Open Science in the Helmholtz Association

The Helmholtz Open Science Policy

Open science, the unrestricted access to scientific publications and cultural heritage, is an ongoing and future trend in the scientific landscape worldwide. Research publications and other digital objects such as research data and research software will thus be publicly available on the internet.

The Helmholtz Association was one of the initial signatories of the „Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities“ in 2003. This commitment towards open access was then formally approved by its Assembly of Members in 2004.

Since 2016, an Open Access Policy offers a clear and predictable framework for the transformation towards open access. According to this policy, all publications by scientists in the Helmholtz Association will be made freely available within at most 6 months (12 months for publications in the social sciences and humanities). Since 2013, a corresponding regulation is ensuring that beneficiaries of the Helmholtz Initiative and Networking Fund make their publications freely available to the public on the internet.

In October 2016 a position paper on the management of research data in the Helmholtz Association was adopted by the Helmholtz Association's Assembly of Members. In addition to the access to research data, the position paper brings up topics like the training of data specialists and the resourcing of information infrastructures including their organisational and financial safeguarding.

The Helmholtz Open Science Coordination Office

Since 2005, the Helmholtz Open Science Coordination Office supports scientists and their respective Helmholtz Centres in the implementation of open science. The Helmholtz Open Science Newsletter and the Helmholtz Open Science Workshops are two examples of how Helmholtz employees are informed and advised about new developments, strategies, and ideas.

Another success story is that most Helmholtz Centres now run institutional repositories. These openly accessible databases contain a significant and steadily growing share of the scientific output of the Helmholtz Association.

Regularly organised workshops support the establishment of a Helmholtz Open Science community. This community includes dedicated scientists who act as editors and/or members of the review board of open access journals and who, in addition, continue to develop the idea of open access in their individual research centres.

Access to research data will in the future be an indispensable part of scientific culture and will generate a considerable added value to science. Even today, „data sharing“ already has a high relevance for the many Centres within the Helmholtz Association. A growing number of data centres with open access - including two of a total of three ICSU-World Data Centres in Germany - are run by Helmholtz Centres. Helmholtz scientists are actively involved in national and international initiatives related to open data.

Open Science in Helmholtz Centres

The „green road“ to open access

Most of the 19 Helmholtz research centres run institutional repositories, which are often closely related to the centre´s publication database and provide an OAI-PMH interface. In some Helmholtz Centres, scientists are explicitly requested to deposit the final drafts of their publications in the repository, given that copyright regulations with publishers are not infringed. To prevent the latter, Helmholtz scientists are asked to retain the respective copyrights when publishing with a traditional, non-open access publisher. Besides repositories for text publications only, an increasing number of data repositories are established by Helmholtz Centres.

The „golden road“ to open access

Helmholtz scientists are active as founders, editors and reviewers of open access journals and are supported by the Helmholtz Open Science Coordination Office. Furthermore, many centres support open access journals through institutional memberships and Helmholtz Centres play an active role in the pioneering „Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP³)“. The publication of peer reviewed research data is strongly promoted e. g. by the innovative journal „Earth System Science Data (ESSD)“, which is supported by Helmholtz scientists.

Open access to research data

Provision of and access to research data is of high priority for Helmholtz Centres, not at least because many centres run internationally well reputed large research infrastructures and devices. In spite of positive experiences in e. g. the geo- and life sciences, there are many technical, organisational and cultural challenges in respect of open data. One of these challenges is to guarantee traceability, trustworthiness, and persistence of research data. Model licenses to protect usage- and copyright on the one hand and to maximise societal benefit on the other hand are still to be developed in most cases.


An important and worldwide recognised project is „Publication and Citation of Scientific Primary Data“ (STD-DOI), funded by the German Science Foundation and pushed forward by Helmholtz Centres, among others. Its aim is to make primary scientific data citeable as publications. Results from this project were integrated in PANGAEA, the award winning „Publishing Network for Geoscientific & Environmental Data”, a database run mainly by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI).

Additional Helmholtz Centres providing open access to research data include the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, hosting the "Scientific Drilling Database", where data from the International Continental Drilling Project (ICDP) are published using Creative Commons licenses. Moreover, two of a total of three ICSU-World Data Centres in Germany are run by Helmholtz Centres.

Open access to research software

The increasing digitisation of education and research leads to a rising number of software-based solutions used or developed in labs and research institutions. In many research areas, source code is at the core of the research process and software-based solutions are indispensable tools in knowledge creation. The documentation of and the access to the software used in the research process are also crucial for the replicability of the results. In many areas the verifiability and reproducibility of research results can only be ensured when, alongside the research data, the source code is openly accessible and accompanied by an adequate documentation and clearly defined terms of use. Dealing with research software is an important component of open science and there are various initiatives concerned with a sustainable approach to research software within the Helmholtz Centres.