The Volkswagen Foundation’s new funding strategy
The Volkswagen Foundation is realigning its funding strategy, with the three profile areas "Exploration", "Understanding Research – Evaluation and Science Practice", and "Societal Transformations", as well as the cross-sectional area "Science in Society".
Following a process of evaluation and reflection, the Volkswagen Foundation is realigning its funding strategy as of 2021. Closely linked to the new strategy is the Foundation's desire to analyze the impact of its actions even more systematically – on the one hand, in the context of an ongoing self-learning process and, on the other hand, to create a lasting impact on shaping the scientific landscape.
Three profile areas
Cross-Sectional Area "Science in Society"
During the corona pandemic, it became clear how necessary it is to have fact-based science communication that is oriented toward the common good: it creates trust among its target groups. This is the prerequisite for science to maintain its independence and fulfil its role as a shaper of the future. This structure is still largely intact. With the growing number of social transformation processes, however, the pressure on the science system to defend its relevance and legitimacy and to be present in more and more areas of discourse, including digital ones, is increasing. This poses enormous challenges for science communication – challenges that the Volkswagen Foundation also helps to tackle. It wants to offer the science system spaces for discourse and interaction in order to pave the way for forward-looking attitudes and concepts.
In the Herrenhausen Palace conference center in Hanover, the Foundation will offer the general public panel discussions with top-class experts on current scientific issues, partly in cooperation with public broadcasting media. In addition, centers are set up and supported at selected universities in which research communication will be carried out on an internationally competitive level – with partners in Germany and abroad and on issues that are to be particularly relevant for communicative practice. The goal is not simply more science communication at any price, but better science communication – putting science where it belongs: at the center of society.
The guidelines of our funding activities
The purpose of the Volkswagen Foundation is to promote science and technology in research and education. The Foundation is committed to the freedom of science. It regards digitality and globality as significant requirements for modern knowledge production. Its funding decisions are made with the aim of ensuring the highest scientific quality.
In its funding practice, the Foundation is guided by four fundamental guidelines. These concepts reflect not only the basic features of our self-image as a funding foundation. They are also to be seen as quality criteria, and as points of orientation for decision making in the course of everyday funding.
The Volkswagen Foundation is known for its approach of funding risk-taking research with high potential – and for being prepared for such projects to sometimes fail. Both form essential conditions for successful basic research, which, in turn, enables scientific breakthroughs. Going forward, the Foundation will live up to its reputation for giving promising researchers opportunities to contribute to resolving major science-driven challenges with unorthodox questions and experimental methods. Like a future lab, the Foundation wants to pave the way for new topics and research methods and establish previously untapped research fields.
Where science is to venture, the innovative power of research funders is needed in return. The Foundation will constructively drive developments in this area with new procedures for identifying topics, with new funding formats and selection processes: An example is the recent introduction of the partially randomized selection process, in which peer review is complemented by a lottery procedure. Moreover, by creating an "action fund", the Foundation ensures that it is able to act swiftly to promote targeted research in unforeseen circumstances – such as the Covid 19 pandemic – or to take advantage of windows of opportunity when they open up at short notice.
The corona pandemic has once again highlighted the reform and innovation backlog that exists in important areas of the science system. Standards of research and ethics, procedures of peer review, evaluation and publications, careers and governance – many things that have long been taken for granted are increasingly coming in for critical scrutiny. In this new profile area, the Volkswagen Foundation will provide targeted impulses for the structural improvement of research and education. The focus is on three thematic areas:
- Research cultures
- Research careers,
- Scientific discourses.
The Foundation promotes structural analyses, opens up spaces for experiment and supports ambitious pilot projects. We promote careers in research and support those who research the system, as well as others who have the courage to assume responsibility for structural renewal themselves. We want to bridge the boundaries between university and non-university institutions and make those between science, politics, business and the administration more permeable. To ensure that the funding impulses achieve maximum impact, the Foundation shares project results with university leaders and other science funders, also at international level. And – as a further building block in its multifaceted commitment to the research and practice of science communication – it will set a framework that enables actors external to science to participate in individual projects.
Whether artificial intelligence, climate change, loss of biodiversity or growing social inequality: the 21st century is characterized by enormous global challenges. Science, technology, business, politics, culture – almost all areas of society around the world are confronted with a historically unique concentration of immense upheavals, which are both the source and drivers of current change. In order to be able to act responsibly in these transformation processes, our knowledge must be expanded and subjected to critical evaluation, also from a historical perspective. That is why the Volkswagen Foundation supports research addressing multifaceted aspects of transformation processes. In addition to supporting cross-border and multi-perspective approaches, the Foundation is opening up new ways to participate in shaping social transformations and reaches out to actors outside science to become involved.
Another key challenge is to link relevant debates within the sciences with current public debates. In doing so, the Foundation does not merely want to supplement the discourse with diagnostic expertise, but to anticipate the future and develop concrete options for societal action – also in the sense of prevention. In short, it is a matter of responding with new ideas to a question that never ceases being topical: What kind of world do we want to live in?