review, insights and outlook”.

Participants at the conference “Evaluating the funding of science and research - Review, insights and outlook”

Participants at the conference “Evaluating the
funding of science and research - Review,
insights and outlook”

Photo: DFG / Jan Schumacher

Jointly organised by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the Volkswagen Foundation, the conference aimed to offer the more than 70 invited evaluation experts a forum for sharing experiences, reflecting on the state of the art and discussing future challenges.

The Secretary General of the Volkswagen Foundation, Wilhelm Krull, who headed the secretariat for the system evaluation of the Max Planck Society and the DFG in 1999, began by describing the development of research evaluation in Germany and other countries. A “culture of trust” - which allows players to make mistakes - is the basis for the processes that allow institutions to learn from evaluations, Krull noted.

In his speech titled “Evaluation - Profession or Discipline”, Thomas Widmer from the University of Zurich talked about evaluation in actual practice and the changes in the demands and requirements involved in day-to-day practice. He pointed out that the capacities available for processing evaluation results are limited. For this reason, evaluations should be used on a targeted, selective basis with a clear focus, as a contribution to an assessment and not automatically as a means for controlling and managing funding activities.

Katharina Warta, the chairwoman of the Executive Board of the Austrian Platform for Research and Technology Policy Evaluation and senior consultant at Technopolis Austria  reported on the contribution the 20-year-old platform makes to increasing the level of professionalism and networking between evaluation practitioners and clients in Austria.

Lutz Bornmann from the Administrative Headquarters  of the Max Planck Society in Munich dedicated his talk to the question of whether and how the social impact of research can be quantified. He presented new approaches used in alternative metrics which focus on, amongst other things, the citation of scientific publications in social media and networks, and sparked lively discussions with his comments.

Lastly, Stefan Kuhlmann from the University of Twente used his talk to reflect on the benefits, limits and risks of evaluating research and described the dynamic relationship between evidence-based research policy and policy-based evidence.

Detail of a poster that captures the results of the meeting

Detail of a poster that captures the results
of the meeting

Photo: DFG / Jan Schumacher

During the closing discussion, Bea Knippenberg (DAAD), Anke Reinhardt (DFG), Uta Saß (Volkswagen Foundation) and Katrin Milzow from the Swiss National Science Fund  offered insights into the evaluation practices of their organisations and discussed points of interest with the guests.

The meeting showed that the evaluation of research funding is a professionally organised and scientifically anchored field of work in funding organisations. Used in moderation, evaluations can make an important contribution to self-reflexion and help funding organisations make informed, well-founded decisions. Today, evaluations are part of the good governance practised by modern funding organisations.

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