R&D infrastructures are facilities, resources, and related services used by the scientific and technological communities to carry out research in a variety of scientific and technological fields. They cover major scientific equipment or sets of instruments used for research purposes; knowledge based-resources such as collections, archives or structured scientific information used in research; and ICT-based infrastructures such as grid computing, networks and communities. Research infrastructures may be “single-sited” physical facilities (a single resource at a specific location), “distributed” (a network of distributed resources), or both (e.g. where “virtual” access to a core facility is provided electronically).
Broadly, what activities and outcomes do R&D infrastructures seek to influence?
In several scientific and technological fields, research projects are characterised by quite high construction and operating costs. These projects require a long time and extensive knowledge to be developed, as well as a stable institutional structure to be open to and used by a large scientific and technological community. Examples of research projects of such scale include those aiming at finding solutions to grand challenges that many OECD countries are facing, including climate change, food security, biodiversity, population change, and global security. R&D infrastructures typically intend to support the scientific record and technological development in these fields.
How do R&D infrastructures have an influence?
R&D infrastructures pool a critical mass of resources to address research issues that cannot be tackled by few institutes alone, reinforce linkages between the main R&D performers, funding organisations, and policy-making organisations, and finally contribute to technological development through capacity building:
- They bring together sizeable financial resources that are often beyond those available at local, regional, and national levels in order to raise the scope and scale of public research.
- R&D infrastructures provide a unique platform for world-class researchers, by encouraging R&D collaboration among researchers coming from different disciplines, institutional sectors (e.g. research universities, public research institutes, and industry), and geographical areas to perform cutting-edge and often interdisciplinary research. Furthermore, R&D infrastructures provide a platform to train researchers and students.
- R&D infrastructures stimulate public-private partnerships and knowledge transfer. These partnerships and transfer of knowledge arise from the use of R&D infrastructures by institutional researchers and engineers in the context of inter-sectoral mobility schemes and from the construction and maintenance of these infrastructures. Partnerships between the public research sector and industry create important demand and supply effects on both sides. For these reasons, science and technology parks and spin-offs are often found where R&D infrastructures are established.
What factors should be considered when supporting R&D infrastructures?
Several factors should be considered when supporting R&D infrastructures:
- A stable base for funding: effective and sustained cooperation among funding organisations and policy-making organisations is often required to provide a stable base not only for building R&D infrastructures but also for maintaining and operating them. Different funding sources can be used to facilitate the construction and maintenance of R&D infrastructures, including: international organisations, national governments, research universities, public research institutes, third sector organisations, and private companies. Financial commitment can consist of mandatory and voluntary contributions.
- Effective governance structures: the management of R&D infrastructures is complex by nature. There is no unique governance model as R&D infrastructures comprise different funding organisations and users. However common principles should guide the governance of R&D infrastructures. These include, for instance: involving all R&D infrastructure members in the development, planning, and overall monitoring of facilities, resources, and related services; guaranteeing transparent and accountable arrangements; and finally ensuring that R&D infrastructure research programmes are steered by scientific members, supported by external scientific advisory boards.
- Appropriate legal framework: an appropriate legal framework is often required for the effective development and operation of R&D infrastructures. Such a legal framework should notably include arrangements regarding the access to R&D infrastructures to non-members, the cross national mobility of researchers, and IPR regimes.
ESFRI (2010), Inspiring Excellence: Research Infrastructures and the Europe 2010 Strategy, Brussels: European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures.
European Commission (2010), A Vision for Strengthening World-Class Research Infrastructures in the ERA, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.