Long-term sustainability of Research Infrastructures: finding the right formula?

Published 5 December 2016

On November 25, the European Commission together with ESFRI organised a workshop to present and discuss the main hurdles on RI’s path to long-term sustainability (LTS). The event gathered approximately 170 stakeholders representatives (ESFRI, EIROforum, ERA stakeholders platform, RIs, ministries and funding agencies, etc.) including EATRIS and tackled a few of the pre-conditions for LTS, such as: innovation potential, data, skills, governance and funding, as well as international outreach.

The discussions focused on 5 consequential challenges and attempted to identify concrete actions.

One of the main suggestions developed at the workshop was the development of indicators or metrics to measure RI’s performance and impact. Even though it seems to be the right way forward, and a response to member states’ expectations, it will be important to bear in mind fundamental differentiating aspects of Research Infrastructures. Distributed RI’s focusing on applied research for example cannot share only common indicators with a single-sited RI dedicated to fundamental research. And of course the field of activities of RI’s should also be a denominator; tailor-made indicators per subtype of RI will be for sure required.

Additionally, panel discussing the innovation potential of RI formulated a few recommendations in order to facilitate RI’s interaction and collaboration with industry; to name a few: facilitate access to RI’s services for industry, ensure RI’s solutions to industry are unique on the market, or try to attract staff coming from industry to the RI teams. It was also suggested to have more incentives for RI-industry collaboration in funding applications for instance.

Furthermore, governance and funding were also discussed in depth. The InRoad project led by SwissCore rightfully pointed out the lack of synchronisation in RI priority setting and evaluation procedures which has led to undeveloped coordination mechanisms and unclear share of responsibilities between policy-makers, funders and operators. The InRoad project will host its first workshop on March 14 2017 in Brussels. Two substantial hurdles also still remain the absence of a long-term funding mechanism and the difficulty accessing national funding, particularly in case of ERIC’s.

Finding concrete solutions to governance and funding issues will be quite challenging but no doubt that the EC should play a central role in complementing ESFRI decentralisation, as Axel Borsch-Supan, SHARE coordinator, rightfully mentioned.

To add to the complexity and the multifaceted nature of LTS, the right formula will have to ensure it also stimulates RI’s international influence and their capacity to develop staff exchange and attractive training programmes. Next steps of this consultation process are now in the hand of the DG Research as this workshop marked the end of the consultation process for the EC; an action plan for LTS of RI’s is expected by end of 2017 under Estonian presidency.