Part 1
Strategy Report

The evolving Role of Research Infrastructures

The role of RIs is evolving as originally stand-alone undertakings are becoming more and more part of a connected ecosystem forming a unique resource for advanced research and interdisciplinary analysis of complex scientific problems.

The initiative to develop an open research data system has grown from a need within a given discipline or thematic area to an overarching project of Europe – the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC)European Open Science Cloud – EOSC – that will make possible a much higher level of interdisciplinarity and potentially a higher impact of solid scientific evidence into decision-making, planning and strategy at societal level. ESFRI RIs have been pioneering advanced data management and e-Infrastructure tools. Responding to specific mandates, ESFRI is developing a strategy that is based on the e-needs and advanced solutions implemented by the RIs. The RI ecosystem yields a high return on investment under conditions that finances and human resources are assured through the full lifecycle. The question of Long-Term Sustainability has been at the core of the work of ESFRI, upon a specific mandate, in close dialogue with the European Commission (EC) and national roadmapping exercises. The aspect of open innovation and knowledge exchange between economic activities and research at RIs is also a subject that required an analysis by ESFRI.

The Research Infrastructures are key investments in research in all areas as they meet both the demand of the scientific community for state-of-the-art resources for supporting excellent science, and the demand of knowledge transfer for innovation at social and economic level. The RIs are often generators of large volumes of data that have prompted technical and policy solutions to curate, document, preserve and make available these data upon request by other scientists or developers. These vertical e-Infrastructures represent a relevant fraction of the effort carried out by RIs both in terms of human resources, technology and finance. The RIs accordingly are generators of FAIR and Reproducible data, with an intrinsically built-in quality check of the data sets that are considered by the users’ community to be worth the full effort of making them FAIR-ready and accessible through their own portals or, perhaps in the future, through the EOSC. The interface of the RIs with the horizontal e-Infrastructures via the e-needs analysis of ESFRI and the definition of Commonse-Infrastructure Commons by the e-IRG, represent key elements for designing the EOSC and the European Data Infrastructure (EDI).

The Section2 of the Landscape Analysis addresses the interfaces and complementarities of the ESFRI Projects and Landmarks that are key elements, as identified by the Strategy Working Groups (SWGs), for defining the future strategy of ESFRI. Further fostering such links will increase interoperability between excellent disciplinary research in the ERA, and thus enable multidisciplinary approaches to new research needs.

ESFRI RIs and Fair Data

ESFRI fosters the definition, implementation and further development of advanced solutions for the effective provision and use of high-quality scientific data, with effective descriptors, ease of access, interoperability and reusability, fully implementing the FAIR principles. It also develops and promotes Data Commons as practised by ESFRI Research Infrastructures and horizontal e-Infrastructures. These efforts contribute to shaping the EOSC, including its governance model, fully reflecting the engagement and responsibility on open science that the Member States and Associated Countries strategically play through ESFRI. Data are an explicit part of the more general mandate of the EU Council of 29 May 2015 that “INVITES ESFRI to explore mechanisms for better coordination of Member States’ investment strategies in e-infrastructures, covering also HPC, distributed computing, scientific data and networks”Conclusions of the Council of the European Union of 29 May 2015 on Open, data-intensive and networked research as a driver for faster and wider innovation. Doc. 9360/15 ESFRI elaborated, with the help of an ad hoc Working Group on e-Infrastructures, the recommendation transmitted to the EU Council

  • ESFRI aims to contribute to an effective and efficient approach to e-Infrastructures and services (vertical and horizontal) for European science and its competitiveness in the global scene building on existing Research Infrastructures and electronic Infrastructures.
  • ESFRI advises to establish urgently a convergent policy of funding mechanisms for e-Infrastructures at the various levels (institutional, regional, national, European). Such policy could include support and financing of e-Infrastructures for scientific users, providing incentives to researchers to generate FAIRFindable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Re-usable and reproducible (+R) data, as well as the development of enabling e-tools/e-technologies and the mainstreaming of support actions addressing e-needs of all levels of intervention.
  • ESFRI suggests to act as STRATEGY FORUM OF FUNDERS of the e-Infrastructures for European science as a key element of support of a coherent approach to policy-making on research infrastructure in Europe.
  • ESFRI could be effective in facilitating the coordination of national and European efforts in e-Infrastructures for research and innovation, following the model that has been put in place for Research Infrastructures. The global dimension of e-Infrastructures shall also be addressed in a coherent way.
  • ESFRI advises to proceed by building on the EOSC HLEG visionRealising the European Open Science Cloud Report 2016 and by strengthening the data FAIR+R generator role of Research Infrastructures and the coordination of science and innovation communities also at broad international level as described by the e-IRG roadmape-IRG Roadmap 2016.
  • ESFRI advises that urgent actions must be taken to support the training and hiring of e-Infrastructures experts/scientists and to expand the data literacy at all levels of education and innovation activities to enable the return on investment in e-Infrastructures and Research Infrastructures and maximize societal benefits.
  • ESFRI advises that deploying strategic joint e-services, including standardization and assisted open access, can be most efficiently done at least at  european level.
  • ESFRI recognizes that the capacity of distributed High Performance and High Throughput Computing, of communication networks for scientific data, and of transversal e-services, should be strengthened by building on national resources and adding an effective coordination and a possible additional funding to realize a full European-scale impact.
  • ESFRI recognizes that the funding approach to HPC Tier-Zero facilities bears challenges similar to more centralised large-scale Research Infrastructure facilitiesESFRI Strategy document and Roadmap 2016 with direct industrial policy implications and should be dealt with accordingly.

On 20 February 2017, the EU Council approved the ESFRI recommendation on coordination of Member States’ investment strategies in e-Infrastructures recognizing ESFRI as a Strategy hub of fundersOutcome of the 3519th Meeting of the Council of the European Union, 20 February 2017, Brussels. ESFRI RIs, along with the many other RIs that are internationally open, are unique in assuring a robust quality control on the scientific data to be managed accordingly to the FAIR principles and on the related data services. ESFRI Landmarks and Projects are Research Infrastructures producing scientific data that are used by highly competitive and broad research communities covering most areas of research. ESFRI RIs are evaluated, selected, monitored and reviewed with much emphasis on their e-Infrastructure component that is considered a basis for excellent science and excellent data services to the broadest community. ESFRI RIs, in general, already implement FAIR and Reproducibility criteria of the data and operate open access portals and Data Management Plans (DMPs) in tune with their user communities. ESFRI RIs of all domains can engage in providing data quality check and in monitoring the persistence of data integrity in a way that will give to the EOSC the necessary robustness in terms of high-quality data products and services. Furthermore, ESFRI RIs can help to cover hitherto unstructured areas and contribute towards the development of European Open Science (Data) Commons. By favouring the exploitation of the most advanced and well documented data sets - metadata and data analysis support services developed by ESFRI RIs – a robust environment favouring interdisciplinarity shall be developed. RIs can contribute to make DMPs more homogeneous in each domain and to address near-neighbour domains. On this background and through extensive discussion, ESFRI formulated a position on EOSC that has been communicated to the EC in January 2018.

##ESFRI POSITION ON EOSC#ESFRI welcomes the EOSC initiative that identifies an ambitious and very important goal with structuring impact on European science and beyond.

The ESFRI Forum has beet a coherent and strategy-led approach to policy-making on Research Infrastructures in Europe. It represents 28 M12 AC. It actsUNDERS of Research Infrastructures of pan-European interest and elaborates a Roadmap of the RIs to be funded a(ESFRI Projects) ors received in 2015 the mandate to “explore mechanisms of better coordination of Member States’ investment strategies in e-Infrastructures, covering also HPC, distributed computing, scientific data and networks”. Also with respect to this specific broad mandate ESFRI acts as STRATEGY HUB OF FUNDERS for the e-Infrastructures of pan-European strategic interest.
ESFRI considers that ensuring convergence of strategies and implementation actions with EOSC is a priority.
A close and effective collaboration between EOSC and ESFRI Forum is needed and must be structured at the proper level.
ESFRI has responsibility regarding FAIR, Reproducibility and Openness of Data of the Research Infrastructures (Landmarks and Projects, inspiring also other national/international RIs) that absorbs a sizeable fraction of the whole European effort in RIs. EOSC will mobilize important resources and will federate national data systems also enabling new actors to foster the data interoperability and multi/interdisciplinary research.
A continuous dialogue between ESFRI and EOSC at the strategy level as well as further collaboration at all levels of implementation will ensure and enhance synergies and will effectively promote convergence to advanced Commons.

ESFRI Landmarks and Projects are Research Infrastructures producing scientific data that are operated by highly competitive and broad research communities covering most areas of research. ESFRI RIs are evaluated, selected, monitored and reviewed with much emphasis on their e-Infrastructure as an element for excellent science and excellent data services to the broadest community. ESFRI RIs are amongst the key pillars of research that already perform quality check on the open access data and have data management plans agreed by the users.
ESFRI RIs of all domains can engage in providing data quality check and in monitoring the persistence of data quality and integrity to release to the EOSC the necessary robustness of data products and services.

EOSC should recognize and take full advantage from the well performing Data Management Plans (DMPs)Guidelines on FAIR Data Management in Horizon 2020 and practices developed by ESFRI RIs that already implement FAIR ad Reproducibility criteria of the Data and operate open access portals. EOSC should favour the participation of the RIs to the elaboration of Commons to serve as key elements of the EOSC. The acronym should actually become, or be generally understood as, European Open Science (Data) Commons.

EOSC should play a significant role in raising to the most advanced level the science domains that have unsatisfied e-needs. EOSC should transparently display which and where services already exist, and help to develop metadata standards for overall progressive alignment of different domains and their increasing integration.

EOSC should contribute to develop a robust environment to promote INTERDISCIPLINARITY by favouring the exploitation of the most advanced and documented data sets by advanced metadata and data analysis support services.

The great goal of INTEROPERABILITY is the most EOSC specific of all. RIs can contribute to make Data Management Plans (DMPs) more homogeneous in each domain and to address near-neighbour domains, but the general picture of cross-domain interoperability needs the EOSC action at European/international level. In this respect, the role of EOSC in facilitating and improving interoperability of existing well-developed data systems – including those of RIs – and guiding development of interoperable data systems in unstructured areas is crucial and irreplaceable. The INTEROPERABILITY is a long-term goal to which the existing sectorial best practises can contribute, but should not be perturbed as far as they are the operational best existing model and system.

The EU Council Conclusions of 29 May 2018 on European Open Science Cloud “[…] CALLS ON the Commission to make optimal use of ongoing projects, existing expertise and knowledge available via existing initiatives, such as ESFRI, eIRG, GO FAIR and others; and […] RECOMMENDS (EOSC) that effective coordination is established with ESFRI”Conclusions of the Council of the European Union of 29 May 2018 on European Open Science Cloud (EOSC). Doc. 9291/18

The Long-Term Sustainability of RIs

A robust long-term vision is essential to successfully and sustainably develop, construct and operate Research Infrastructures. ESFRI has addressed RIs sustainability since its creation, but a systemic approach was taken up in response to the Competitiveness Council request of 27 May 2016 Conclusions of the Council of the European Union of 27 May 2016 on FP7 and Future Outlook: Research and innovation investments for growth, jobs and solutions to societal challenges. Doc. 9527/16 ESFRI set up an ad hoc Working Group with the mandate to provide a set of recommendations that would help to strengthen the Long-Term Sustainability of RIs, and to provide ESFRI’s input to the dedicated Action Plan to be prepared by the European Commission.

Long-Term Sustainability of RIs is a very complex challenge requiring an adequate framework which is embedded in a supportive policy-driven environment. RIs must be recognized as long-term strategic investments at all levels, deeply rooted in society, and indispensable both for enabling excellent research in their scientific domains, and for contributing to overall competitiveness. Sufficient time and continuous support must be given to the RIs to fully unfold, develop and maintain their potential as they are typically operational for several decades. Such support should be founded on a strong strategic vision, at national and EU levels, as it implies long term financial and human resources investments.

For RIs to remain relevant throughout the entire lifecycle, scientific excellence is the condition sine qua non, which becomes crucial when it comes to the long-term persistence in the Operational Phase. Building on this primary condition, the key elements for ensuring Long-Term Sustainability of Research Infrastructures – as detailed in the ESFRI Scripta Vol.2Long-Term Sustainability of Research Infrastructures, ESFRI Scripta Vol.2, October 2017 – are:

1. ESTABLISH AND MAINTAIN EXCELLENCE. Research excellence requires state-of-the art instrumentation and cutting-edge methodology, high-quality staff, services and support, and leading users who bring the most challenging or significant problems. To achieve and maintain all of these factors a number of conditions must be met: strong in-house research and/or technical development; effective engagement with the user community; access mechanisms that encourage and facilitate the very best researchers to the RI. All of these activities need to be underpinned with a funding frame work that provides adequate support and long-term planning ensuring reliable high-quality science services therefore establishing the RI as the supplier of choice for the users, as well as an employer of choice for competitive staff.

2. ENSURE THAT RIs HAVE THE RIGHT PEOPLE IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME. The most important resource for a RI is, arguably, its human capital. This includes its own staff, who play many roles - designing, building, operating, using, supporting and managing – as well as the user community who exploits it for research and innovation. Most of these roles require specialised skills and experience to be effective. Moreover, the set of skills required by a RI may change markedly during its lifecycle in particular when transiting from construction to operation. RIs also operate across disciplinary domains, requiring, for instance scientists with experience in handling large and complex data sets, or in working with engineers to design bespoke and often highly innovative equipment and services. They also need managers who understand the field in which a RI operates. Users, in academia or industry, generally need some degree of training to be able to exploit the potential of RIs for their research.

3. HARMONIZE AND INTEGRATE A VISION FOR CONVERGENT OPERATION OF RIs AND e-INFRASTRUCTURES. RIs must generate and exploit documented digital data, products and services in a sustainable way, on the long term. The rapidly increasing amounts of data of RIs – e.g. ESFRI RIs, need to be made open and easily available to researchers from different fields. To enable this, the data need to be managed, stored and preserved adopting cost-efficient e-science solutions, with appropriate quality and safety assurances, fostering access across borders. Data infrastructure therefore is a central part of the research ecosystem, which enables researchers and other stakeholders from research, education, society and business to use, re-use and  exploit data for the benefit of science and society.

4. FULLY EXPLOIT THE POTENTIAL OF RIS AS INNOVATION HUBS. RIs, as enablers of high-quality research, providers of advanced services and data as well as prescribers of leading-edge technologies, have an innovation potential that needs to be fully exploited to ensure maximum return and therefore financial and societal long-term sustainability and acceptance. There are, however, many significant challenges to fulfil this potential: imperfect communication, lack of awareness of the needs of economic actors and opportunities of RIs, entry barriers for access, as well as insufficient human resources at the interface between RIs and the commercial sector. Some of these challenges can be met by creating a more efficient integrated and coordinated ecosystem for RIs and Industry in which every player in the socio-economic value chain is involved, including public authorities at local, regional, national and European level, as appropriate.

5. DEMONSTRATE THE ECONOMIC AND WIDER SOCIAL VALUE OF RIs. There is increasing pressure at all levels for RIs to demonstrate the positive contribution they make to society in general, including the impact on regional and national economies, and the benefits they offer to our citizens through the science they deliver. Both the definition and measurement of socio-economic impact present considerable challenges, not least due to the difficulty of establishing causality between the activities or research, enabled by a RI, and its impact or value to society, quite possibly with a very long time delay or induction period.

6. ESTABLISH EFFECTIVE GOVERNANCE AND SUSTAINABLE LONG-TERM FUNDING FOR RIs AT EVERY STAGE IN THEIR LIFECYCLE. Although RIs may have different needs according to their configuration and their activities, it is vital that the common elements of their governance, their funding and their management guarantee long-term sustainability. Governance models for RIs should define the roles and commitments of all the different stakeholders (International, European, Member States or Associated Countries, Regions, Research performing organisations, Research hosting institutions etc.) with respect to a coherent and consistent funding landscape throughout the RI lifecycle.

7. FOSTER BROADER COORDINATION AT NATIONAL AND EUROPEAN LEVELS. Cutting edge science and technology are international – policies should reflect this and be coordinated at a national and European level. European countries have a richness of creative Research & Innovation (R&I) systems and cultures. These should be shared with each other through mutual learning exercises to strengthen the European region as a whole but still leave space for smart specialization strategies to strengthen the regions. Furthermore, joint investments in European Research Infrastructures need to be well coordinated and aligned in terms of priority setting and funding decisions.

Experience from several well established ESFRI Landmarks shows the significant long-term benefits of RIs to society at large. In particular, large-scale RIs, or clusters of RIs, intrinsically shape the economy and society of the region where they are located contributing to competitiveness, but also to cohesion and integration. RIs also have a broad impact on skills and education agendas. Increasing the competences of staff, researchers and academic users, and through outreach to pupils and students, as well as the general public, they steadily improve the perception and understanding of science and technology in society. Investment in excellent RIs is an instrument for increasing regional competitiveness, and thus a key component of European cohesion policy. RIs are boosting the generation of scientific knowledge, accelerating technology development, and enhancing both technological and social innovation. The effective investment in RIs and their exploitation are among the key priorities for realising the European Research Area. Thus, sustainability of RIs is an important prerequisite for contributing to continuous economic growth at national and European levels.

The Innovation-Oriented Approach

Also the innovation-oriented approach of RIs was addressed by ESFRI since the beginning and tackled by setting an ad hoc Working Group with the mandate to propose to the Forum the broad lines of a strategic plan in response to the Council Conclusion of 31 May 2011Conclusions of the Council of the European Union of 31 May 2011 on Development of the European Research Area (ERA) through ERA related groups. Doc. 11032/11

The open innovation model includes Research Infrastructures at the supply side of new knowledge and as effective testbeds of innovative technologies. The cutting-edge knowledge developed in the Research Infrastructures pave the way to new, innovative components, instruments and services, providing unique contributions complementary to application scoped research and development. For example:

  • Ultrafast, low-noise electronics for detectors of particles, X-rays and neutrons, are developed and then qualified for use in Research Infrastructures, yielding direct innovation in broad fields of application – e.g. medical and environmental sector, information technologies, energy, material development and manufacturing;
  • RIs make available samples, images and protocols in the bio-medical sector for open innovation to flourish;
  • In the broad-band communication of data and high power / high throughput computing, as well as in environmental observation and modelling, or in societal studies, the RIs provide advanced testbeds for innovation;
  • In the social behaviour, ageing, multi-lingual communication, access to heritage and acceptance of environmental issues and technology changes, the RIs provide unique tools for cultural, socio-political and socio-economic innovation.

Research Infrastructures engage with industry in many different ways including procurement, direct support with services, testing and proving technology, as well as collaborating with industry on pre-competitive research. In recent years, we observe the continuous increase in usage by industry of, in particular, analytical and life sciences RIs, yielding impact on innovation activities. A key role of Research Infrastructures in innovation is also in the training of scientists and research engineers, as well as by creating opportunities of their mobility to and from science and industry or services. In fact, the enabling technologies for the Industry 4.0 smart factory paradigm are at work or have been pioneered at RIs. A great impact on innovation is also expected from the openness of well documented high-quality research data supported by reliable and effective data services.

Nevertheless, the impact of Research Infrastructures on industry and society is still underexploited. First, there is a high potential of multi-messenger science, understood as taking information about the same complex phenomena from different sources. Research Infrastructures are a key element here, as by developing complementary and interoperable services they can produce and analyse data going across disciplines. Second, integrated Research Infrastructure campuses provide significant opportunities to establish close links with the actors in regional innovation ecosystems, such as local Research Infrastructures, incubators, technology parks, universities and businesses, as well as to be proactively integrated into local planning and smart specialisation strategies. Third, co-creation, understood as two-way seeding of scientific excellence to generate new knowledge between Research Infrastructures and industry, can also stimulate innovation-driven research on pre-competitive challenges.

The emergence and growth of hubs of science and innovation around European RIs will amplify their impact on society by attracting economic activities and generating value in the open-innovation model. This is a culture change that specifically requires:

  • Industry to be aware of opportunities provided by RIs and RIs to be responsive to business-oriented needs. All stakeholders to be aware of the existing potential for cooperation and of its significant socio-economic impact.
  • Raising awareness on RI opportunities and services in all directions: towards RIs themselves, to industry and to a wider audience, including policy decision makers, and the general public.
  • New initiatives to be taken to increase the attractiveness of RIs for industry.
  • To proactively practice the concept of “industry as a full partner” of RIs, both as a supplier and as a user. This implies promoting partnerships on joint R&D projects and cooperative programmes, e.g. the development of advanced technologies and innovation, the training and exchange programmes. RIs can offer industrial companies to be immersed in active ecosystems of innovation based on their broad range of complementary competences and skills.
  • Innovation to be considered in all its aspects. RIs serve research and technology but also policy-making and society. Research data also represent significant financial assets and business opportunities. Such approach needs to be an in-built part of an organisation’s business strategy and strategic vision, where conditions are created to facilitate innovative thinking and creative problem solving.

Optimal collaboration between industry, policy-makers and Research Infrastructures, can be pursued so to ensure greater impact of our research and innovation system, as a whole, on the economy and society, helping us to effectively address the challenges of the modern world. The ESFRI Scripta Vol.3, published in January 2018, reflects the updated analysis of the ad hoc Working Group on InnovationInnovation-oriented cooperation of Research Infrastructures, ESFRI Scripta Vol.3, January 2018