Comment on:

The following comment refers to this/these guideline(s)

Guideline 3

Organisational responsibility of heads of research institutions

The heads of HEIs and non-HEI research institutions create the basic framework for research. They are responsible for ensuring adherence to and the promotion of good practice, and for appropriate career support for all researchers. The heads of research institutions guarantee the necessary conditions to enable researchers to comply with legal and ethical standards. The basic framework includes clear written policies and procedures for staff selection and development as well as for early career support and equal opportunity.


The head of each HEI and non-HEI research institution is responsible for ensuring that an appropriate organisational structure is in place at the institution. He or she makes certain that the tasks of leadership, supervision, quality assurance and conflict management are clearly allocated in accordance with the size of individual research work units and suitably communicated to members and employees.

With regard to staff selection and development, due consideration is given to gender equality and diversity. The relevant processes are transparent and avoid implicit bias as much as possible. Suitable supervisory structures and policies are established for early career researchers. Honest career advice, training opportunities and mentoring are offered to researchers and research support staff.

Guideline 4

Responsibility of the heads of research work units

The head of a research work unit is responsible for the entire unit. Collaboration within the unit is designed such that the group as a whole can perform its tasks, the necessary cooperation and coordination can be achieved, and all members understand their roles, rights and duties. The leadership role includes ensuring adequate individual supervision of early career researchers, integrated in the overall institutional policy, as well as career development for researchers and research support staff. Suitable organisational measures are in place at the level of the individual unit and of the leadership of the institution to prevent the abuse of power and exploitation of dependent relationships.


The size and the organisation of the unit are designed to allow leadership tasks, particularly skills training, research support and supervisory duties, to be performed appropriately. The performance of leadership tasks is associated with a corresponding responsibility. Researchers and research support staff benefit from a balance of support and personal responsibility appropriate to their career level. They are given adequate status with corresponding rights of participation. Through gradually increasing autonomy, they are empowered to shape their career.

Guideline 5

Dimensions of performance and assessment criteria

To assess the performance of researchers, a multidimensional approach is called for; in addition to academic and scientific achievements, other aspects may be taken into consideration. Performance is assessed primarily on the basis of qualitative measures, while quantitative indicators may be incorporated into the overall assessment only with appropriate differentiation and reflection. Where provided voluntarily, individual circumstances stated in curricula vitae – as well as the categories specified in the German General Equal Treatment Act (Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz) – are taken into account when forming a judgement.


High-quality research is oriented towards criteria specific to individual disciplines. In addition to the generation of and critical reflection on findings, other aspects of performance are taken into consideration in the evaluation process. Examples include involvement in teaching, academic self-governance, public relations, and knowledge and technology transfer; contributions to the general good of society may also be recognised. An individual’s approach to research, such as an openness to new findings and a willingness to take risks, is also considered. Appropriate allowance is made for periods of absence due to personal, family or health reasons or for prolonged training or qualification phases resulting from such periods, and for alternative career paths or similar circumstances.

Guideline 16

Confidentiality and neutrality of review processes and discussions

Fair behaviour is the basis for the legitimacy of any judgement-forming process. Researchers who evaluate submitted manuscripts, funding proposals or personal qualifications are obliged to maintain strict confidentiality with regard to this process. They disclose all facts that could give rise to the appearance of a conflict of interest. The duty of confidentiality and disclosure of facts that could give rise to the appearance of a conflict of interest also applies to members of research advisory and decision-making bodies.


The confidentiality of third-party material to which a reviewer or committee member gains access precludes sharing the material with third parties or making personal use of it. Researchers immediately disclose to the responsible body any potential or apparent conflicts of interest, bias or favouritism relating to the research project being reviewed or the person or matter being discussed.

Avoidance of (implicit) bias in assessment and decision-making processes

In decision-making processes, it is important to recognise and avoid both conscious and unconscious bias. Bias reflects prejudices and stereotypes that are automatically built into every individual’s thinking to varying degrees and is advantageous when it is necessary to arrive at a judgement swiftly and automatically. As research shows, however, it can distort the process of forming a judgement both positively and negatively and therefore also result in discrimination, e.g. with regard to gender, origin, disability or chronic illness. As such, research and science are not free of implicit and explicit prejudice either – for example in the context of reviews.

An example of a so-called “status bias” or a “halo effect” is shown in a study by Huber et al.* The authors found that the reputation of researchers can influence assessment in the peer review process. They submitted an article to a behavioural economics journal that had been co-authored by a renowned Nobel Prize winner in economics and a lesser-known researcher. The reviewers’ assessment varied depending on the information on the authors that was submitted along with the article: the identical manuscript received 77% approval when the Nobel Prize winner in economics was named as the author, 35% approval when the lesser-known author was named, and 52% approval when no name was given.

In another study, Murray et al.** found in the case of a call for full submissions of articles for publication in a biology journal that manuscripts by male authors were given preference over those by female authors. This difference was further exacerbated in the case of an all-male review panel.

In order to counteract distortions of judgement caused by non-scientific factors, it is important to be aware of these processes, to critically examine one’s own actions on an ongoing basis, and to allow sufficient time for selection and decision-making processes. The Implicit Association Test (IAT, see link below) can provide some indications as to one’s own prejudices. However, it should be noted that the IAT is not a diagnostic tool and is itself the subject of a scientific debate about its significance.

For further information, studies and recommendations, see the DFG’s website (see link below).

5-minute film by the DFG on “Unbiased Review”

The comment belongs to the following categories:

GL3 (General) , GL4 (General) , GL5 (General) , GL16 (General)


En. Stand:19.06.2023 19.06.2023   |   Version 2

Version 2 from 19.06.2023 :

Text has been reworked

Version 1 from 03.12.2020 :

"Implicit bias in assessment and decision-making processes"

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