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Optimising the Operation and Use

The majority of research infrastructures (RIs) are funded, managed, and operated within national systems. They mostly provide services to national research communities.

As research budgets are limited, and governments and funding agencies need to support increasingly large and complex RIs and RI portfolios, Science Europe and the OECD Global Science Forum joined forces to analyse how to optimise their operation and use within a national context.

Research infrastructures are highly diverse, as are the approaches that national authorities take in funding and governing them within their respective research systems. Because of this, no single model or set of recommendations to optimise their operation and use would suit every country or infrastructure.

Science Europe and the OECD Global Science Forum identified a number of key factors and guiding principles that will help policy makers, decision makers, and infrastructure managers to optimise the use and operation of the infrastructures that they manage. These principles have been brought together in two Guiding Models: one for funders and decision makers, and one for managers.

Guiding Models for Optimising the Operation and Use of Research Infrastructures

Two guiding models for the optimisation of the operation and use of national research infrastructures are introduced here. One is aimed at RI funders and decision makers, the other at RI managers. The full policy paper provides detailed version of both models.

Summary of the Guiding Model for RI Portfolio Management (Funders and Decision Makers)

Countries seeking to operate an active RI portfolio management programme should incorporate some or all of the following elements in their approach:

Strategic planning

In strategic national RIs plans, both bottom-up (scientific needs) and top-down (national strategic needs) perspectives should be considered. The output of such planning should be publicised.

Community input

Processes should be set up to gather all relevant stakeholder input in the development of strategic plans.

Inclusiveness

New and existing RIs should be examined together rather than separately to provide a whole portfolio perspective.

Competition and complementarity

Portfolio management should ensure that new RI proposals identify existing capacity and justify new requirements. Cooperation between related smaller RIs (i.e. clustering) should be promoted. Competition should be balanced, selecting priority facilities and avoiding unnecessary duplication.

International engagement

The international networking of national RIs should be promoted, and national RI requirements should be considered alongside international options to deliver the best opportunities for the research community.

Funding process

The funding process should take into account strategic planning as well as resource allocation. Full life-cycle costs of each RI should be considered, including all capital and operational investment required.

Monitoring

Efficient mechanisms for RI performance monitoring are required and should consider research, impact, management, and governance perspectives.

Closure

Long-term planning should include decisions on the closure and/or divestment of RIs. The costs of such processes should be incorporated from early planning stages on.

Transparency

Funding and selection processes should be clear and transparent for all stakeholders, particularly where economic, political, or social factors are taken into account.

Summary of the Guiding Model for Optimising and Managing RI User Bases (Managers)

Managers of national RIs seeking to optimise the use of their facilities, and the data generated from them, should consider incorporating some or all of the following elements into their management strategies:

Understanding and monitoring of user bases

RIs should have a clear understanding of the overall use of their facilities, resources, and services. This should be continually monitored.

Optimising use potential

Where capacity is limited, adaptation of existing processes, improved management and the promotion of secondary use should be considered. Where RI use can be expanded, optimisation should consider broadening the RIs user base by opening access to new groups of researchers.

Clarity of access mechanisms

An RI should be clear and transparent about the access mechanisms that are in place and the conditions that apply to different access types.

Accessibility of data

RIs should have open and transparent data policies, in line with the FAIR principles. Collaboration between RIs to federate repositories and harmonise meta-data should be promoted.

Promotion of data sharing and monitoring of secondary access

RIs should strongly encourage RI users to develop data management plans and follow the FAIR principles. Referencing guidance should be given so that secondary use can be monitored.

Costs of access

RIs should ensure that their pricing policies for all access modes are clear and cost-transparent. Merit-based academic usage should be provided ‘free-from-costs’, wherever possible.

Resources available to users, and user support

RI managers should have an understanding of all resources that are devoted to their users (both financial and human resources). Support services (travel and training grants, and so on) should be considered to improve the attractiveness of access.

Quick Guidance Questions

For each of the categories from the model, some guidance questions are available that indicate the sort of questions to ask to begin the optimisation process as an RI funder or decision maker.

  • What process do you have to identify national RI needs and inform the community of your priorities?
  • How do you gather information on requirements from the research community and other stakeholders?
  • What steps do you take to balance new and existing RIs in the planning process?
  • How do you manage competition for getting the best RIs yet encourage complementarity to avoid duplication?
  • How do you decide to engage in internationally RIs or the community make the case for international RI partnerships?
  • Is funding allocated for the capital, operation and data management needs of the RI to ensure optimal use of the investment?
  • How do you monitor the value and performance of your investment in national and international RIs?
  • What process do you have to identify national RI needs and inform the community of your priorities?
  • Are all stakeholders clear on the processes for RI selection and the criteria that will be taken into account?

Quick Guidance Questions

For each of the categories from the model, some guidance questions are available that indicate the sort of questions to ask to begin the optimisation process as an RI manager considering how to optimise the user base of national RIs.

  • In general, a thorough knowledge of the current use of an RI, and how users, access units, and resources are distributed should inform a ‘strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats (SWOT)’ analysis to aid decisions on whether and how to optimise the user base of an RI.
  • Does your RI monitor its user base? If so, what does it monitor and how?
  • Do your RI have policies/practices for optimising the use of the facility or resource?
  • Are the ways in which access is given to your RI clear and transparent for all potential users?
  • Does your RI consider and facilitate access to the data it owns?
  • Does your RI encourage users to make the data they generate FAIR? Does your RI have policies to encourage and monitor secondary use?
  • Are your RIs pricing policies for access clear and transparent for all types of user?
  • Does your RI offer or advocate for the funding of additional support services for users?
Research Infrastructures are essential to foster connectivity, both nationally and internationally. The recommendations set out in this report will help better support them and enhance their efficient use.

— Rosa Menéndez
President of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)
Science Europe Vice-President

September 2020

Nationally funded and managed research infrastructures are important an important component in the realisation of the European Research Area (ERA). To fulfil this role, they must be governed, managed, and operated in an efficient and coordinated manner. The Guiding Models developed by Science Europe and the OECD are very useful in this regard.

— Angelika Kalt
Director of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)
Science Europe Governing Board Member

September 2020

The joint Science Europe–OECD Global Science Forum activity

A joint Expert Group oversaw the activity run by the Science Europe Office and the OECD Global Science Forum Secretariat. Evidence was gathered through two surveys of RI managers and RI funders/decision makers in a selected number of countries and regions to ensure balanced coverage across OECD countries. Two international workshops were also organised. The first workshop was held in London (hosted by STFC, UK) in June 2019, and the second workshop was held in Seoul (hosted by KBSI, Korea) in November 2019.

The full findings and analysis of this joint activity are presented in the report ‘Optimising the Operation and Use of National Research Infrastructures’, published as an OECD Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy Paper. The paper is also available from the OECD iLibrary.

© CC-BY-NC-ND: Marcel Stefko, ETH Zurich
Research infrastructures are essential for the progress of science and technologies. While their users are increasingly the international research community, most of them are still funded and managed at national level. National RIs offer unique opportunities for local and regional research and education excellence. As governments and research institutions worldwide seek to optimise their limited resources, this report, which contains very practical guiding models for research infrastructure managers and decision-makers, comes in a timely manner.

— Gabriele Fioni
Chairman of the OECD Global Science Forum
September 2020

Country Organisation Acronym Name
Canada Canada Foundation for Innovation CFI Heidi Bandulet
China Ministry of Science and Technology MOST Qijiang Zhai
France Ministry for Higher Education and Research Isabelle Diaz
Germany German Research Foundation DFG Michael Royeck
Hungary Hungarian Academy of Sciences MTA Attila Havas
Ireland Health Research Board HRB Oonagh Ward
Japan Japan Science and Technology Agency JST Toshiki Nagano
Korea, Republic of South Korea National Fusion Research Institute Myeun Kwon
Korea, Republic of South Korea National Research Facilities and Equipment Center NFEC Yong-Joo Kim
Korea, Republic of South Korea Korea Basic Science Institute Eun Ju Lee
Netherlands Ministry of Education, Culture and Science MinOCW Jeannette Ridder-Numan
Norway University of Bergen UiB Robert Bjerknes
South Africa National Research Infrastructure Platform NRF Clifford Nxomani
Spain Spanish National Research Council CSIC Joaquín Tintoré Subirana
Switzerland Paul Scherrer Institute PSI Stefan Janssen
Switzerland Paul Scherrer Institute PSI Mirjam van Daalen
Switzerland Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF Jean-Luc Barras
United Kingdom United Kingdom Research & Innovation UKRI Catherine Ewart (Chair)
United States National Science Foundation NSF Samuel Howerton
United States National Science Foundation NSF Robert Smith (Chris)
Association of European-level Research Infrastructure Facilities ERF Andrew Harrisson
Association of European-level Research Infrastructure Facilities ERF Florian Gliksohn
OECD Global Science Forum OECD-GSF Frédéric Sgard
OECD Global Science Forum OECD-GSF Carthage Smith
OECD Global Science Forum (consultant) OECD-GSF Peter Fletcher
Science Europe SE Maud Evrard
Science Europe SE James Morris
Science Europe (consultant) SE Isabel Bolliger