European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures
Proposal for the Flemish participation in ESFRI- projects in preparation for a report to the Flemish government on the prioritisation of ESFRI projects in Flanders
The development of new or upgrading of existing supermassive research infrastructure of pan-European importance is one of the basic pillars of the current policy of the European Commission on the further development of the European Research Area. Research infrastructure is considered to be crucial for further developments within a research field. To this end, a transparent and global vision of European needs has been developed in the form of a roadmap for research infrastructure in Europe for the next 10 to 20 years. The elaboration of this scientific roadmap has been entrusted to the ‘European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures’ (ESFRI).
The first version of the “Roadmap for Research Infrastructures”, the ESFRI roadmap for short, which included 35 project proposals, was published in 2006. The resources of the "Research Infrastructures" programme, which is part of the Seventh R&D Framework Programme, are used to further develop 34 of these proposals (refinement of the concept, setting up of the management structure, preparation of the financing concept, etc) in this phase called the “Preparatory Phase”.
The first update of the ESFRI roadmap (version 2008) was recently presented so that there are now 44 project proposals on the list. For more information see: http://cordis.europa.eu/esfri/.
The implementation of the proposals for pan-European research infrastructure that were included in the first version of the ESFRI roadmap currently occupies a prominent position on the agenda of European research policy, and in particular on the agenda of the European Council.
2009 is a key year for decision-making on pan-European research infrastructure. Indeed, it is expected in 2009 that the EU Member States will announce which projects of the ESFRI roadmap they wish to financially support in order to see them realised. The Policy Brief 2009 of the Flemish Minister of Science and Innovation states that, in 2009, a priority list will be drawn up for Flanders, and that on the basis of this, it will be decided which pan-European research infrastructures Flanders will contribute to in order to see them realised.
In this context, a supervisory committee was set up to supervise this prioritisation process. The supervisory committee is composed of Flemish ESFRI representatives and representatives from all agencies involved in the Flemish research infrastructure policy.
The following procedure is followed for the purpose of prioritising the Flemish participation in ESFRI projects:
- In the first instance, the process is aimed at selecting the proposals in which Flanders can and will potentially play a “pulling” role, which involves making a direct contribution to the design and development of the research infrastructure. This also involves a financial contribution to setting up the research infrastructure so that Flanders acquires a strong position in the further development of the field of research concerned. This approach differs substantially from a scenario in which the accompanying financing is provided to implement the research projects and programmes on existing or yet-to-be-developed ESFRI infrastructure, as is now the case in the “big science” programme of the FWO. The process of gaining access to ESFRI infrastructure is outside the framework of the preparation of a report for the Flemish Government on possible Flemish participation in the development of projects that are included in the ESFRI roadmap, and will be dealt with in a subsequent phase.
- As a first step in the preparation of a report, the committee primarily examined whether a group of (prominent) Flemish researchers and scientific service providers had come forward as future participants in one of the facilities described in the ESFRI roadmap, whether there have already been significant investments of manpower and resources in one of these themes in Flanders, and whether there are good opportunities for Flanders to invest in them. The involvement of Flemish actors in the ‘Preparatory Phase’ of the Seventh R&D Framework Programme of course plays an important role, but also the development in Flemish infrastructure projects such as the Flemish Biobank and High Performance Computing, so that it must be examined whether it is desirable and/or feasible to link these initiatives to corresponding ESFRI projects. On the basis of this screening, the committee identified eight projects that can be considered for participation by Flanders in their development and/or construction in the near future. They are the following eight research infrastructures:
- In the field of human and social sciences:
- CLARIN (a common infrastructure for language and speech technology)
- ESS (European Social Survey, data collections for social-scientific research)
- SHARE (Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, data collections on health and ageing)
- In the field of natural and technical sciences:
- PRINS (Pan-European Research Infrastructure for Nano-Structures, a research infrastructure on micro- and nanoelectronics)
- In the field of environmental sciences:
- ICOS (integrated carbon observation system)
- LIFEWATCH (a virtual laboratory for the analysis of biodiversity coupled to climate and the environment)
- In the field of life and medical sciences:
- BBMRI (a European facility linking bio-banks) - In the field of e-sciences
- PRACE (an infrastructure on High Performance Computing)
- In the field of human and social sciences:
- For the development of each of these eight infrastructures, Flemish researchers are asked to develop a proposal for a Flemish contribution to them. These proposals will then be the subject to a detailed evaluation, whereby among others the following elements will have to be explained:
- The role and involvement of stakeholders in Flanders
- The importance of the research field for Flanders in an international context
- The financing requirements
- The capacity and quality of the consortium to realise the objectives
- For the evaluation of the proposals, the expertise built up within the Hercules Foundation will be used. This implies that the Hercules Science Commission will assess the scientific quality of the proposals. A similar method will be followed as for the scientific evaluation of the applications submitted in the framework of the calls for large-scale research infrastructure:
- Each proposal is assessed by at least three researchers who have international recognition in the research discipline(s) concerned, and of course are neither directly nor indirectly involved in the project.
- The applicants are given the opportunity to respond in writing to the anonymous assessment reports.
- The applicants are given the opportunity to explain their proposal to the Commission verbally.
- As the ESFRI projects are further developed and the proposals in question are submitted to underpin the drafting of a report to the Flemish Government, a less developed investment and exploitation plan is required in comparison to the applications for large-scale research infrastructure. The requested information must enable an understanding to be obtained of the order of magnitude of the necessary financing.
- At the moment, the supervisory commission is still examining the ten new projects added to the ESFRI roadmap 2008, as well as a few projects with potential for Flanders from the ESFRI roadmap 2006 (e.g. EATRIS, ECRIN), with a view to organising a second evaluation round in the autumn of 2009.
- On the basis of among other things the scientific proposals, a report will be drawn up that will be submitted to the Flemish Government for the purpose of discussions on a possible financial framework for Flemish participation in these international research infrastructures. Then it will be examined how much interest there is in the Federal Government and the other Regions and Communities, in order to work together on the ESFRI projects that are a priority for Flanders.
- It should be noted that no financial resources are currently available to support such initiatives. If Flanders decides it wants to play a leading role in the development and/or construction of projects that are on the ESFRI roadmap, the Flemish Government will have to provide structural, long-term financing for this.
For the assessment of the proposals submitted for the eight ESFRI projects identified in the first phase, the following indicative timeline will be employed:
- Submission of proposals: Friday June 26, 2009 at 17:00 at the latest
- Period in which the researchers can respond to the assessment reports of the referees: September 2009
- Period in which the meeting of the Hercules Science Commission is planned: second half of October 2009.