During the last two centuries, the first outburst of research infrastructure (RIs) construction in Europe happened after the second world war, when striveing for peaceful cooperation initiated the construction of CERN (1954) and DUBNA (1956), followed by RIs gathered under EIROforum (ESO, ESA, EMBL) today. The legal basis for these intergovernmental organizations operating research infrastructures was public international law, international agreements. The benefits of this approach were tax exemptions, procurement rules based on internal regulations, diplomatic immunity, and financial stability based on member goverments´ contributions. In addition to this, own in 6 house research, “georeturn” in most of them, and mobility of personnel within the same organisation was made possible.
A drawback of this way of setting up research infrastructures was the lengthy procedure during which all national parliaments of the candidate countries had to agree on their membership. During the late 1960´s up to the 1980´s in order to simplify this process, some RIs were set up under national law like the Institut Laue-Langevin – ILL (1967) or the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility – ESRF (1988). Unfortunately, some countries were not able to enter into these subjects established under a different national law.
In 2002 came a milestone, as the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) was established. ESFRI activities initiated the second outburst of RIs construction in Europe. The strategy-led approach towards planning and setting up RIs by the European Member States and scientists for the European community was crowned by issuing the first “ESFRI Roadmap” in 2006. This document contained 35 projects, which were implemented using the variable geometry principle, allowing for countries to prioritize their investments in ESFRI projects in line with their national goals.
Since then, the ESFRI Roadmap has been updated every two years, and its structure changes according to the needs of the systematic approach. Beginning 2006 a discussion was going on within ESFRI, and with the Commission, as European Member States required to establish a new European legal frame for RIs combining the benefits of an international organisation with the possibility of a lighter and shorter procedure for its set up. In June 2009, the European Union has approved this new legal frame under the Council Regulation (EC) No 723/2009 of 25 June 2009 on the Community legal framework for a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) (ERIC regulation). The “regulation” legal form was chosen for being directly applicable to national legal systems in all EU Member States, without any additional parliamentary approval needed.
RIs, some of which became later ERICs, were mostly in preparatory phase. After 2009, the implementation of RIs was done by the combination of resources from European framework programmes (design phase and/or preparatory phase), national support or structural funds (construction phase) mostly in the form of projects. RIs were thought of as national projects, ESFRI projects, structural funds projects. The possibility to use structural funds for the construction of research infrastructures meant for the New Member States of the European Union (joining in 2004 – Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia; in 2007 – Bulgaria and Romania, in 2013 – Croatia) a breakthrough for investments in RIs construction.
For example, between 2009–2013 the number of research infrastructures in the Czech Republic grew from 8 to 35. In the following years, this trend continued, and currently the latest version of the Czech national Roadmap of Large Research Infrastructures of the Czech Republic includes 48 large research infrastructure projects. The use of structural funds for the construction of RIs occurred in the context of the Multi-level governance concept (MLG), where states, regions, institutions and therefore RIs, ERICs are considered as stakeholders of the European research area (ERA).
With the establishment of the ERICs, and the progressing construction, RIs were changing from “projects” into “legal subjects”, organisations. Between 2009 and 2022 there were 24 ERICs established and more of them are in the pipeline. ERICs’ change from projects to organisations has had implications both on the level of ERA governance, and the level of RI management. In 2017, the ERIC Forum was established in order to strengthen coordination among ERICs, discuss common management challenges, cooperate with the Commission and strengthen ERICs´participation as a stakeholder in policy actions. The Commission supported this endeavour by awarding the ERIC Forum Implementation project.
In 2020, the concept of the ERA was revisited, and the new ERA governance was established in 2021. Within this governance system, the place at the table for research infrastructures is shared among ESFRI, ERIC Forum and EIROforum.
As research infrastructures and ERICs matured from projects to subjects, funders expect them to transform inputs not only into outputs and outcomes but to generate socio-economic impact. Today, emphasis is given to the contribution of RIs and ERICs to the solving of European challenges, and UN Sustainable development goals.
These developments had influence on the requirements for ERICs and research infrastructures management. From this point of view, two topics are emerging as most important:
- evaluation of performance, and socio-economic impact assessment,
- using the whole potential of the research infrastructures ecosystem
- regional partner facilities and smaller laboratories network
- globalization and international cooperation
- relation to technology infrastructures
Evaluation of performance and socio – economic impact assessment
Public project funders, providers, have the obligation to ensure the project support, input, has adequate outputs and outcomes. What is the result of a project? Are resources used effectively? Answers to these questions were to be considered by proposers when pledging to fulfill indicators for ex- ante project evaluation and consequently monitoring of fulfillment of RIs projects objectives. With the change towards funding through member country contributions, the idea of using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for monitoring of RI performance was introduced by ESFRI.
A KPI is a tool to monitor progress towards an organisational objective, quantified by a goal. A precondition to this is for a research infrastructure, an ERIC, to have organisational objectives and related measurable goals adopted by its top governance body (e.g. general assembly). Another precondition is to have at hand a database of organisational data. Therefore, a RI, an ERIC performance including KPIs monitoring is influenced by its governance and management efficiency.
Public funders are increasingly interested in RIs and ERICs´ socio-economic impact, striving to understand how public investments in RIs and ERICs influences the life of society. This exercise is different from performance monitoring, as it depends on many actors not only the ERIC, or RIs´ governance and management. Moreover, socio-economic impact assessment requires a methodology of a special type. Fortunately, we do not have to build on greenfield here, there have been methodologies developed within Horizon 2020 projects, like ACCELERATE and RI-PATHS. In the coming years, it will be important for ERICs to set up a methodology of performance evaluation (KPIs) which will interplay with the one to be set up for their socio-economic impact assessment. In this respect, following the report of the EGERIC group, the Commission is considering to support the formation of an ERIC Observatory under the Horizon Europe programme in order to strengthen the ERICs monitoring.
Using the whole potential of the research infrastructures ecosystem
The occurrence of RIs as single-sited or distributed is common knowledge. Before a RI is formed, a network of labs is many times established as a first step. Sometimes such a network evolves into a distributed RI. Another time such a network launches the request for construction of a single-sited RI to perform experiments of a different level.
The role of national labs networks in making use of the whole potential of the RIs ecosystem is irreplaceable. An illustration of this can be the interplay between Extreme Light Infrastructure ERIC (ELI ERIC) and Laserlab-Europe. Moreover, such cooperation can have a global dimension, e.g. for ELI ERIC to interact with LaserNetUS and/or the network of laser research laboratories in Africa, the African Laser Centre. A very good example for global cooperation of an ERIC is the approach of JIVE ERIC. Where forming alliances with existing networks, keeping the local branding, and sharing knowledge and data on a global scale resulted in the Global VLBI (Very-long-baseline interferometry) Alliance.
In order to make use of the whole system for the single-sited RIs, the concept of a Regional Partner Facility was defined by ESFRI between 2011-2013, where: A “Regional Partner Facility” (RPF) to a Research Infrastructure of pan-European interest must itself be a facility of national or regional importance in terms of socioeconomic returns, training and attracting researchers and technicians. The quality of the facility including the level of its scientific service, management and open access policy must meet the same standards required for pan-European Research Infrastructures.
The recognition as an RPF should be under the responsibility of the pan-European Research Infrastructure itself (or the members of a to-be ERIC) based on a regular peer review.” It was acknowledged, that this concept can be implemented only after the construction of the central part of the RI is finished, and such a concept could be applied both to a single sited or distributed RI. Today, the concept of RPF to ERICs should probably be revisited as the RIs are mostly past their construction phase. To use the whole potential of the RI ecosystem on the European and global scale both approaches – RPFs and networks alliances could be combined by ERICs or RIs in general.
RIs have been created as, and exist in the center of the triangle formed by Universities, research organisations and industry. Europe needs an even more efficient uptake of basic and applied research results by industry. RIs have been active in this process, and aware of technology infrastructures (TIs) growing importance in this process during the last years. A holistic integrated ecosystem of RIs and TIs, Universities, industry and research organisations to cover the process from knowledge generation to industry uptake is definitely needed in the foreseeable future. The definition of a TI according to the Commission is: “Technology infrastructures are facilities, equipment, capabilities and support services where industrial players can find support to commercialize new products, processes and services, in full compliance with EU regulations.”
Evidently, the line between RIs and TIs is not sharp. Some RIs are close to TIs, acting as a RI one in one situation, and a TI in a different situation. Many of them serve SMEs and industry needs up to 20% of their capacity. Plans are for the drafting of a TIs roadmap, supported from RIs priority of the Horizon Europe programme having ESFRI as a source of inspiration. Evidently, the interplay and cooperation between RIs and TIs within the education, research, and innovation ecosystem have yet to be discussed and defined in the coming years.
The ERA and the research, and innovation system are evolving, which places us on the road, and requires us to be flexible and ready for changes. Research infrastructures as a backbone of this system are important stakeholders and their usefulness will grow and show itself even more with time.
Autoka: Naďa Witzanyová
Zdroj: Technologické centrum Praha
Celý text včetně odborných zdrojů vyšel v časopise Echo (5-6/ 2022), které vydává Technologické centrum Praha.
K tématu výzkumných infrastruktur si přečtěte také článek o Brněnské deklaraci na upevnění globálního ekosystému výzkumných infrastruktur. Podívejte se ale také rozhovor s Janem Hrušákem, který byl v letech 2019-2021 předsedou ESFRI, nebo na článek, který nabízí stručnou historii výzkumných infrastruktur v Česku.