Evaluation of the BMBF supporting programs "Research for Sustainability" (2005-2009) and "Research for sustainable Developments" (2010-2014)

For the first time the two supporting programs "Research for Sustainability” (FONA1 2005-2009) and "Research for sustainable Developments" (FONA2 2010-2014) created a policy framework for sustainable research in Germany.

Today sustainability research is a widely used concept. However, neither sustainability itself nor sustainability research are clearly defined. A wide range and variety of topics, disciplines and research approaches are found under the title Sustainability Research. However, they are all united by the idea of contributing improving our living conditions and developing today's society and that of future generations. In addition to 'understanding' sustainability research has to therefore also 'evaluate' and 'create'.

On the one hand the evaluation focused on obtaining information for the programmatic development of FONA funding and to gather information for the future strategic development of sustainability research funding.

Furthermore, the evaluation conducted an ex-post analysis according to §7, paragraph 2 of the Federal Budget Code focusing on goal achievement, effectiveness and efficiency. The evaluation provided insights into the success and efficiency of different funding approaches and measures as well as operative aspects of implementation. Core to the analysis were new funding approaches, such as interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and systemic approaches.

The contract was extended after completion of the evaluation in order to systematically disseminate the evaluation results to the various stakeholder communities.

  • An impact pathway models structured the overall evaluation. This is an analytical method to record intended impacts of programs and to structure the analysis of intended as well as unintended effects. This model allowed also to clarify potential interactions between goals and take into account influencing factors from outside the programme funding. Subsequently, the impact pathways allowed for an hypothesis-led investigation. Differentiating between short, medium and long-term, intended and non-intended impacts facilitates a differentiated impact analysis.
  • Analysis of budget and monitoring data: The objective of quantitatively analyzing the funding data base was to illustrate the portfolio which is funded within FONA. It serves to describe the basic structures of the funding program and its use.
  • Bibliometric analysis: Scientific publications illustrate the results of research processes. The majority of publications comes from public research facilities and therefore essentially allow for an assessment of the scientific performance of a national science system.
  • Online survey to beneficiaries: The project leaders of the funded projects were surveyed using a standardized online questionnaire.
  • Case studies: After a broad analysis in-depth case studies of 20 selected measures were conducted in order to primarily review the achievement of objectives as well as the medium and long term impacts in an exemplary manner. The case studies used programme documents, interviews and results from the online survey.
  • Focus groups: these are moderated discussions with a limited number of experts regarding the assessment of difficult-to-measure, qualitatively determinable phenomena. This involves the exchange of experiences, ideas and observations of the participants on a clearly defined topic. For the FONA evaluation, focus groups were held on the topics of transfer, transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary
  • For the systematic dissemination of the results, 50 telephone interviews were conducted with representatives from non-university research, universities, companies, municipalities and civil society.

The BMBF's FONA funding has made a major contribution to establishing sustainability research in Germany with international appeal. It has been possible to integrate social science aspects the so far science-dominated sustainability research.

This systemic approach has proven its worth and is now a central feature of interdisciplinary sustainability research. Furthermore, transdisciplinary research has successfully been introduced in the FONA research projects and involves non-scientific actors, including stakeholders from local governments and civil society. This allows research results to be translated more quickly into practice and decision-making. FONA has also included private sector companies. The evaluation could show that the funding has strengthened the innovation capacity and the market position. This is particularly true for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

In order to increase the effectiveness of FONA research, the evaluators recommend that funding be geared even more clearly to measurable objectives. In particular, the transfer of research results to politics, society and the economy should be further intensified.

Final report

Bührer, S.; Walz, R.; Seus, S.; Astor, M.; Stehnken, T.; Malik, F. (2020): Evaluation der BMBF-Rahmenprogramme Forschung für die Nachhaltigkeit FONA 1 (2005-2009) und Forschung für Nachhaltige Entwicklungen FONA 2 (2010-2014). Karlsruhe, Berlin 2020.




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